The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Thinking

Stand up for qual research

It's rare apart from in The Apprentice that anything remotely resembling qual features in mainstream media, says Howard Josephs...and things need to change.

So what happens if qualitative research does get a media mention? Well, there are usually one of two outcomes. It’s done so badly (leading questions; rubbish stimulus; poorly recruited and/or tiny, unrepresentative sample; overall lack of any professional standards or quality) that the results are highly unreliable or just plain wrong. Alternatively, those carrying out the research fail to take account of what they’ve been told, completely ignore it and end up screwing up the task or product they were researching in the first place.

And so the question still remains — why does no one seem to take what we do seriously? Why is research — and in particular qual — seen as something far less important than almost any other business service or function? More importantly, why are quallies so bad at their own marketing and PR? Especially when we are paid by clients to sort out and advise them on theirs?

We have provided them with insights that helped successfully create, launch and improve innumerable great brand, business and product innovations. Yet, aside from the odd marketing director, how many other FTSE250 average board members do you reckon know of qualitative research or the value it can deliver?

What I find most surprising is that, when you get operations directors, finance and HR people taking part in projects; watching groups; visiting consumers’ homes, they are usually the ones most engaged by it and who benefit most. They are so excited to listen and interact with users of their products and brands. It’s something they almost never get to experience. Meanwhile, our commissioning clients are ironically the most cynical, adopting an ‘I’ve seen it all before’ mentality.

As an industry, we are often guilty of failing to promote what we do and the value we bring to anyone beyond the research manager. I realised, when attending the excellent Qualitative Vision Day this summer, that my frustrations at our lack of traction at the highest levels of business is a concern widely shared

Professionalisation is a great first step, but we need to do more and better. I know this is an article that’s asked many questions rather than proffered any answers — it’s not going to be any easy job. But I hope we can all agree, as an industry, to better promote our brand: what we stand for, the value we bring and why we are such an important instrument for business at all levels.

 

Howard Josephs
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2014