As many of you know, last week I delivered a presentation at the QRCA WW Qualitative Conference in Vienna

I would like to share with you a precious A-HA moment I had there.

Tamira Snell, senior consultant and futurist at the Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies opened the conference with an interesting talk on the mega-trends, presentation that  featured the illustration above (Fred McNabb, 1956, the house of the future).

While much of the technology/ objects in the picture are confirmed today (like the phono-vision receiver, 3D TV and even the Internet of Things), it strikes you, indeed, how the people in the picture are stuck in 1956. Fashion, body-shape, gender roles, health-related behaviors  – all frozen in time, as if no cultural or social changes were about to happen in the next 50 years.

And I got thinking that it is the perfect metaphor for the role of qual research in the research world today – while the research discourse is dominated by technology and data talk, we need to look at qual research as the primary guardian that makes sure we do not miss the very people from the equation. As qual research has this outstanding ability to be both high tech (using online, mobile, VR as tools) and low tech, very close to the people, very culturally and psychologically grounded.

And the QRCA WW Conference managed to be exactly that –a beautiful display of how human the qualitative research is at its core. Just a few mentions, as proof:

  • As human as the human error is: Jim Mott and Tom Law of BAMM London talked about how to introduce a little unpredictability, ambiguity in the research process, how to get lost and let oneself wonder around to explore more. My key take-out from their talk was that there is a constant stream of information out-there and researchers should not always set-up to provide carved in stone explanations to the client, we could sometimes achieve more by simply allowing the clients to explore themselves (as they do, using photo journalism and music). And how about immersing 150 clients with consumers in the course of 1.5 days, and answering 5 business objectives in the process (thanks to Claudia and Edward at Happy Thinking People)?
  • Grounding qual research in psychological and cultural understanding is essential, and for this we need working models of how humans function. Yes, behavioral economics does make a compelling case into how people act & think, but basing research on BE means more than using the terminology “system 1” and “system 2” in our reports. I was impressed by Raji &Pryiam at Vox Populi and Rachel & Tom at The Behavioural Architects who showcased the use of psychological models based on BE understanding (the Habit Loop/ the Hooked model) in powerful research designs.
  • There was, obviously, some well-deserved space for technology-related talk (online communities, social media monitoring). I myself talked about the use of online communities in testing innovation (without killing it in the process) but I also felt inspired by those who advocated for no tools other than our own body & senses (improv, movement, sensory sculpting) and for collaboration with “low-tech”, creative or scientific experts (ranging from semioticians to animators, illustrators, photographers). And when Steve August (Focus Vision) & Shannon Danzy (Danzy Consultants) suggested a report in the format of a comic book, I knew instantly I am ready to die trying J

But the main human(istic) thing about the QRCA WW Qual is that the conference itself is a people’s conference – it’s people first:  cooperation, truly generous sharing and a great place to make friends. So… power to the people!!!! And looking forward to the next time.


Photocredits:  (Fred McNabb, 1956, the house of the future)