Qual360 promised to “kickstart your 2016 with a firework of fresh ideas and inspiration.” It didn't disappoint. With delegates from all over Europe, it is small enough that it retains its intimacy: the papers were as stimulating as the conversation that they inspired in the breaks.

All talk was on the future of qual, where it fits, if at all, in a world of big data and how we can harness the power of technology. The general consensus was that qual as we know it isn’t going anywhere, it has to change, while big data — despite the hype — can’t explain the “why”. Key challenges will continue to be getting beneath the skin of participants’ lives in new and creative ways.

Acknowledging the challenges we face in achieving this in a cluttered world where brands are not prioritised, we discussed whether labelling our participants as ‘consumers’ is right? Should we even call them participants? Maybe we should be referring to them just as people to account for the fact that our work and brands are only a small, relatively unimportant, part of their lives.

We saw innovative methodologies using stand-up improvisation to develop brand territories, large participant sessions to blend qual and quant, real-time mobile apps to crowdsource mystery shopping with participants, using toys to test advertising with kids and creative writing with millennials to explore tone of voice.

Methodology and innovation weren’t the only topics. We also focused on how we deliver results to clients so that we can bring our consumers into the boardroom and deliver commercial impact. Solutions ranged from allowing client teams unprecedented access to consumers with agile webcam calls, stakeholders (not researchers!) moderating their own communities and consumer generated video output.

As I left Berlin some graffiti caught my eye: “Thoughts become things”. That for me felt like a perfect summation of my experience at Qual360: I left, inspired to try new things, shamelessly copying some ideas and adventurously adapting others, which is the best outcome a conference can hope for.