We are always looking for new ways to connect with researchers, and the Qualitative 360 event billed itself as ‘the innovation hub for quallies’. That sounded like a good place to start. Organised by the Merlien Institute and boasting a joint platform for agencies, clients and academic researchers, we knew we would get to meet an eclectic and interesting range of speakers and delegates — and the agenda and networking did not disappoint, either.

Over two busy days we learned many things, from the power of collaboration to use of new media at every stage of the research process. Rebranding qual itself within organisations alongside sexier disciplines, we found out how Northstar Research helped Landrover bring its user personas to life by creating avatars with unique identities for them, then deploying these characters in multiple settings from brochures to coasters.

We watched a lot of video too, from slickly produced end-products designed for debrief, to some utterly compelling self-ethnographic footage shared by Stuart Knapman from The Sound. As Siamack Salari reminded us, the tools for personal video capture are becoming so ubiquitous and available that factors like self-exclusion by introversion becomes increasingly irrelevant. Setting people free to explore and share in an unstructured way as they have done with Journey HQ requires a leap of faith from clients and researchers alike, but generates unexpected new ideas.

As we explored current thinking in gamification theory with Ignite 360, it was good to learn that ‘blissful productivity’ can be achieved by letting people have fun. We certainly did when we got our hands on some Lego Serious Play kits with Point Blank International, and used form, colour and connection to express abstract concepts and reveal our subtle motivations and concerns. And there was me thinking this stuff was for kids!

Technology is fun too, whether used for mobile eye-tracking in stores to generate retail heat-maps with Perception Research services, or making qualitative use of numbers by overlaying sales data with mapping and demographics to understand what’s really going on with very low income migrant populations hard to research directly. I was minded of recent publications by Mitch Joel and James Altucher, data need context and combining, ‘idea sex’ is where the magic happens.

Indeed, as Paul Wilmer from Nissan Europe argued, these integrations continue to blur the line between qual and quant, because if you do 400+ depth interviews over a year, it’s essentially a tracking study too. Online tools let us engage huge numbers of people on qualitative platforms. Expect increasing synergy, the future is collaborative.

Qualitative 360 left me with lots to think about, a sense of having whirled at speed through a blast of big ideas, and having been part of a forward-looking and coherent event which brought together a great group of smart, creative and forward-looking researchers from many markets, specialisms, disciplines and backgrounds. I am glad we got the opportunity to be involved, and look forward to future programmes.