We’ve all been there when something unexpected happens in a qualitative group; where a cultural oddity sends everything awry. We’ve all heard the war stories and shared our battle scars – even to the point where we almost believe it’s an inevitable part of international qual research.
The more creative we get in research design and the more we push the boundaries, the more issues we seem to face. But why should international qual research be destined for work arounds and coping strategies? Is there a bigger, better solution we can proactively apply to improve research projects?
Researching the researchers
For Incite’s international qualitative projects we cherry-pick the best agencies and researchers we want to work with, and one of our offices in London, New York, Singapore or Shanghai acts as the central agency. We work with very diverse local agencies and researchers in very diverse markets.
We believe that the nature of collaborative partner relationships and the subtleties of cultural understanding that these can unearth are the catalyst for both preventing issues whilst on the ground and for achieving not only good insights, but best insights.
Being inquisitive souls, we wanted to understand better the influence and impact of our local partner relationships on how we approached a programme of research.
We sent a tough brief out to ten markets for a previous project we had successfully delivered. Rather than sharing our programme design, we asked for recommendations on what was best for their market. We expected a range of approaches to reflect the cultural diversity of ‘best’ research design from the US to Nigeria and Vietnam to Korea. However, we found that all ten markets responded with only minor modifications on our original methodology.
So we picked up the phone to each local partner, and we found our insight.
Relationships as well as methodology are critical
We found the interaction between central agency and local partner and between local partner and respondent are just as important as designing robust research. The very nature of ‘partnership’ and what it means in each country is pivotal, and there are a plethora of subtleties and nuances at play. Our Western view of what is it to be a partner, and the return path of an invitation to collaborate has to be considered in context of local culture.
We understand that in asking for input, some markets will tell us what’s possible, but perhaps not what is best. In Vietnam for instance, partners will implement a research design knowing it will fail before they feel able to challenge its validity. It’s exactly these avoidable challenges and nuances of understanding that we believe can be proactively managed for more successful international qual.
Improving insights in international qual
To design better research, proactively building relationships in each market is key to avoiding reactive changes on the fly, and ultimately delivering deeper, richer insights.
This might sound obvious – of course any quallie worth his/her salt would be aware of cultural differences, interactions and styles – but improving the success of international qual is not about implementing what’s available, but discovering what is best.
We believe there are three key steps in exploiting the central agency/local partner/respondent triangle to return ‘best insight’ from international qual:
1. Contextual ‘partnerships’
We take the time to understand how partnerships actually operate in each market. Sensitivity to how we ask partners to challenge our methodology makes a difference in the final design and ultimately, in the insights we can unlock. True partner collaboration doesn’t invite a methodological free-for-all, but it does provide the forum for partners to consult on best eliciting insights within the parameters of that pre-determined methodology and how they can flex the approach to best suit their market. We like to collaborate on stimulus, what to include in terms of format, content and volume and how to use it, and we discuss and agree sample design.
2. Both linguistic and cultural translation
Once the right idea is ready for fieldwork, it’s important to maintain the lens of cultural understanding to avoid bad execution. Simply translating the discussion guide and research materials into local language won’t ensure incident-free fieldwork. Sensitivity to local cultural nuances, the nature of local relationships and how respondents will interact with the moderator are significant success factors. We build flexibility into our guides and time into our schedules for local moderators to review, write and adapt the guidelines for their market.
This avoids applying techniques that just don’t work – multiple stimuli in Mexico for instance, won’t meet the research objective. It helps us to refine the stimulus, avoiding complexity of idea, language and how it is explored, for instance, giving Japanese respondents the time and space to explore a set of personal materials rather than in a group environment.
3. Local collaboration for fieldwork interpretation
We have always immersed the researcher into the local market for all our qual work, not only in the planning and fieldwork phase, but importantly in review and analysis. We choose to get in a room with our local partners after a workshop to discuss what we saw, what they saw and apply their cultural context to better understanding the behaviours experienced. Receiving a partner’s report and doing all the analysis back at base doesn’t facilitate extracting the right insights from multiple markets.
More successful research outcomes
By understanding local relationships and the permissible boundaries of researcher and respondent interactions we de-risk the possibility of bias and ineffective research techniques that require reactive adjustment on the fly.
All researchers would like to think they flex their approach to accommodate market sensitivities, but knowing how to flex and doing it throughout the process is another level of collaboration.
Being proactive about how we work with our international partners and taking the time to understand and adjust to their understanding of being a partner results in more robust, meaningful insights that our clients can rely on. We make sure the paper your qual report is written on is worth the read.
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