Friday, December 30, 2011

My mum the interpreter

Here is a sad Christmas story conveying no particular lesson other than, perhaps, the speed at which kids can soak up a foreign culture.

My mum, aged 72, is an interpreter. In case you don't know, I am second generation Iranian (Persian is a Californian expression I refuse to use). So my mum interprets for Iranians and Afghanis who are asylum seekers (most claim to be gay or converts to Christianity in the hope they will be granted permanent leave to stay) or simply not fluent in English. She attends court, meetings with lawyers and hospital appointments including births where she has ended up in tears holding a newborn because dad was in Afghanistan and mum was under a general anaesthetic with no other relatives.

Recently she was called to interpret for a 12 year old Afghan boy who had turned up in the UK on the back of a lorry. The lorry had come to a halt on some B road in the middle of the wilds of Lancashire, the back doors opened, and he had been ordered off. It was 2am, freezing and he was on a country lane with no houses, street lights or people to ask for help. A reminder: he was 12 years old - only a few years older than my own twins. And he spoke no English.

He was starving and unsure of where he was, so he walked. Eventually he reached a small town where he saw some lights.  He hoped he could find food where the lights were shining from. It turned out to be a nightclub. A kindly bouncer took him to the local police station and directly into foster care.

We look after child asylum seekers here in the UK. This kid was given a complete health check, sent to school and his kindly foster parents even bought him a PAYG mobile phone.

"Did you go to school in Afghanistan? My mum has asked him when she was asked to interpret for the Social Services.
"Then what did you do?"
"After my dad died, my uncle took me in and I watched over his donkeys."

The same uncle had paid some gangsters to have him transported to the UK. He had no mother.

My mum next saw him a few weeks later and once settled in with his foster family. There had been a disagreement between him and his foster parents. The foster dad had explained that the boy point blank refused to wear clothes bought in TK Max (TJ MAx in the US) and wanted the exact same brands/styles from JD Sports at 4 times the price.

When my mum asked him what the difference was between the products he replied that there were none. So why did he want to pay more?


My mum asked him if he wanted to go back to his donkeys. I think it was her way of telling him how fortunate he was.


My mum, being 72, could not comprehend a 12year old mind that wanted to pay more for the exact same product. I can understand but cannot articulate it into words. Another article perhaps.

Any thoughts anyone?


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mission for 2012

When I do my ethnography talks, one of the most important topics I cover is what people DON'T do. What they NEARLY do and, so it follows, what they don't say.

Conventional research is all about what is done and said. If lucky, some researchers will add meaning/interpretation too. If not so lucky, the quotes/statements will be presented as insight... Which is why agency planners like to differentiate themselves from researchers as follows: "A qual researcher will tell you everything that was said in a focus group, while an agency planner will tell you everything that wasn't said." Not sure where I read this but I think it was in a Linkedin group post. By a planner.

Another very nice (true) story I heard recently from a Kantar director goes as follows: During WW2 aircraft engineers spent valuable time and resources trying to figure out how to reinforce wings and fuselages so aircraft would survive heavy damage while on missions. They would study in great dept bullet holes and the like to try and engineer better aircraft until one particular engineer realised that the bits of the aircraft to study were the places not hit by bullets. 

Here is why.

The aircraft that never returned could only have been hit in these places sustaining irrecoverable damage. They had been busy looking at holes  of surviving aircraft instead of the areas that hadn't been hit which would, by deduction, have sent the non returning aircraft to their doom...

And a personal anecdote: I am a fine artist by training. The most important lesson I ever learnt was about what not to draw. That could be conveyed by the lines or colour around it. Look at the drawings by the old masters and you will see what I mean.

So where am I going with this?

Here me out.

My personal obsession with naturalism and reality are forever being blind sided by the way we are forced to recruit respondents. This is not about the quality of respondents. We always recruit excellent respondents. But nonetheless respondents who have been selected on the basis of their answers to attitudinal and other questions.

[A brief story: When I was at DDB London many years ago heading up their ethnographic research unit, I was showing a planner colleague some edits of one of our households when his jaw dropped.

"But I did an in-depth with the same guy in that same house!"

I looked at him and was taken aback by how upset he was.

"He told us he was a hospital nurse!!!"

Then it dawned on me. We had been told he had a completely different profession. I complained to the recruitment agency (a reliable supplier) and then to our head of planning before being told to 'not blow it out of proportion...]

