What’s New in the World of Qualitative Research?

What’s New in the World of Qualitative Research?A view from the 2014 QRCA conference in New Orleans

SRA recently attended the QRCA (Qualitative Research Consultants Association) amazing annual conference in New Orleans.


The conference was attended by almost 250 leading practitioners of qualitative research and over 40 exhibiters. It is one of the most collaborative events in the consulting world and the premier happening for finding out what is new in the field. It is also a testament to the fact that qualitative research is alive and well around the world.

Say yes to technology.

One of the biggest themes is the growth of technology to facilitate conducting qualitative research. A number of the companies presented products which allow the development of social insight communities that can be used for online focus groups, with respondents participating via webcam or text, to bulletin board projects, and even small scale quantitative surveys.

Another frequent use of technology is digital video and still photography, either shooting respondents or having them take pictures and video. If you give someone a GoPro Hero® digital camera, they can tell you and show you how they use your product or what they face when making a purchase decision. This adds depth to your analysis and can also bring reports to life.


Eye tracking is an additional technology and can be used for gaze plots which show the trail someone’s eye follows as they look at a website, ad, package, or shelf display. This technology also provides heat maps which indicate the areas where most people’s gaze focus. It can tell how long a respondent looked at a particular item and how long it took to find that area or product. This can be really useful to test website user experience or to determine how well packaging stands out on a shelf.

The role of qualitative researchers is expanding.

For many years, SRA has been synthesizing information from qualitative research, primary quantitative studies, and desk research or secondary indicator data sources into a cohesive, comprehensive report for our clients. However, this is only now starting to become a more common practice. Several speakers encouraged consultants to expand their horizons and include more than just the results of focus groups.

People don’t necessarily make decisions on a rational basis.

Several sessions pointed out that many decisions people make are intuitive rather than rational. This fact is not something generally uncovered in quantitative projects. This means that it’s even more important to be aware of respondent’s expressions and emotions when moderating. With the increased use of technology for qualitative research, we need to use other methods to understand their levels of empathy, social skills, self-awareness, emotional control, and motivation. In a case where the group is being conducted online using phone or webcam, this can be achieved by listening to the respondent’s tone of voice and the words they use. If it is a text based or chat room group, you can also look at the words which they use multiple times to help understand their feelings.

How researchers encourage sharing of emotional intelligence in a qualitative setting has a dramatic impact on how we understand what drives respondents to make decisions. What seems like a simple business question in a meeting does not necessarily play out rationally when it’s time for a respondent to make a choice.

Finally, solid business skills will always be a part of the research process.

The keynote session at the conference consisted of four research buyers talking about what is most important for qualitative research consultants to keep in mind as they conduct projects. The key points included understanding the study objectives, being aware of the business strategies, challenging client assumptions, and asking good questions. What clients really want and need is a report that tells them not just what and why, but what to do about it. It’s the ability to tie the research to business and marketing objectives that separates good consultants from the rest.

About SRA

SRA is a solution-based consultancy with almost 30 years of experience grounded in quantitative and qualitative expertise. SRA delivers Strategies that help our clients maximize their competitive advantage, drive value for their end users or stakeholders, Results based upon complex and detailed analysis of large data sets that are understandable and actionable, and Achievement to help improve the bottom line.

For more information on SRA Research Group, visit our website at www.sra-researchgroup.com and to learn more about QRCA, go to www.qrca.org

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