Editor's note: Molly Turner-Lammers is vice president of Fieldwork Seattle, a Kirkland, Wash., research firm.
As qualitative researchers, we believe that deep-seated perceptions have an impact on human behavior. It is, quite simply, what our profession is about – getting beyond the surface to the core of what motivates people. We do face-to-face research because we know that body language and facial cues are important to these discoveries. What a respondent says can mean different things depending upon their inflection and non-verbal cues.
But qualitative researchers must also be businesspeople, and in the business world, technology has often replaced face-to-face interaction in the name of efficiency. Telecommuting, videostreaming, virtual conferencing, e-mail ... these and others have replaced much of the face-to-face communication of the business world.
In many cases, the efficiency these technologies have brought has done nothing to diminish the quality of business operations. But for the qualitative researcher, technology presents a problem. How do we preserve the integrity of face-to-face research and still utilize the efficiencies of technology?
Here are some things you can do to utilize the benefits of technology without sacrificing your qualitative researcher soul.
Use online groups for difficult recruits or faraway markets. Online groups – those where respondents use Webcams and meet in a virtual facility – have improved with the current sophisticated software but are still not ideal for reading respondent non-verbal cues. Moderators also say that, compared to in-person groups, it’s not as easy to create group rapport and show materials in online forums. Clark Murray from Churchill Group, a New Canaan, Conn., research firm, adds, “One of our big things here at Churchill Group is having respondents do what we call ‘get up and move’ exercises where they get out of their seat...