The circumstances of the beginning of 2010 have put me in a bit of an uncommon situation:an inflation of new clients, and by "new" I mean "completely new", not like "an old client that has just changed employers".
How I had been used to navigate these waters (especially in 2009, but I seem to remember that things have been more or less the same even before) is being in the same boat with my old clients, long time "mates", with whom I share the same views on navigation, we guide ourselves by the same stars and usually understand each other without much (verbal) declaration of intent. I occasionally accommodated in the boat a new mate, but it never seemed to be too much of a hassle for either of us.
This year, I found myself in the position of over-explaining myself, my philosophy on qual, my interpretations, basically answering a whole lot of "why's?". And, it wasn't smooth nor particularly thrilling... For two reasons:
1. Rationalizing everything I do and believe in as a qual researcher proved something very difficult for me to do. By the time I would reach the end of a long list of "because", I would realize that it doesn't really add much value to the whole discussion.
2. I sometimes felt that there is no common "body of basic research knowledge/ research understanding" between me and my "audience" to build on.
So what's my point on each of the two above? I will keep the second reason above for a later post, and maybe rattle a bit more on the first:
1. (Real) Qual researchers shouldn't have to rationalize everything they do or say or feel... Don't get me wrong: I am not advocating guru'ism in research (I am one of the most fierce opponents of the researcher who "just knows better" in total disrespect for the people they should research and, even after 11 years of experience I try to dive into the research environment with the most "virgin mind"). Yet, just like in any other profession we get better with time, with every new experience, new person we meet, new (marketing) challenge we face (a, and btw, with every book, article, blog post we read - coz we do read!). Our better is called "educated intuition" (and because of that you can even "bend the rules" a little if you really know what you are doing - I expect this will be the topic of another post).
As Chris Forrest from The Nursery is very inspirationally putting it here: At the end of the day clients aren’t buying people’s responses. They are renting a researcher’s brain for the insights they will bring.
The key here is the matter of trust. If you, as a client, do not fully trust the researcher you work with, then find yourself a different one. Because, it doesn't even matter how good they are, if you feel you can not accept those interpretations or recommendations that are based on their intuition too, you will probably miss exactly the thing you pay a "premium research fee" for... If you are not ready to rent their brain, than I suspect you are not in the right relationship. Yet.
If the research community (I include here providers and users) is becoming more and more aware of the limitations of "asking people bluntly to explain their behaviors or beliefs", why not apply this closer to home?
PS: I have to disclaim again that educated intuition is not an excuse for anybody to suddenly become an expert, but it is the final touch, the special-expensive ingredient (saffron, anybody?) that comes on top of all the other base, more conventional ingredients that need to be built rigorously with experience and formal knowledge.