I arrived in Dublin in time for the two days of global qualitative papers. ESOMAR had invited the AQR to chair a masterclass session developed by Sarah de Caux of Join the Dots, entitled ‘Is the future of conversation silent?’ After a brief presentation, Sarah facilitated a workshop with delegates to discuss the thinking that had been stimulated by the papers so far, and explore ways to ensure qualitative research remains relevant.

My personal favourite that morning was "Bitter Sweet Symphony" presented by Sven Arn with his client Juliette Margerand. This presentation brought to life the fusion of semiotics, social media analysis and creative storytelling to win the ESOMAR Fusion Best Presentation Award. We also had our thinking provoked by the team from Hyve Innovation Research and their Beiersdorf client with a paper entitled "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants", that explored the insights and implications from a ‘duel’ between humans and machines. This paper won the Peter Cooper Excellence Award.

So what did we learn from the Masterclass session? The groups around the room concluded that greater collaboration with data analysts would be required in future. Some seemed daunted by the emergent role for qualitative thinkers to weave together several different strands of insight to create strategy. Perhaps this feeling stemmed from the growing sense that qualitative may not be in this lead role in future? There was a definite sense that qual was being relegated to playing ‘a bit part’ in many of the presentations at this conference.

This conference should serve as a wake-up call! Our world is being disrupted by client pressure for speed, innovative costeffective technology and robust data. As qualitative researchers we bring the vital human understanding that will be required to make sense of all this data and we have the facilitation skills to help clients take action. To remain relevant we need to be open-minded and brave as we try new things that lead to smarter, faster and more cost-effective solutions.