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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Five years ago, along with academic Professor Clive Nancarrow and Practitioner colleague, Nigel Spackman, I wrote a fin de siècle paper which highlighted a paradigm shift in research, spearheaded by qualitative research in particular, to something we called informed eclecticism. Informed eclecticism was all about bringing external information to the table of research projects as well as using a catholic mix of methods and approaches (a “bricolage”) to achieve better insight for the client.
Five years on what has happened, has anything changed or are we truly bricoleurs. At one level much of what we do could still be considered classic methods – groups and depth interviews. However while not every project represents a melting pot of methods, models, ingredients stirred together to produce magical insights, the “average” project is certainly no longer average.
Groups are routinely pre-tasked with homework; individual interviews often have a semi-ethnographic, observational element; headlines from newspapers and examples of competitor advertising are incorporated into debriefs to allow the findings and conclusions to speak the language of marketers. Classic methods are supplemented, updated, spiced up. However this is only half of the story.
We conduct increasing non-classic programmes of work which, while made up of recognisable parts (groups, observations, workshops …), add in some new elements (client training, use of outside experts) and form a whole which is quite different from the kind of work being conducted a decade or less ago.
A typical brief with the objective of understanding category dynamics and uncovering potential gaps might traditionally have been met with an in-depth piece of qualitative work (e.g. extended groups and possibly some supplementary in-home depth interviews) which would have provided a detailed account of the market and identified opportunities through market mapping or similar gap analysis.
Our response in the age of bricolage would more than likely be an initial stage of exploratory ethnography with some client team immersions (and observation training), an insight generation workshop with a designer-visualiser in attendance followed by an ideation workshop using a panel of creative consumers and outside experts working alongside the client team to generate concepts, capped off ultimately with a piece of sequential recycling to optimise concepts for online quant testing.
In the space of four or five weeks, clients may be taken from a position of relative ignorance about a category to a simulated test market, with an engaging and inspiring face-to-face experience with consumers and a collection of insights and concepts to use later gathered along the way. So, yes things have changed.
And what do we as practitioners think of these changes? Are they philosophically acceptable; is the research we do good quality; are we professionally comfortable and satisfied?
The UK qualitative research world is increasingly pragmatic and so our criteria for judging should be equally pragmatic – forget philosophical debates. The question is whether contemporary qualitative research “works” and the answer is that is does. It works particularly well for clients, who are engaged and excited by methods which can give them raw access to consumers in their natural habitat, but also provide synthesised insight, guidance and opportunity concepts in the time it used to take to conduct a pedestrian piece of consumer research.
It also works well for qualitative practitioners who develop new skills, have new experiences and continue to learn, develop and do great work for clients.
We just need a new name. Informed eclecticism possibly misses the inspirational importance of much contemporary qualitative work while bricolage sounds too random and confuses my French colleagues for whom it means “Do it yourself” (DIY).
Answers on a postcard please to Andy Barker, Managing Director of Research International Qualitatif or e-mail: A.Barker@research-int.com
Andy BarkerViewpoint: Bricolage revisited