QUALITATIVE RESEARCH 101, Part I: Introduction
“In a world moving increasingly to data science, it feels as though qualitative research has been relegated to the bottom of our professional toolbox.”
My colleagues and friends typically think of me as a “quant” guy who keeps my head buried in numbers. It is true, I love surveys and data. However, I have a big heart and a lot of love for qualitative research, too!
I define qualitative research as direct interactions between a researcher and the audience. These are typically focus groups and in-depth one-on-one interviews.
In a world moving increasingly to data science, it feels as though qualitative research has been relegated to the bottom of our professional toolbox. “Where did I put that focus group guide? It is in there… somewhere.”
So, I am going to reach into my own toolbox and share a series of thoughts and professional insights into qualitative research.
Great qualitative research requires developing and using a set of skills that many data scientists are hesitant to pursue: managing conversations with flesh-and-blood people. This requires an additional set of skills, training, and experience that many specialized data-oriented researchers have ignored or have not had opportunities to explore. I can point to myself as a former member of this crowd – I worked for an incredibly bright and talented firm that conducted a successful U.S. presidential campaign without holding a single focus group. However, I was also fortunate to later work with an amazing firm with a reputation for conducting top-notch qualitative research. Each of the two forms of research – quantitative and qualitative – has their role in understanding opinions and how to influence them.
Many people I meet are also not aware of another secret: we have new technological tools in qualitative research for delivering cutting-edge analysis.
As researchers looking for insights, we first need a signal that “something is off,” and there is something new to explain. For example, in the burgeoning field of behavioral economics, scholars such as Daniel Ariely, author of books such as Irrational Behavior, grab our attention by pointing out the quirks of human nature. Why do people act against their self-interest?
I have had tremendous success for clients and personal satisfaction by talking to real people. These interactions can generate new ideas and be a source for explaining unexpected phenomenon.
The process of finding answers to these questions is one of many uses of qualitative research. It is a key tool when researchers need to “know what we do not know.”
Since this is an introduction, here is a preview of some areas I will cover:
- Some guiding principles of qualitative research.
- Some anecdotes and case studies.
- Reasons saying you conducted “your own focus groups” deeply concerns me.
- Classic and new ways to analyze qualitative research.
- The real-world solution for many organizations: combine qualitative and quantitative research.
- Ways I can help you conduct qualitative research, including with a tight budget.
As always, contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss opinion research and solving your organization’s challenges.