The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Excellence

Foundation Course Frolics

Early on in January, forty or so fresh-faced (and not so fresh-faced) researchers, planners, and brand managers assembled at the Bonnington Hotel in Holborn for the first day of the much-heralded AQRP Foundation Course.

Week One

First up, after John Rose's welcome speech, was Mo Ressler who delivered an interesting and interactive introductory presentation about group dynamics.

Lunch eventually arrived in the form of "delicious" sandwiches that unfortunately proved to be a little too reminiscent of those early 80s school pack lunches.

After a swift diversion to the nearest pub, Joanna Chrzanowska took to the podium and introduced us to interviewing. This session gave us the chance to adopt various personalities in interviewer/interviewee situations, to learn about the different power relationships that can develop during an interview.

Week Two

The first talk focused on the ins and outs of fieldwork. The message from Liz Sykes and Penny Steele was: Be thorough, be explicit and, above all, consider the recruiter's interests.

Wendy Hayward's Writing Discussion Guides opened with the teaser "What do Qualitative Researchers and Linford Christie have in common?". It caught people's attention and provoked muttered commnets relating to purpose-built containers for midday meals. The answer was, of course, visualisation.

Patterson: "interesting parallels between mineral water and giraffes"

Simon Patterson's Stimulus Materials and Projective Techniques proved to be a highly entertaining affair, highlighting interesting parallels between mineral water and giraffes. His deadpan delivery owed much to Jack Dee -- or was it the other way round?

Lunch: One of the sandwiches was found to contain mould.

The afternoon was taken up with planning discussion guides for the following week's moderation. Some found the experience frustrating at first, for others the storming part was more Schwarzkopff than Chrzanowska. Once underway, however, the exercise poved fruitful and several groups even managed to produce coherent discussion guides.

Week Three

Have you ever wondered how it feels to be part of a group discussion, on the receiving end of all the questioning and probing, subject to the whims of sartorially challenged, slightly deranged individuals claiming to be qualitative researchers? You haven't? Well, just try to moderating skills day of the AQRP Foundation Course.

By the third week, our syndicate was up and running, fully immersed in out "shopping for food" brief. The beauty of this day (apart from the marked improvement in catering) is that it offers the opportunity to try out your moderating skills in a safe non-threatening environment and then receive feedback from seasoned moderators.

Each of us had about 14 minutes "beyond the mirror" and while the group didn't flow as smoothly as if one moderator had handled the entire thing, it was remarkable how well the group dynamic developed and how much information we were able to obtain. It was also fascinating to be behinf the mirror, seeing how fellow delegates handled their section of the discussion guide.

Week Four

This day started with Roddy Glenn talking about the analysis of qualitative data which is, apparently, all about advanced planning and having a system. Coloued pens, symbols, and other hieroglyphic aids make the job a creative and fun experience and ensure you won't have to do it all again.

The job of making sense of what respondents, (who never mean what they say and never say what they mean), have contributed to a group is a difficult one. Roddy had plenty of helpful suggesitons: write down what you think it all means as the job goes on and bury the notes in a job file; shout your thoughts onto a tape post-group and listen to it on the way to some other hotel.

Lunch was vile.

Roddy also delivered Handy Hint Number 39: When you hear people in groups say "I suppose" followed by a perfect repetition of the client's brand strategy, beware! It means: I can conceive of some slightly strange people in a deeply unfashionable part of the galaxy who, of a Thursday afternoon, could possibly go for that.

As a finale, Propser Riley-Smith took us through the wonderland of preparing and giving presentations, including a deeply cringe-worthy piece of film showing how not to give a presentation. And yes, it was a role play.

Week Five

The beginning of the end and the all-important presentation is a matter of hours away. Everyone collects their thoughts in preparation for writing the debrief.

On this occasion the foul sandwich lunch was eaten as we worked, with no time for a few sociable drinks in the pub.

Considering the amount of time the groups had together to write the debrief, the presentation standards were admirable. Overall, the day was mush like the rest of the course - good fun. It provided both a sense of team work and personal achievment.

The course finished in style, with John Rose breaking the habit of a lifetime and buying a round, which constitutes a tremendous effort when you have around forty very thirsty researchers to accommodate. Cheers John.

Alasdair Cumming
Jamie Gilroy
Charlie Skinner
Paul Stamper
Barbara Stiens