Showing posts with label Research Metaphors. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Research Metaphors. Show all posts

May 10, 2007

Another metaphor for research...Doors!

There are things known and there are things unknown,
and in between are the doors

Jim Morrison


Apr 25, 2007

Qual Research and the Art Metaphor - Part 2

First things first - To those of you who are still hanging around here in some hope of seeing a post – my apologies for disappearing!


In my 1st post on the subject, I used the Art metaphor to show how the skills required by commercial qual researchers become subconscious after a certain level of proficiency is reached and perhaps that is the reason why knowledge in this field is mostly acquired by observation and through word of mouth rather than through any formally documented way. Perhaps that is also the reason why it is often misconstrued to be unscientific in nature.

I use the metaphor once again today to bring up the question of 'Reliability'

When the topic of qual research is being discussion it is not uncommon to hear that - if two qual researchers are asked study a subject and report findings, you'd could hear two or more differing views. This can be confounding and often leads to people questioning the 'reliability' (repeatability / consistency) of research.

Going back to the metaphor - if 3 people were asked to paint the same subject - let’s say the Statue of Liberty, would we see identical results by all 3 artists? In all likelihood we would NOT! Could we then assume that one or the other has painted the picture wrong? The answer to that is again a NO.

The artist picks up a slice of the reality that is in front of him and reproduces it on canvas with the intention of expressing what he saw. One focuses on the face - trying to capture the emotions that the monument symbolizes, the other focuses on the context & captures the backdrop against which the monument stands, the 3rd captures the technical prowess behind the monument.

The purpose of qual research is to understand the meaning that consumers attribute to their experiences around brands / products and that meaning is very much a part of the consumer's subjective reality. There is no one definite way of looking at a brand /product; we look at things through the filter of our own experiences & past associations. And one of the objectives of qual research is to explore the many possible ways in which consumers perceive and create reality rather than limiting the canvas to the dominant and commonly held perceptions.

In fact if a consumer is asked to narrate a memory around an experience on two occasions - the recollections would most likely be different since memory is not static, it is dynamically created by bringing together associations based on the stimulus or trigger. When researchers report things differently - they are attempting to recreate the reality they have seen / heard.

Planning / Designing Research

As a researcher I have often been told "we would like to do 4 groups amongst these respondents in these 2 cities". While planning research - we often go by past research done on a subject as a benchmark...use similar methods, geographies, talk to the same people. Research proposals and discussion guides are pulled out from earlier studies and minimally tweaked to suit new ones. The result is anybody’s guess - we hear the same sort of responses which were heard a while ago with little incremental value added by the new research. This can be partly attributed to the assumption we make while planning i.e. since we are studying the same subject matter using the same research design would not be out of line and partly to lazy thinking.

Planning is one of the most important steps in a research project which sadly gets overshadowed due to the lack of time.

Even if the subject of the painting is the same – the vision that an artist has of the painting will determine what he decides to capture on his canvas and the tools / colors he uses to translate that vision.

Likewise the objective of research will determine the research design. For instance – lets take a research that needs to be designed for a brand of tea – if the purpose of the research is to understand the consumer & her mindset to design communication – it would be best to talk to her individually. If one needs to understand her context / interaction with the product – talking to her could be supplemented by observations. If the purpose is to understand the significance of the product in a culture and how that has changed over time – a consumer interaction may not be the ideal way forward. A semiotic study may have to be undertaken.

The idea is to look at each piece of research with the fresh perspective - to adopt a ‘solution - neutral approach’ – narrow down on the slice of the subject area to be studied and then arrive at the design that will best capture the information you want. And not the other way around.

Leigh Ausband, author of the paper Qualitative Research and Quilting uses a very simple example to emphasis the importance of planning….