The above happened over 12 years ago. Why did it happen? Most likely because the client had extremely tough criteria and the recruiters were in a hurry - which they always are - to deliver. And people get so obsessive about how respondents answer particular questions they completely ignore the fact that they too are humans, just like the rest of us, who have their own agendas for becoming respondents. This agenda us usually money related.

Now for something hard to swallow. I have lived in with hundreds of households, both in my JWT days and my DDB days. All had ticked the correct boxes. All fitted narrowly defined criteria by the way they had responded to screeners.

In many cases when we presented back films (and in those days I didn't do jump cuts or short edits) the client would be seeing their segment for the first time in their OWN SETTING. And they would ask questions such as: Why does a C2D household have a flat screen TV and health club membership? (A: because they are on benefits and pay no taxes). Why is a 'healthy' household having a fry up breakfast on a Saturday??? (A: because they don't see it as unhealthy) And so it went. Clients would see their respondents in-situ for the first time and slump back in their seats at all they things they might have got wrong with the way they understood them.

It's worth saying that I have never cut out events and happenings which conflict with who the respondents are supposed to be. It's tempting to do because the last thing you need is to be accused of bad recruitment which will undermine just about everything you have done including each and every insight generated.

When clients do question recruitment, I so want to demonstrate to them that the same respondent can fit all of their segments depending on context. I so want give another presentation so they can see the different hats, attitudinal and other, worn by respondents depending on their moods and modes. And Ethnography is such a brilliant way of bringing these things to life. Yet we don't. We recruit and capture respondents like they are two dimensional beings with emotions, beliefs and values which are constant. HA!

You the reader have better things to do than read my ramblings here so I will get to the point. What is our mission for 2012? To develop features and tools for EthOS which will allow us to immerse ourselves into the mundane, ordinary realities of non-recruited people in the real world. Not respondents who have pledged to behave in a particular way by filling in a recruitment form. This is what 2012 has in store for us.

Happy 2012!


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas and a prosperous 2012

I'm writing this final post of 2011 through a stinking cold/cough/head cold. And tomorrow I have to drive the family all the way from Brussels to Leeds in West Yorkshire, UK, a distance of 455m or 700km.  So there. That's my whinge over with. Back to the post.

What will 2012 bring? For us, it will bring wild apples. 2012 will be the year we turn our attention to understanding real people, in real places, doing real things in real time. You may ask, "But you already to this via EthOS don't you?" and I would reply, "Yes, but with recruited people. Not real people. Not people happily going about there lives who decide on a whim to share a nugget or nuggets with us by responding to tasks embedded in the things they touch, buy and stumble upon." OK I'm saying real people to be provocative. And you may well challenge me by saying you can't use respondents without screening them. Oh but that will come. Stay tuned and I shall demonstrate. 

So here's to a very special 2012 for all of us. Have a good one! 

Friday, December 9, 2011

It's time to LOOK under that bonnet

Any idea why people charge what they charge? It's about time you did have an idea.

Here is a great post by Jason Anderson of GameHex.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Selling EthOS

I met an independent qualitative researcher at the MRMW in Atlanta this summer just gone. She specialised in the Hispanic/Latino market in the US and we spoke at length about mobile research in general and the ways in which it added to and changed conventional qualitative research.

A few things about this individual which I picked up on immediately: she seriously knew her stuff - saw straight through a lot of the 'benefits' of mobile tools; she had some great clients which are a testimony to how good she is at what she does and her research methodology/approach was her way or the high way.

During the conference I noticed her also chatting with the QualVu people who were giving a demo of their platform. I asked if I could watch the demo and they graciously obliged knowing full well I was a competitor. If you must know, it was a fantastic demonstration which left me feeling a little sick.

Fast forward to two weeks ago when I received an email from this same lady. She is running a large study in the US with Mexican households and her client wants her to use a mobile platform of her choosing as a an experimental pilot into mobile. She sent me a briefing document too which was interesting. Audio was essential (separate from video) and the client didn't want the respondents to have to use their desk tops even once during the study. It was a mobile device only project. She also reeled off a load of new-to-me requirements which we don't yet offer.

I decided to play helpful and explained at length that we have a development road map and the features she is asking for won't go live for a few weeks at least. We explored ways of working around them while still using our platform and in the end I recommended she get in touch with the likes of QualVu and Revelation which may already offer the same features (not going to say which, so there!). She paused, and told me that she had already been in touch and none offered what she wanted. We were the closest yet.

