The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Thinking

The PRS Effectiveness Award Winner 2008

The 2008 Award, after much deliberation by the judges, was won by Dr Nancy Macdonald of 2CV and Krishan Lathigra of the COI for their work on a Financial Services Authority project called On The Money

The aim was to understand young people’s financial needs and challenges in order to create an engaging online resource. This entry, as did many of the others, impressed the judges by its collaborative nature, with client and agency working hand in hand to produce an innovative and effective piece of work.

Young adults -- and this project was aimed at those between 16 and 24 years of age -- are a challenging audience for those wishing to talk financial management. It is also very diverse, ranging from those still at school to those at university, and people who’d left school at 16 to start work.

"Their experiences were so different," says Nancy. "So we sat down and wrapped our heads around all the challenges were were facing and tried to work out how we were going to get round most of them. The techniques came out of that, really."

The Challenges

So what were these challenges? Quite apart from the audience itself, they involved

  • Helping the FSA establish an authentic voice, which meant getting to the emotional heart of young people’s reported behaviours;

  • Understanding this audience’s online behaviours and preferences, alongside more subtle design details that might also impact their interest in the final site;

  • Given a tendency by young adults to over-claim their financial spend and problems, 2CV needed to manage groups carefully and capture individual experiences so as to understand their financial realities;

  • Motivating this audience to think quite deeply about financial management issues.

"In this context," says Jane Hull, who manages the What About Money website for the FSA, "one of the things that 2CV did for us was to look at how we would structure the information on the site. We knew objectively what topics and areas people might have issues with, but in terms of labelling and how to group that information and make it appealing to young adults -- that’s where 2CV took it a step further for us."

The response to the brief

In response to the brief, 2CV created a research process deep enough to capture emotional drivers, but broad enough to encompass life-stage differences. It was interactive enough to facilitate young people’s own input, but sensitive enough to manage peer group influence and encourage disclosure.

There were a number of elements:

  • An online and money scrapbook, which respondents were asked to complete but as a ‘fictional character’ who was ‘like them’ in age and situation. This enabled them to gain a better perspective on their relationships with money.

  • A compare/contrast device, with youngsters interviewing parents and siblings about their financial needs and concerns. This helped them to reflect on some of the differences.

  • Respondents were asked to save screen grabs of their best and least favourite international sites, and to explain their reasoning.

  • Invitations to a workshop group of peers of their own age, accompanied by a friend. Exercises such as speech bubble competitions, card sorts and a time line identified current, past and future financial demands.

  • Splitting groups into small teams, who were then asked to devise their own financial website. A winning team was picked by watching clients, and prizes awarded to all the teams. Their design contributions also influenced the final site design.

  • Finally, respondents were invited -- in the group sessions -- to go and talk directly to camera in a private Big Brother-style diary room about their thoughts at the time. These highlighted their most pressing issues/concerns, and allowed them to speak freely without peer group pressure.

According to Krishan, it was the combination of these techniques which marked out 2CV’s proposal from the rest of the tendering agencies, who were opting for more conventional discussion groups. "I also think the sound-off booth is great for this demographic," he says. "It has been suggested for other projects, but has not been deemed suitable. It’s a lot more interactive than other means of response capture and they absolutely love it. The minute you mention ‘rather like Big Brother’ they’re all dying to go in there."

The What About Money site

The resulting web site design caters to the complexities of this audience, whose behaviours and attitudes can shift with their life paths and, indeed, from day to day. They can also vary according to who they’re with.

The research helped the client tread a delicate tonal line. It appreciated that young people do not always respond to busy, ‘funky’ online environments, but neither does a terribly sensible tonal style appeal. The end result is an online resource that is credible, but also engaging, trustworthy without being dull and fun -- but not to the point of being flippant.

  • Appreciates that money at this age is the gateway to fun and freedom, positioning its advice as an enabler rather than a dry tutorial or duty;

  • Recognises that solutions are more effective when they are self generated, providing interactive tools and peer case studies to help users recognise and then address their own areas of need;

  • Highlights future needs or pressures so users can prepare, plan and recognise the kinds of questions they should be asking now about the future;

  • Sits grounded in reality; understanding that young people’s financial mistakes are sometime unavoidable, occasionally deliberate, usually fun, and may even be educationally valuable.

There were a number of learnings from the research, but one of the most striking is how serious money is to young people, and how aware they are of anything trying to be too hip, too cool, and full of skateboards. Also, how ambitious they are. It is not a view that tends to be conveyed by the media as a rule.