Mindfulness: too soon for qualitative research?
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.