Question Boards: A Simple Approach to Generating Quality Qual

Emily James

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    Qualitative research is notorious for its contextual, complex insights that when interpreted right are very actionable. There are many different ways to generate qualitative insights, with more creative methodologies being created and implemented every year.

    But sometimes, the simplest methodologies are the best. Focus groups are a timeless qualitative methodology, with many insight tools taking that original conversational concept and innovating it to adapt the methodology to different environments; our Question BoardMR tool is one example of those innovations that takes the great concept online to eliminate the geographical boundaries associated with the original face-to-face focus groups.

    While the tool we use has a great impact on the insights we generate, we also need to understand what it takes to generate quality qualitative data and insights. So, what constitutes high-quality qualitative data and insights?

    Question Boards and Quality Qual

    In a previous blog, I explained that “qualitative research is used to understand opinions, attitudes, and motivations; answering the questions that cannot be quantified with numbers and logic.” Quality qualitative insights are laden with context, created through emotional, impulsive responses that ultimately indicate the most accurate truth a participant could express.

    Tweet from FlexMR Tweet This
    Question boards are just the right blend of focus group and forum, stimulating high-quality data-rich conversations without the strict time pressure for both participants and researchers.

    These answers are derived from long-form answers that typically take a bit of effort to fill out, but really, the highest quality qual data comes from when there isn’t much effort put in at all – the stream of consciousness, wordy answers are physical representations of a participant’s thought process in action.

    Generating qualitative data relies on engaging your participants beyond logical thought. How do we generate quality qual data? At the most basic level, it’s the tools you make use of, the wording you employ in the tasks themselves, and the moderation during the task that entices participants to leave high-quality qualitative data for your analysis. There will be more factors in the mix to heighten your chances of success, with different weight depending on the task you choose, but those three are fundamental to creating a functional qualitative research task such as a question board.

    We chose to use question boards in the research stages of our Insight as Art campaign, out of all of the qualitative choices available to us, this was the one we knew would guarantee us the most success. As a simple overview, question boards are brilliant qualitative focus groups that don’t have a stringent a time limit as online live chats or face-to-face focus groups, with the capabilities of incorporating both image and video stimuli for greater discussions. In terms of user experience, they are a cross between a focus group and a discussion forum, which makes it perfect for our needs in the Consumer Postcard Project we’re currently running in the Insight as Art campaign!

    Once we receive a postcard request, we conduct in-depth qualitative research on a brand through a question board task over three consecutive days to understand how people perceive that brand. As the copywriter by trade, becoming the researcher on this project meant a steep learning curve; but I have learnt a lot of valuable lessons that only experience can teach about the value of question boards and their impact on qual data.

    Insight into the Question Board Research Process

    So, in terms of the three factors I mentioned above, we have our tool ready and waiting. Question boards are a brilliant way of inciting conversation, while still allowing participants to take their time and put thought into their answer. Check.

    And while the right tool is a great solid stepping stone to quality qual, we’re not across the river yet. We need to take into account the wording employed and the moderation if it’s needed. Focussing specifically on the wording within the task, especially if it’s a brand-new task, we need to let the participants know what we need them to do, and when necessary, provide enough information for them to know what you’re talking about. So, in the introduction to the question board, I provide a short 100-200 word biography on the brand we’re discussing just to a) clarify which brand we’re wanting their insight into, and b) give an overview of the brand to those who haven’t heard of it before so they can still contribute with their expectations of the brand.

    Once the start is done, we can start considering the questions; we want to make sure that they are specific enough to point the participants in the direction we want them to go in, while also keeping them simple enough to allow them to express their true thoughts and not feel like their answering it wrong. So, for example, the three questions we ask our participants are:

    • What comes to mind when you think about [brand]?
    • What experience do you have with [brand]? (Or alternatively, what expectations do you have of [brand]?)
    • How do you feel about [brand]?

    Each of these has proven fruitful in generating quality qual data first time, and as the participants have gotten used to the format, they have got comfortable and are providing more and more data each time.

    However, that is true for the majority; there are still a few participants who only contribute the bare minimum and this is where the third factor, moderation, comes into play. Moderation is where you dig deeper, prompting participants to provide more data for your use. With those difficult participants who contribute only for the incentive, there is one sure-fire way of getting them to write just a few more words for you: ask questions. “That’s so interesting, how did you come to that conclusion?”, “Why do you think that?”, “Is there something in particular that helped you come to that conclusion?” There are many ways to frame the question, and there are many other questions you can ask off the back of their answers, but anything else you get out of them will help provide that all-important context for your analyses.

    Through these interactions, I learnt that the more you read these types of qualitative answers, the more you’ll understand and recognise the regular thought-processes and recognise familiar patterns, taking the insight generation process to the next level. You’ll also be able to spot which participants will always answer each question as fully as they can, which haven’t fully understood the question, and which need a little more cajoling to put in the effort needed to provide the quality qualitative data we need.

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    Generating rich qual data doesn't have to be hard - in fact the simplest ways are usually the best. Question boards are a brilliant, easy-to-use tool that we're using them in our Insight as Art project!

    However, setting up the question board right first time can sometimes negate the need for moderation – in our case, only the controversial topics so far have needed moderation to make sure that conversations stay civil in line with our community guidelines – but moderation can ensure that we consistently get good, reasoned insights each and every time.

    Quality Qual and Creative Reporting

    Quality qualitative data is a great goal, but the path to get there can be very simple no matter what creative qualitative methodology you choose. However, question boards are an inherently simple focus group task to set up and conduct research on, without the pressure of a strict time limit so participants can really take the time to think about their answers in a comfortable environment.

    In the Consumer Postcard Project, we’ve been able to generate quality qualitative insights and use them to create a unique postcard report for each brand. At the end of each question board, we’re overflowing with quality qualitative data, containing numerous key themes and standout quotes that we use to inform the end artistic result.

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