I look at some quilts where I rushed, where I used a fabric I had on hand instead of waiting until I could get to the fabric store to purchase just the right piece…those quilts could have had a better outcome; they could have been richer in color or had more texture. However, I rushed and got less-than-satisfactory results. That is a lesson to be remembered. I will keep on working at gaining access, remembering that this project will be better and richer if I can get more participants, and get the right participants, the participants that can contribute the most to the project

Improper / inadequate planning
Compromising on the inputs that go into the creation of anything

(in case of research - research method, research instrument & participants)
A less than perfect output

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Feb 26, 2007

What do Art and Qualitative Research have in common?

Understanding Qualitative Research through Metaphors...
This paper, on using Quilting as a Metaphor to clarify the research process, caught my fancy since I had written a brief piece on the differences between qualitative and quantitative research inspired by another research paper that used the 'quilting' metaphor to explore the differences between these two disciplines. These papers have not only made for interesting reading but also helped me clarify some of my own thoughts about research through these metaphors.

In my early days as a researcher, I struggled to understand the rules of the game.

  • How does one define what an adequate sample size is – whether 4 groups or 8 interviews are enough to represent the reality we are trying to capture?
  • What exactly is meant by analyzing the data – other than placing data in a structure and looking for patterns – what does one actually do?
  • How do you define a good interview – was it with the chatty woman who couldn't stop talking and kept us amused OR the guy who was curt but spoke enough to help me answer all the questions I had?

The subconscious forces at work

Market Research textbooks for some reason do not carry more than a chapter on qual research. In the absence of formally documented knowledge (and here i am talking only about commercial qual, not academic) we gain it primarily on the job - by observing senior researchers or occasionally through informal conversations about the dos and donts. I suppose this happens because as a researcher gains proficiency in her craft - her skills in dealing with the complexity of this discipline improve subconsciously.

For instance, before starting to sketch, an artist if asked, can tell you what he is planning to sketch (let's say a leaf), what kind it would be, which colours he would use, his vision of it (a maple leaf symbolising the onset of autumn) etc. However, he would find it difficult to articulate exactly how much pressure he has to apply on his brush for the required amount of paint to stay on the canvas, at what angle he holds & tilts the brush head to get the accuracy of his stroke or how much of the leaf surface area should have the colour green/amber to reflect the changing seasons - since these aspects are part of his subconscious framework.

Likewise a researcher can be told about things like - possible information areas she needs to unearth in a discussion, the tools she has at her disposal... where, how and when she needs to execute those to be able to answer the burning question the marketer has. However for many other aspects it is difficult to lay down rules covering all probable outcomes. For instance what is the right level of comfort for the researcher to ask the respondent about that intensely emotional experience? How should one differentiate between a respondent who is stubbornly silent and one who is quiet, shy & will open up with prodding; between a person who is silent because she simply does not understand the question or or someone who has understood it & is uncomfortable answering it? The decision about whether a 20 minute discussion has covered enough ground on the respondent's habit or will she reveal her all important quirk in the next 5 mins? Much of what a researcher does or how she reacts in such situations is subconscious - often referred to as a 'matter of judgement'

Debunking the myth of being unscientific
Often qualitative research is perceived to be a discipline that is unscientific, lacking a rigid set of rules/structure or sometimes even esoteric. I suppose this perception emanates from the fact that as a discipline it is relatively more flexible, open and encourages deviations and creativity.

I remember how I learnt painting - I would always start of with a blank paper divided into smaller squares. Then in each square i would carefully replicate the required pattern and fill in the colours. Overtime I gained proficiency, I could replicate something without having to sketch it first or follow a grid. I could tweak the colours a bit. People who have mastered this skill create original works of art. If one has to observe such a person, especially in case of abstract work, the artist does not even have a reference for his painting. He starts with a canvas, his paints, brushes and a vision of what he wants to achieve and goes about creating that by putting colour to the canvas in a seemingly free form. Does that mean he does not follow any rules or worse still the discipline of painting because it allows creativity is unscientific and not governed by any principles at all? If that were true anyone / everyone would be able to paint effortlessly! These rules exist - its just that for regular artists the rules of how to balance colours, or create a symmetry between elements of the painting & the overall composition have become subconscious over time.

