AQR’s Breakfast Bites

The perfect topic for a young researcher!

The Nursery’s Kat Cunningham gave us some excellent tips on impressing clients – starting with the dos and don’ts for young researchers – during this week’s AQR’s Breakfast Bites session. (Yes, there was breakfast. And yes, I did have three croissants.)

We learned about the importance of preparing for briefing meetings where, even if you’re new to market research, you must always add value to the conversation taking place; whether that’s through listening and being insightful with your comments, or showing enthusiasm in your behaviour. There’s a lot you can do to contribute despite not having the experience and knowledge of a director.

The talk also focused on body language and its significance; whether it’s the image you portray to your client or simply boosting your self-confidence. (Enter: the ‘power pose’!)

Kat also recommended a captivating TED talk by Amy Cuddy (‘Your body language may shape who you are’) during which she demonstrates the importance of body language in showing authority and confidence; which then translates to being respected and heard. It’s people’s actions, and how they carry themselves, which act as a catalysts in the engagement of audiences. In other words, it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it! “People aren’t always listening as much as you think.”

**Keep an eye on the AQR calendar and members’ emails for details of upcoming events. Non-members also welcome!**



Talk to me

If I were to distill the role of a qualitative researcher into two words, I would probably go for ‘professional conversationalist’.

Having great conversations underpins everything we do – yet how many times have you had, or viewed, a conversation with consumers where ‘it’ just doesn’t happen?

You know what I mean…low energy, basic answers, dead-looking eyes and real boredom both in front, and behind, the glass. 

Like most quallies, I recently had such an experience and tried everything I could to get the conversation going – energisers, breaks, changing seating positions, challenging participants – all with no success. It was a dud.

Rather than deciding to just chalk the experience up to being ‘one of those groups’, I’ve been looking for solutions.

Drum roll please…

Allow me to introduce Celeste Headlee. She’s a veteran radio journalist who recently wrote the book We Need to Talk; How to Have Conversations That Matter

I cannot recommend this book highly enough to…well pretty much everyone – but especially to my fellow professional conversationalists. In her book, Celeste looks back on her career in journalism and shares what she’s learned to help her have great conversations – interviewing everyone from Pulitzer Prize-winning authors to truck drivers.

Rather than giving a long-winded review of the book, I’ll share three ideas it’s inspired me to try out:

  1. Showing consumers behind the curtain more
    According to Celeste, good conversations happen when everyone understands what the topic is and what the interviewer is expecting of them. I want to play with this insight in future consumer conversations and try being a little more honest; letting them know more about what we know, what our hunches are and – most importantly – what we want to understand from talking to them. Too often, we try and shield our conversation partners from the bigger picture to avoid biasing them and they leave slightly confused asking ‘I hope that was useful?’ with a puzzled look on their faces. I want less of that.

  2. Rehearsing conversations and developing lines of questions
    What comes across in this book is the sheer level of thinking that Celeste and her team put into the conversations they have – rehearsing and refining lines of questions and developing strategies for different potential avenues of discussion. Clearly, good conversation doesn’t just happen; it is crafted and planned. I want to put some of Celeste’s ideas into action and spend more time trying to pre-empt the conversations I have. I want to move beyond the discussion guide and think bigger.

  3. Shorter conversations for shorter attention spans
    One of the big themes in this book is that the art of conversation is disappearing. Celeste attributes this change, in part, to our shortening attention spans caused largely by technology. Incredibly, an academic test to measure attention spans has shown a fall from 3 minutes in 2004 to just 59 seconds in 2014. Knowing what we know about our attention spans, why are we surprised that when putting 6 strangers in a room for 2 hours to talk about something they were not prepared for, they’re likely to become bored and lose interest? It’s time to start doing things differently and I want to find new ways of having shorter bursts of meaningful conversations with consumers. I want to learn how journalists maximise their time.

I’m now off to do some professional conversationing. I’ll let you know how I get on…

Strong and stable recruitment

Earlier this year, James Diggle of Dig Fieldcraft came to us with a cracking idea for a training project. 

The idea: A mock short-term online community with freelance market research recruiters acting as participants.
The plan: By seeing the process through the eyes of a participant, recruiters should have more empathy for participants – along with a better understanding of the recruitment/research experience.
The end goal: Higher quality recruitment for online communities.

And so the Razor-Dig dream team was born! James rounded up the troops while we focussed on the research design and community structure. We ran the community for 3 days, with everything set up as if it were a real FMCG project for a client – including tasks that real community participants would have to complete. 

At the end we gave them an open-ended questionnaire to complete. This gave us rich insight into a) what recruiters understand the purpose of online communities to be, b) common issues they face when recruiting this methodology, and c) new learnings that emerged from having taken part in a community themselves.