The challenge is that this lady, like many other potential users, is what I call a hard core quali. She is trying to to a qual, focus group style research study using a mobile platform. And she won't compromise on how a platform should work for her. Which is fine. Which is my challenge.

I left it that if she decided not to use us, we would almost certainly work with her in the future. And that discussions with her have been amazingly useful. She said she would come back to me after discussing with her client.

I will keep you posted on whether we get this or not.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

More time

Someone should come here and do an ethnography of me at work. I drive people nuts. Especially my developer and commercial director and my wife and my father in law... only our app developers still don't know me well enough to take everything I say as said. Let me explain.

We have an innovations/features pipeline which goes something like this:

Dec 2011
Blogging  - we are close to completing this now
Researcher's living document - for analysis and interpretation
Cross feature tagging - all entries and posts and be filtered as one

Jan 2012
Visceral sliders - our first questionnaire mechanism which is nothing like a questionnaire

Feb 2012
EthOS Live TM - A live intercept feature

Apr 2012
EthOS Wild Apples - more later
EthOS Street - more later

You are looking at the next 5 months worth of EthOS development. I haven't included more minor tweaks and additions.

As of today, blogging is finished but in staging. We were ready to push it live last Friday. But while playing with it, we came up with a bunch of new ideas around how blogs would live alongside the rest of our entries. Which meant literally going back to square one with certain elements of this build. Which will set us all back half a week. Not a big deal you might say.

Until you see how things work at EthOS.

a) One of us - usually me - comes up with an idea for a feature.
b) Our digital director asks me to write out the specifications.
c) I refuse.
d) Commercial director has long chat with me about the importance of focusing on features which will make us money/are chargeable
e) I agree but continue with what I have started
f) Digital director begins to write out specifications and shares them with me
g) I don't really listen and he begins building
h) Digital director sends me screen grabs followed by long calls around how the feature works
i) Calls littered with Digital director saying: "But I told you it was going to work like this!"
j) Call ended with digital director asking if any more changes will take place
k) I tell him I don't know.
l) f-k are repeated numerous times
m) New feature appears on staging and we start playing on it like excited kids
n) Like excited kids we want the feature to do more
o) Our suggestions take us back to f
p) We go live much later than expected

You may ask: why even tell anyone you are working on new features? Just do a short PR and launch. My reply would be that our transparency allows clients and prospects to engage with us early on ensuring that we build the best possible tools we can. Call it crowd sourcing if you think 20 people are a cloud...

You may ask: why pay scant attention to the spec document? Get everything sorted in your head before you start building! My reply would be that I do pay attention and that all of the key functionality we need are included. But I cannot get my mind around a new feature until I have played with it for a few days. And I can't take a new tool the best there is in one step.

And here is a film someone sent me which I'd like to share with you. I mirrors my own views about time constraints or deadlines. Who needs them?


Monday, December 5, 2011

Welcome to my life

I have been thinking for a while about how to get new users onto a test project on EthOS as quickly as possible. And a solution came to me last week which I have put into motion. An EthOS project of MY LIFE! Warts and all. The kids, my food, my Skype calls and so on and so forth. All there for you to see for yourselves just who I am. BTW I am no exhibitionist, I just enjoy getting inside respondent's shoes once in a while!

I will be adding entries constantly so invited users can get a feel for and play with all of the features the platform provides. Heck you can even send me comments which I will have to respond to.

In order to gain access/receive an invite, go to and sign up using the tab at the top of the page - you don't need to download an app unless you want to send entries to me. Next, email me here with the same email you have used to sign up. You will soon receive an email from me with a QR code on it. You can scan this code with the EthOS app to launch my project on your device. But since you are unlikely to send me entries, simply log in to EthOS where you will see my invite on the right of the screen. 'Accept' the project and start watching and playing.



Invitation to our second webinar

Christmas is almost here  - well, our tree is up already - and I thought it a good idea to share where we are  with various features one last time before we split for the holidays.

In a day or two, we will go live with blogging, Researcher journal and a few other tools we want to walk you through. So what better way than a webinar to be held on the 13th of this month. We will use the opportunity not only to show you how all of our features come together, but also share our plans for the next two big developments we are working on.

Therefore please join us at our Webinar on Tuesday 13th December so we can show you, tell you and hopefully get you running your own Christmas pilot.

We have two time slots: you can register here for the 8am GMT session and here for the 5pm GMT session.

Looking forward to seeing you there.