Thursday 15 March 2012
Myths & Silly Rules: how many of them actually said that?
Where shall I start? This is one of the most common misunderstandings of qualitative procedures. It tells both of the quantitative (how much, how many?) orientation of many buyers and practitioners – and more fundamentally in group work – it demonstrates the failure to take the group seriously! It is part of what David Rennie, a brilliant academic commentator on qualitative process calls, “Dragging the chains of positivism along the corridor of qualitative inquiry.” Well put David!
I’m going to tackle the quant. thing first. No matter how many people said or didn’t say something in a qualitative study it has no statistical validity if you try to generalise it to National or Regional or Demographic levels. It may have face validity and be a jolly useful insight that happens to scale up, but it is no test for the frequency or universality of the idea across large populations at this early stage. However, although every sensible client and researcher knows this, it still emerges as the question people have to ask, because they don’t know a language for better questions. It is a failure of the qualitative industry generally to inform and teach our associates better questions to ask of us.
There are hundreds of things we say just because – well – it’s our turn, we’re due to speak, we’re feeling left out. These remarks are likely to be based on winning formulae we’ve used before – which have got us us noticed, past a sticky moment, allayed our inner critic etc. In other words, we say them because we always say them when we’re feeling the need to say something in a situation where we’re trying to do well and must compete for attention with others! Groups are full of such utterances and they exist to promote norms and comfort among participants – not to describe deep-felt feelings or motivations about your brand or product. Because of this, stuff that lots of people say or agree to is likely to be among the least significant of all the things they say. In my experience the really telling remarks are those that stand out from the others!
Insight nearly always emerges from things you haven’t heard before, or things said in a way you’ve never thought of before. It does not reside in polite, safe, normative remarks unless these serve a deeper purpose for the brand or service.
Sadly, the ‘how many of them?’ criterion leads us to focus on the remarks driven by the need to norm as the most significant when they are neither significant or really about the product or service at all!
There is, however, a much more serious problem underlying this: what I call ‘the failure to take the group seriously’. Nearly all of us, practitioners, clients, psychologists alike really harbour the notion that the group is actually a collection of individuals whose statements can be aggregated or counted to generate an analysis. But what if the group can be considered as an entity with character and personality in its own right. And that the people in it, for the time of the group, are parts of a whole? In other words that the voices in the group are sub-personalities of the group personality and that this is in truth the aspect of the group worth attending to. How did it feel to be with this composite person? What parts of this person did you meet (sub-personalities)? What feelings came up in you, the facilitator whilst with this ‘person’? Could these have been feelings travelling around the group? If you had to offer a sensible explanation of this feeling, how would you explain it?
As well as feelings, there is usually a tone of voice that the group ‘finds’ after a while. If you have too intensive a topic guide, this tone of voice is likely to be dependent – waiting for the next question. Such tones are flat, polite, take-it-in-turns in form and resemble people giving answers on a questionnaire in form. As moderator you can encourage spontaneity in tone and content by setting challenges for the group which it cannot solve by normative processes. We teach these challenges in our Breakthrough Psychology Course.
I think this is such an overlooked area in our practice of qualitative research that I will return to it soon.
Posted by roy at 7:30 am. No comments
Qualitative work was founded on the idea of making contact with people in greater depth. This website contains ideas, tips and techniques on how to do that well. It also contains things that I feel passionately about which affect our daily lives!
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