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Within the realms of qualitative market research there is a richness in the diversity of theoretical approaches and methods employed. While it has not been the intention to identify any common theme running through the papers in this issue, each paper makes a valued contribution to the discussion of qualitative market research or to its application in particular aspects.
The first paper, by Marilyn Healy and Chad Perry, is a discussion of the literature concerning the description of complex social science phenomena, from naturalistic inquiry to the criteria for the paradigms for positivism, realism, critical theory and constructivism. The paper has an example of how a researcher used a theoretical model for examining customers' views of how and why quality service had changed over time. However, its main contribution lies in the consideration of the work of leading social theorists with the aim of addressing a gap in the literature concerning the establishment of the criteria to judge validity and reliability of qualitative research within the realism paradigm. The authors propose six comprehensive categories for judging realism research based on ontology, epistemology and methodology. They conclude that while realism is an important scientific paradigm, the criteria for judging its quality have not been developed. Herein rests their case that the paper "is the first attempt to assess quality within realism's own world-view". The paper offers an interesting way forward to use the realism paradigm proposed in facilitating the evaluation of market research, such as for networks and relationship marketing.
In the second paper, by David Marsden and Dale Littler, the applications for the repertory grid technique (RGT) for qualitative market research are explored. RGT appears within the theoretical framework of the literature concerning natural science and the positivist paradigm. However, analyses about consumer behaviour need to take account not only of rationality in decision-making within the positivist paradigm, so the authors in the use of RGT take account of the interpretive perspective where the subjective meanings of the experiences of the consumer contribute multiple interpretations. The authors show how RGT can be used to identify self-organised categories of products and services to form the consumer's "product construct system" and to show the relevance for market research. To illustrate, their participants were able to group 30 products and services into three meaningful categories. The discussion included the theoretical framework and value systems that contribute to enhancing understanding of consumer behaviour. There is work to be done before the potential of the RGT can be established and made popular for the development of marketing strategy.
Government intervention in one country designed to nurture and promote the small firm sector is discussed in the third paper by Nigel Culkin and David Smith. The authors argue that in the UK there are flaws in its government's approach to the small firm sector which show limitations and some nai«vety in its understanding of the needs of small businesses. Such government interventions were, therefore, destined to fail. Evidence from the authors' studies, using qualitative research, is intended to demonstrate how such research can capture the emotions and complexities of running small businesses and expose the truth that small businesses have their own requirements and that they are "not scaled-down versions of large enterprises". The authors offer practical recommendations for improving the assistance given by government agencies to small businesses.
In international markets the popularity of the established methods of qualitative market research is addressed in the fourth paper, by Alan Zimmerman and Michael Szenberg. This paper reports on a study with 39 experienced market research managers in 17 countries. Though exploratory, the usefulness of the study stems from a clarification of how far qualitative research techniques were employed, what obstacles lay in the way and how these obstacles were overcome. Among the recommendations by the two authors, the virtues of establishing clear communications, developing patience, building relationships and the willingness to be immersed in local cultures are seen as important attributes for good qualitative researchers to possess.
Finally, there has been increasing interest in the topics exhibited in the following book reviews and dissertations, Internet and practitioner perspectives sections in the journal. The special editors concerned should be contacted in the first instance and readers of this journal are very welcome to participate in the discussion and to contribute to them.
Len Tiu WrightKeele University