Editor’s note: Joanna Jones and Karen Seratti are the co-founders of InterQ Learning Labs and Joanna is the founder of InterQ Research. This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared under the title “How to Conduct Research in Context (and Why This Matters).”

As qualitative researchers who have done everything from super-complex cybersecurity studies to B2C studies on how people use shopping apps, if there’s any advice we can give to people who are in the qual field, it’s this:

Research is contextual.

In qualitative research, we study how people make decisions, why they behave the way they do and what they think about various products or services. The most authentic way to study how people come to these opinions or behave the way they do is by putting people in contextually authentic situations.

Human beings are triggered – subconsciously – by settings, stimuli and often, others’ opinions. Yet in qual, we’re prone to think that it’s our “methodologically sound” questions that will give us answers, regardless of whether we’re interviewing over Zoom, in a focus group at a facility or in an office workspace. But that’s simply not true; to truly take insights to a higher level, it’s critical to keep the context of how decisions are made.

Let’s explore this more by looking at how to think about context before setting up a study.

This sounds obvious, yet so many researchers miss this when they think about methodology design.

The first question to ask yourself when thinking about methodology is simply this:

Is this an individual or a group decision?

For example, if someone is shopping online for clothes, and you’re testing the user interface, then the obvious study design will be a one-on-one interview, where you can see the person navigate through the app/website. This is an individual decision.

However, what if instead the study was about...