Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Basic Question All Clients Wonder And Most Never Ask

I am counting on plenty of good discussions around the Q&A below. And the Q&A should be a straight forward one to explain and understand. But it isn't. No one I have spoken to has been able to convince (or should I say enlighten) me about whether or not qualitative research can ever be representative.

So late last week I fired off an email to my good friend, John Griffiths, who I always contact when I want to know what my opinion should be on any given subject. His answer follows, and I hope your comments will follow to.

Q: "Hi John, hope you are well. I was wondering if you could help me with something. In both Brazil and Dubai we are being asked the same question by inexperienced clients (potential clients): 'how representative is qualitative research?' Now I know and you know that it isn't. I was wondering if you had a set piece response we could use? An explanation which is more than an apology - I usually talk about how we try to understand mechanisms and triggers rather than how many times who does what...

Any thoughts/ideas would be greatly appreciated."

A: "ooh good question - there must be papers on qualitative representativeness as opposed to quantitative representativeness. The point as you are saying is that qualitative representativeness is of a different order. Its not just quantitative representiveness with not enough people. WE know that over a certain number of interviews/ groups that findings stabilise because the models of thinking and feeling start to repeat at well below the levels of quantiative validation.

here's a def of qual I used with the Debenham's team last year: A disciplined approach to gathering and analysing information using a repertoire of open ended interviewing techniques and formal and informal interviewing methods

And here's the quant by comparison: Quantitative research supplies a number to anything that can be measured. And there is a large body of researchers who argue that measurement can be applied to anything. It produces ‘hard’ data that is more than just opinion. Based on sizeable surveys. However it cannot stand alone as a technique. It is often appropriate to gauge people’s opinions first using qualitative techniques before determining exactly what should be measured

Here's the point. Until you have assessed the quality of what you are counting there is little point in counting it. Qualitative research is the identification of those units before you then count them.

Without the qualiatitive part you have no idea what you are counting. Counting heads isnt good enough if you don't understand what those heads are thinking and feeling. And that can only be done using qualitative assessment.

Another way of talking about it is that knowledge starts with the unthought unspoken. And is created when it is captured and made explicit. You cannot count it until you have made it explicit. Some one has to turn behaviours and attitudes into concepts and words before we can aggregate and weight them. The problem with quant oriented clients is that they think the currency exists. So all we have to do is practice accountancy. In reality we have to invent the currency first. Then we count it."

Looking forward to your comments.