From this feedback we created a ‘best practice’ checklist for online community recruiters to bear in mind and submitted a joint paper to the AQR – who then invited us to speak at this year’s AQR Conference as part of a panel focussing on recruitment issues!  

And here are our seven tips from recruiters for successful online communities:

1. Know your timings
It’s easy to misjudge timings when creating task-based projects for participants to complete independently. It’s also tempting to downplay task length and how long you think it might take a respondent to complete one of your exercises.

Takeaway: Think harder (and longer) about how long your tasks will take. Overestimate where possible.   

2. Be mindful of potentially controversial tasks (i.e. selfie videos)
Auto-ethnography is such a valuable asset to have in our toolkit. But without a skilled moderator there ‘in the flesh’ to help build trust, participants might become uncomfortable by tasks involving selfie videos for example. 

Takeaway: Participants should be told beforehand if they will be required to take photos and videos of themselves.

3. Beware of undeclared extras
Exercises that involve buying something, any kind of excursion, spending time with or taking photos of friends/family almost always mean additional time, strain, and cost for participants.

Takeaway: If you have any unusual extras in your tasks, set your expectations with participants beforehand! It’s only fair that they’re aware of the level of contribution expected from them.

4. Be tech savvy
Not all participants will have laptops, webcams, or mobiles with the latest operating system. Recruiters occasionally find out – after participants have been recruited – that the project cannot go ahead without specific technical requirements like this. 

Takeaway: Find out about the technical requirements of the platform(s) you’ll be using and communicate it clearly to field and potential recruits.

5. Plan for spam
Email spam systems are an easily forgotten vulnerability for logistical hiccups. All sorts of problems could occur if participants are not appropriately warned about what emails to expect and how to appropriately manipulate their spam settings.

Takeaway: Understand the notification system of the platform you’re using and teach participants how to add the email address to their email provider’s ‘white list’.

6. It’s good to talk
With many modern recruitment techniques, it is possible to get through much of the process online. Due to all the potential controversies mentioned above, we must be extra careful that participants have actually read the description and are fully happy and prepared to take part in projects.

Takeaway: Always have a thorough screening call with potential participants to ensure we have their full, informed consent.

7. Provide a clear definition of an online community
‘Online community’ is a relatively new and very nebulous term. It can mean a variety of different techniques and has a variety of uses within research. If we don’t explain to recruiters what it is we really mean by it, they may struggle describing this to potential recruits. (And the recruiters told us that they are rarely provided with such an explanation.)

Takeaway: Give recruiters a couple of sentences which they can use to succinctly explain, to potential participants, what an online community is.

(A summary of Razor & Dig Fieldcraft’s submission to the AQR Conference 2017: 7 Tips from recruiters for successful online communities.)

Meditation…in moderation

I’ve always been drawn towards the idea of meditation. Not so much for the spiritual side of it, but more with a view to quieting the mind and gaining greater focus on what’s right in front of me. Like all budding qualitative researchers I go from moderating groups, to writing debriefs, and jumping between projects. I consider meditation an invaluable skill in our line of work.

A few months back I attended a weekend course on Vedic meditation with 20 other individuals. We all signed up for different reasons, but shared an eagerness to learn how to make meditation part of our everyday lives. Since then, I have slowly developed my own practice. It’s still inconsistent – and there are days I don’t manage to find time for it – but I’ve realised that, as with all important things, you have to prioritise it. So I now get out of bed earlier or nip into one of the phone booths at work during lunch. I’ve noticed that when I do this my mind is clearer and I feel even more engaged with what I am doing.

Throughout this process I’ve started to wonder whether there are techniques or tools that could be derived from meditation, or indeed mindfulness, which could be used in qualitative research.

While I can’t imagine any scenario where we would ask respondents to sit and meditate before a group(!), I did attend AQR Spark’s Stop, Breathe, and Be (a mindfulness for moderators workshop). There we were asked to close our eyes while eating a piece of popcorn and to focus our thoughts on what we were experiencing. Going around the group afterwards, many felt they were recalling a deeper response where they were able to more clearly articulate their thoughts on the experience. I left feeling that there might be potential to incorporate similar techniques into our qualitative work. For example, focussing the minds of respondents on the task or topic at hand, or perhaps using it as a warm-up task in client workshops.

But the courage is in having the conviction to try it out! While meditation and mindfulness have a greater awareness and presence in today’s mainstream consciousness, there is a sense (I would argue) that it’s still something associated with ‘hippy’ culture. Thus it would be hard to sell to clients as a qualitative technique or a valid thing to spend five minutes of a focus group on. My hope is that, over time, we will start to draw in techniques from other similar disciplines to enhance the quality of the conversations we have and, ultimately, the insights we deliver to our clients.

crystal ball