Likewise for researchers who have achieved a certain level of proficiency, the discipline offers an environment open/flexible enough for them to exercise their creativity in designing/ executing research, analysing & interpreting findings and experimenting with newer ways of representing these findings. Creative liberties are permissible, though grounds rules are followed. If i need to unearth an emotional trigger around a product i may chose to talk to a respondent at a time or a family or a bunch of strangers together depending on my need - though just for the sake of creativity or following a methodology in vogue i will NOT randomly decide to do ethnographic observations instead, since what I can achieve by conversation I cannot in this case understand by mere observation.

Whether it is art or research - the rules may not be always be obvious or apparent to an onlooker - but that does not mean the rules don't exist!

More to come - using the art metaphor to understand 'reliability in research' and what to consider while planning a research project.

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Apr 14, 2006

All the worlds a stage...

Over the last couple of weeks, I have repeatedly found asking myself one question…whether the online medium does justice to qual research. Both, my thoughts about this and the idea of doing online qual research itself are too nascent to arrive at anything conclusive yet, though my brush with it so far has left me with a few residual thoughts.

I am beginning to realize that good qual research is like theatre. Much like the script of a playwright, the vision of a research comes to life at the moment of interaction between the researcher and a consumer. The script is only the starting point for a performance…it is not to be confused with ‘the performance’! And the performance is not just a mere summation of the elements. It is that and a little more. This little more comes as a result of a dynamic process of (non-verbal) interaction between an actor and his audiences. The audience is as much a part of the creation of this magic.

Theatre requires an audience. For all of the arts public is essential. The physical presence of an audience can change a performance, inspire actors, and create expectations. Theatre is a living breathing art form. The presence of live actors on the stage in front of live audiences sets it apart from modern day films and television.

Elements of Theatre

Good qual research exudes this dynamism…this magic, a kick that researchers usually feel at the end of an insightful consumer interaction. It’s a feeling in the gut…that one has got it right…made some headway. That feeling is subtle, perhaps not a conscious one. Once cannot pin-point the exact point in the course of interaction where the researcher starts connecting with the consumer and goes beyond the surface. But the feeling is there nevertheless. To approach qual research as a ‘boxed product’ (a set of open-ends that would give you ‘feel data’…which will answer some of the how’s and the why’s for the marketer) to be executed in a standardized way is missing out on the magic.

Which brings me back to my question…does real qual research have to be a live interaction? I think so. The difference between online and face to face is the difference between seeing reality that has happened a couple of minutes or couple of hours ago and experiencing reality as it happens…in a myriad ways.

It’s the difference between a live theatre performance and wrapping the emotions of that performance on a 35 mm reel.

In a live performance the audience is entranced -- their disbelief suspended. This requires the audience to further utilize their imagination and their creative abilities. The reactions to the work can have an even greater impact. There is an energy that flows both ways.

Some actors cannot or will not do stage plays due to the subjective emotional and physical intensity of this form of stagecraft.

The audience experiences a "Human-to-Human" event, an intimacy that is created only with this medium. Finally, when you see live theatre you will experience something that is unique . . . an interpretation or even a once-only performance that results in a brilliant act of serendipity that may never be seen again!

What makes the 'Live Theatre' experience unique

In my experience of doing qual research, I have found many parallels to the description of a theatre performance given here ….the uniqueness, the energy, the intensity, the experience of intense involvement at the exclusion thoughts like where you are, who you are talking to & the oddities in the environment, the play of emotion….can all be very draining but all the same very addictive!

Categories: Online Research_ , Metaphors_

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A Research Metaphor

An unsual metaphor that explains differences between qualitative and quantitative research in a very interesting way.

Qual Research

Full of colors and shades and layers
Reflecting personalities
Life Like
Something that has a mind of its own
Capable of changing its course mid way
Encourages deviations or a creative approach

Quant Research

Full of patterns
Reflecting facts
Also art, but not free hand…
more like an engineered art
Encourages conformity

Categories: Metaphors_

research metaphor,qualitative research,quantitative research,qualitative v/s quantitative research,