The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Thinking

Playing the field

Working at an agency where fieldwork is largely outsourced, recruitment always felt like an obscure art, so AQR's course proved very appealing.

We tell our fieldwork partners who we’re looking for, we check the screener they’ve whipped-up, it goes out into ‘the field’ and then some people show up. As brilliant as they are, I was very interested when I saw that the AQR was doing a course that could potentially illuminate some of the process for me, if only to understand more of what they do.

I’m pleased to report it did more than just that. Run by three experts in the field (pun intended) in James Diggle of Criteria, Becki Harrison of Acumen and hosted by Caroline Noon of The Sound, the course covered the fundamentals of fieldwork as well as the more intangible factors such as expectation management, which, as I came to learn, are equally critical to quality recruitment.

The day started off with some quick introductions around the tables before Caroline gave us an overview of just why qualitative recruitment matters so much. Given the fact methodologies frequently require more and more engagement with respondents, she explained that good recruitment has never been more important. As someone who has tended to view it as a means to an end, this was a vital reminder of why we need to get it right.

We then moved on to the process itself. Becki took us through the different methods recruiters use to find people, from the little black book of traditional recruiters to the increasing use of digital tools. Next, James gave an extremely informative overview of the MRS code of conduct. It was a real eye opener to understand the ins and outs of the ‘rule’ book and reassuring, from a researcher’s perspective, the lengths field agencies go to implement quality control of recruitment. After lunch we turned our attention to the all-important screener and the common pitfalls to avoid, namely, try not to lead the respondent!

With so many fieldwork professionals in the room the course also proved a rare opportunity to see things from the other side, as it were. As researchers, our stock in trade is empathy — both to understand our clients’ problems and our respondents’ perspectives. But on hearing stories of ridiculous briefs, impossible deadlines and unheeded advice, it dawned on me how little we empathise with the people who source those respondents for us. That many in the profession adopt a ‘no news is good news’ policy for want of feedback when things go well only underlined this for me.

Indeed, the main thing I’ve taken from the day is how inter-connected we all are when it comes to fieldwork. Starting from the client’s brief to the spec we send to the field agency to the recruiters themselves, we’re all invested in the process. Thus, it’s crucial we work together effectively, push back when needed and, yes, try to see things from the other’s perspective.


James Heaney
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2015