6 Ways to Involve Stakeholders in Qualitative Research

Chris Martin

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    While quantitative data enjoy a warm, positive reception across most businesses – engaging decision-makers with qualitative insight can often prove a greater challenge. Lacking in statistical rigour, the individual and human perspectives that qualitative research brings to the table are easy to overlook for many. However, to do so is to ignore an important, contextual basis for decision-making. As insight professionals, we know this. We understand the balance between qual and quant that leads to an in-depth, rounded view of customers, consumers and behaviours.

    The real question that many insights professionals grapple with is: how do we ensure stakeholders and decision-makers also understand the need to balance quantitative data with qualitative research? To many, the methods typically associated with qual – focus groups, interviews, ethnographies, diaries and discussion forums – simply appear too expensive, too slow and not representative enough to be effective.

    But this doesn’t have to be the case. Through years of experience, the FlexMR Insight team have developed a number of ways to involve stakeholders in qualitative research, demonstrate its value and help firms achieve a healthier research balance. In this article, I’ll be examining the six methods our team deploy most often – and you can too.

    1. Research Design Sessions

    Perhaps one of the most common scenarios we encounter is where decision-makers have issued a request to a research department, the question is scoped and accepted, but the next time that the decision-maker is consulted is when the data is ready to be presented. Naturally, this leads to a huge disconnect between the methodology and the results. Questions become answers with nothing in-between. And the more certainty those answers can provide, the better.

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    Involving decision-makers in qual research design can be a powerful way to generate early buy-in and enggagement with results.

    In this scenario, we tend to find quantitative results are heavily favoured – even when a qualitative element is present. That’s because those quantitative results provide the perception of greater certainty. Numbers are easy to compare, words are not. To avoid this, one proven tactic is to set up a research design session with the stakeholders and include them, even briefly, within the process of designing the study. Not only does this provide a forum to explain the benefits of qualitative methods ahead of time, but interactivity improves decision-maker buy-in to the final design.

    2. Video Close Connections

    This method is simple, powerful and effective. A video close connection is a virtual focus group in which stakeholders form part of the discussion. Close connections flip the script on traditional focus group convention. Rather than the clean, clinical presentation in which decision-makers sit behind a (physical or digital) two-way mirror.

    There is, of course a trade-off to be made. By involving stakeholders and turning focus groups into dyadic conversations – a degree of moderator control is sacrificed, along with some ability to prompt and probe. However, in return, stakeholders are immersed in a live session which brings participant hopes, concerns, excitement and frustration to life in a way that is more emotionally impactful than simply viewing or reporting.

    3. Customer Immersions

    On the topic of immersion, a customer immersion can be a fantastic way to demonstrate the value of quality qual. While the term customer immersion is broad and can apply to a number of actions, one format that this tends to work well in is a workshop.

    Workshops should aim to bring together multiple qualitative data sources to build a full and complete picture of a single customer, or a small group of customers. The objective of this is to narrow the focus of stakeholders, and to call attention to the extreme level of detail that qual can achieve. To this end, immersions should be packed with creative deliverables, photos, videos and ideally the participants themselves to answer questions that arise.

    4. Self-Ethnography

    A more challenging, but rewarding, option is to involve stakeholders themselves in research tasks. This is particularly relevant to diary studies and ethnographies. If a research brief involves using a product or going through a particular experience, a creative way to connect decision-makers to qual participants is to have them go through the same thing.

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    Self-ethnography builds stakeholder empathy for participant feedback and fosters a closer emotional resonance with findings.

    By taking part in the same research tasks as participants, stakeholders are able to better connect with the feedback provided through the shared experience. Even where opinions differ, the empathy that is built for the thought process and possible causes of divergence enhance the capacity for qual to tell compelling stories.

    5. Insight as Art Workshops

    Another tactic the FlexMR team have had recent success with is through presenting insight as art. We demonstrated this in action during a 2020 campaign in which we transformed qualitative opinions from consumers into unique works of art delivered through a variety of mediums. We created qual-led brand representations through digital illustrations, oil paintings, physical papercraft, charcoal sketches and more.

    It is important to remember, however, that the value is not in the artwork itself. It’s in the discussion that surrounds it. Workshops are a great way to draw this out; using the artwork and individual interpretations of the themes it represents as a way to create an engaging discourse around the qualitative that contributed to it.

    6. Emotive Storytelling

    Lastly – never forget the power of emotive storytelling. This incredibly powerful mechanism engages audiences and takes them on a journey. It provides a memorable alternative to dry reports and presentation. But most importantly, it builds empathy.

    We tend to find storytelling is a goal of insight teams, eschewed simply because it is perceived as a niche skill, or one that is hard to develop. That is not the case. There are some simple and practical steps anyone can take to start telling compelling insight stories. In fact, I’ve spoken twice on this topic in the past. Check out these links if you’re interested in learning some of the techniques that can be borrowed from table-top gaming or journalistic principles.

    So, there you have it. Six different ways to involve stakeholders in research. While none of these may be universal, and there is certainly room to tailor the scope of decision-maker involvement to both the research method and business culture – it is clear that with some creative thinking, there are strong methods to demonstrate the emotive power of qualitative research.

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