Qualitative Research’s Coming Out Party

From the desk of Kathy Doyle

At last week’s MRMW conference, I heard something very encouraging. In past conferences, most of the conversation was focused on quantitative data via mobile surveys. It was as if qualitative was invisible, irrelevant or simply didn’t exist. This time around the experience was very different. Yes… there was still a lot of talk about surveys and data analysis. But…there was also a lot of conversation about how mobile, and the emerging wearables category, is allowing us to easily and accurately gather quantitative data –the WHAT– freeing us up to focus on the WHY. That is great news for qualitative researchers.

Mobile is now every bit as important to qualitative research as it is to quantitative research. We are able to capture a “day in the life” over time, rather than solely through a single, in-person visit. Arguably, it’s revolutionizing ethnographic research. Respondents can upload photos, video, audio and text from their phone, wherever they are. We can naturally intercept them using geo-location capabilities for “in the moment” insights. It’s almost hard to recall how we managed before mobile.

Even more exciting is the many, many comments about how it’s great to be able to gather so much data, but what do we DO with all of it? How do we make sense of it? Over and over, I heard that we have mastered the art of gathering data, more and more data, to the point of data paralysis. And that we now need to understand the “why” behind all that data; that someone needs to make sense of that data; that the volume is now less important than the insights it can provide.

As qualitative researchers, we know how to find insights in stacks of data. We know how to synthesize it and make it manageable. We know how to bring data to life. So, while there was a lot of “doom and gloom” a few years ago – that technology was going to eliminate the need for market research—what I heard this year is that qualitative is poised to finally have our day.