When people ask me what I do, the response of insights and analytics consultant often is met with blank stares. So I follow up with “I conduct focus groups and surveys”. After-all, that’s what research is all about, right? While there is a bit more to it than that, this description does encapsulate the two main types of research, qualitative and quantitative.
Types of Research
Quantitative research gathers data from a variety of sources and then analyzes it to provide a straightforward, numbers-focused understanding of the “what” concerning a certain topic. Most of our clients are very comfortable with the what – surveying members and stakeholders on everything from education or conference evaluations to advocacy needs or overall satisfaction.
However, quantitative data can’t always provide the full picture. In order to truly understand an issue and how to act on it, you often need the “how” and “why”. This is where qualitative research comes in.
For many, focus groups are synonymous with qualitative research (which is why it is a handy way to describe what I do for a living). While they are certainly a popular method, it’s just one of many.
Approaches to Gather Qualitative Insights
- Focus groups. In a focus group, researchers assemble a group of 6-8 (virtually or in person) to share their opinions and thoughts about a particular topic. Focus groups create an ideal forum for brainstorming where participants can take their thinking in whole new directions. This is the kind of setting where an “ideal” model can be created by a group, or where ideas can be fleshed out more fully. Additionally, focus groups provide the time (two hours) and the setting for really robust discussion. It’s this kind of energy that can really play out in new ideas and new ways of thinking.
- In-depth interviews. Another popular method for doing qualitative research is the in-depth interview (IDI). As its name implies, this style of research is typically a one-on-one conversation between a person with insights or opinions about a topic and the interviewer. Generally, IDIs are considered one of the richest methodologies available to provide in-depth insights into a target audience’s thinking and attitudes. Their intimate setting allows for a very focused conversation while eliminating the influences or pressures that sometimes happen in larger groups. Without the threat of feeling uninformed or the pressure to “one-up” the other participants, respondents will be much more candid in their conversation and you’ll get a truer read on what they really think.
- Bulletin board. Like in-person focus groups, in this approach you begin by inviting a group of potential participants to share their opinions on the topic being researched — but in this case, in an electronic bulletin-board environment. Of the various online methodologies available, bulletin board discussions provide participants with the greatest amount of anonymity and privacy, ensuring a robust and rich discussion about the subject. Like the online focus group, this approach also affords the ability to reach and retain low incidence, hard to recruit targets (geographically dispersed) and broad geographic coverage offers better representation. Further, participants enjoy the ability to participate in research from anywhere and at a time convenient to them.
Clearly, there is no one-size fits all approach to qualitative research (or any research). Picking the right methodology requires a deep understanding of the questions at hand, the individuals who will be answering those questions and the relative strengths and weaknesses of the various approaches.
Get the Benefits of Primary Market Research
At Vault, we believe that conducting primary market research, including qualitative research, is a great way to make your organization thrive. However, great research is only the beginning. At Vault Consulting, we tailor our research services to help your organization meet its goals and provide the tools you need to translate data into actionable information.
If your organization requires professional primary market research services, contact me for more information about our research services today!