In early November, I went to my first ESOMAR Fusion conference, and I soon wondered why I’d toyed with others in the past. The agenda was well crafted, it was full of brilliant speakers whose paper were all to the point, the audience was chatty and collegiate, and each session held together and created great debate. To top it all, it was held in a light-filled atrium (why do most conference have no natural light?) and provided plenty of time to network, with a healthy amount of organised fun in the evenings.

The content throughout the three days I attended played out the big debate of qualitative research to date: how do we mix the role of man and machine in qualitative research? This included the ways in which online platforms can help rather than hinder the analysis process, how digital engagement is attempting to capture emotion, and how combining methods will often allow us to get more rounded insight.

From an AQR perspective, this was all music to our ears, as we believe the partnership of different methods is what clients are really looking for, and we fundamentally believe that qualitative analysis is a human skill.

The other great part I enjoyed were the practical tips and tricks that most presenters talked through. Twitter talked about the ways in which it clustered ‘natural communities’ online to look what the brand presence was like; there was a lesson on how analysts and Ux researchers can work together better on projects; and the AQR’s Peter Totman gave a fantastic insight into how to get beyond the ‘cathartic’ response on a focus group on politics, towards a more authentic voice (and the paper would then go on to win Best Paper of the conference).

Finn Raben, ESOMAR’s director general, summed up by saying that technology is improving, but that it was clear that “only humans can interpret humans, as machines can’t interpret the subtlety of life”, and that “qualitative is not just a methodology, it’s a state of mind”. As if it had come from an AQR hymn sheet.