Qualitative research is nothing if not fast-paced and continuously evolving. We can’t forget social media research, which is finally finding its place, and we can’t ignore advancements in biometric research measures as these techniques become more feasible for research applications. However, here are five lesser-hyped trends to keep on your radar as we look ahead to what will assuredly be another exciting year in qualitative research.
1. Enhanced and customized technology
As technology changes in qualitative research have proven throughout the past several years, if we dream it, it can be done. While more capable tools continue to emerge with increasing frequency, many also seem inspired by the ever-growing need for customization. Technology is integrated in qualitative research in such a wide range of applications that even well-built tools must offer flexibility in order to satisfy the unique needs of varying research projects. This is evident in bulletin board platforms that offer customized “hubs” and a range of data collection types so that qualitative consultants can leverage a variety of digital activities with respondents. We’ll also see continued acceptance of using online qualitative tools in a wider range of countries and with a broader range of target respondents.
2. Quantitative-qualitative hybrids
The research lines are blurring and the seemingly simple question—is this quantitative or qualitative?— isn’t as straight forward as it once was. While we’ll continue to recommend traditional qualitative research often—both stand-alone and in tandem with traditional quantitative research— we also recognize our clients’ need for speed. When the application is appropriate, researchers will tailor the research design to include historically quantitative and qualitative elements into a single data collection initiative. This may include central facility sessions with respondents completing quantitative surveys independently, prior to participating in qualitative dialogue. With appropriate caution, results from the research can more confidently provide direction than that obtained from qualitative research alone, and with the depth of explanation and understanding that quantitative research is often unable to reveal on its own.
3. Longitudinal studies
While online research communities continue to settle into their optimal applications, we do see benefits of engaging with respondents for some period of time, be it even a couple of weeks or months. For example, rich insight about individuals’ experiences and decisions can be gleaned by tracking along with consumers as they make a purchase decision, evaluate the offerings of financial institutions, or begin to describe a personal health condition. While in some instances we can learn what we need from an hour on the phone with them or a couple of hours in a focus group, there are other learning objectives that require spending more time with respondents. Engaging with them over time offers more opportunities for introspective activities, as well as a greater ability to watch as a decision unfolds and how the touch points and influencers have impact along the way.
4. Mobile-enabled research
Smartphone penetration has become so high among mobile phone users that it is now realistic to have respondents actively participate in research at the moment when they are doing specific behaviors. Many platforms offer applications that make it simple for respondents to take pictures, submit videos, complete text-based and closed-end questions and conveniently track along with bulletin board dialogue. We’ll continue to see more projects integrate mobile capabilities into data collection, as it offers additional means of engaging with respondents while also allowing researchers to travel along with them in their pocket as they live life, interact with products and make purchase decisions.
5. Increased video
As technology affords us opportunities to have respondents easily share video, we’ll continue to see an uptick in video data collection. We’ll see more video integration into quantitative research as well, but it’s particularly visible in the qualitative realm. Video offers an authentic means of hearing from consumers and seeing life through their lens. Seeing their face, hearing their tone and giving them an ability to record or showcase something with accompanying commentary (such as how they interact with their pet or what products they store in their pantry) all provides a rich learning opportunity for researchers.
Changes in qualitative will continue at lightning speed. To remain relevant and empowered to draw from the broadest toolkit possible, researchers must continue to watch industry trends. While you may not make use of every new technology or leverage modern practices in deference to more “classic” approaches, knowledge is power—and you need to be able to have a well-informed conversation about research method with your clients.