NEWS18 March 2015

‘Qual researchers must walk tall in the land of machines’

News UK

UK — At a time when researchers are obsessed with technological innovation, emotional intelligence is what sets qualitative researchers apart, says Peter Totman of Jigsaw Research.


Speaking at day two of the Market Research Society (MRS) Annual Conference: Impact 2015, Totman insisted that while surgeons, business consultants and astronauts can all theoretically be replaced by robots, qualitative researchers cannot. For that reason, he says, they must use their emotional intelligence to enable them to “walk tall in the land of machines”.

“Qualitative researchers are prone to being self-destructive,” Totman went on. He described the dangers of them making themselves dispensable by being drawn into qualitative innovation overload; the lure of scientism — the belief that only science has knowledge — and an uncritical love of technology.

By focusing on ‘good’ innovation — or seeing things differently — rather than ‘bad’ innovation — actually being different — then researchers can build on client and responent relationships, rather than weaken them. “If we define our job in terms of emotional intelligence, we’re safe,” he said.

Totman pointed out that while science can be used to help understand, researchers shouldn’t attempt to play the scientist. “Scientists seek objective truth, meaning facts or proof, while qualitative researchers are looking to reveal subjective truth, that is, insight,” he said.

He referred to a case study discussed earlier in the session by Ben Scales of Davies + Mckerr, which had outlined how Heineken sought to connect to men of the world through technology that the men were already using in their everyday lives. Scales talked about the importance of using “digital due diligence”: being mindful of the way audiences engage with technology and applying that to the design of digital research.

Paulo Panizzo of BSkyB talked about the broadcaster’s use of technology alongside traditional techniques, and Rob Ellis of Cog Research discussed how researchers must give equal importance to the art of qualitative interviewing as the outputs of approaches like eye-tracking and galvanic skin response. “We’re asking increasingly complicated questions but we’re no better at self-reporting,” Ellis said.

Summing up the theme of the session, Totman reiterated: “Technology is a tool for respondents to show us the world in their terms. It should never be the star.”