Three Ways to Apply Qualitative Research
Read Time: 3 Minutes
When it comes to strategic planning, qualitative research is often as important as quantitative. There are three popular ways to conduct such research — focus groups, online discussion boards, and senior advisors. Depending on your needs and budget, each of these approaches to qualitative research — or a combination of them — may be appropriate for your project.
A short overview of each could prove helpful to those planning research of this type.
Professionally moderated focus groups are one way to conduct qualitative research that most people are familiar with. About 90 minutes is the optimal duration for a focus group, and four to eight participants is usually the optimal size to keep conversations from getting unwieldy. Participants usually share similar attributes or behaviors.
Focus groups — whether in person or virtual — can be beneficial for a variety of reasons. Participant interaction often produces deeper or unexpected insights, and you can capture facial reactions and body language, which can provide important nonverbal feedback. You also can blind a client’s identity, which may be important if you want unbiased feedback. Finally, group sessions save time and money compared with one-on-one interviews.
[For more on focus groups, see our full article on the topic.]
Online discussion boards are similar to focus groups in that they are professionally moderated. Unlike a focus group, however, an online discussion board is asynchronous, which means that it takes place over time, usually a span of a few days when participants might log in for 20 to 30 minutes at a time to respond to prompts and to complete activities. Because of the more flexible timing of this format, a larger sample can participate in the same discussion. The exact number tends to vary, but 20 to 40 participants are common as part of one discussion.
Online discussion boards have some similar benefits to focus groups with a few nuances. Given that the discussion is usually spread out over a few days, online boards allow you to debrief quickly on early findings, make tweaks to the stimuli along the way, and probe for better understanding. In short, they are a bit more iterative than focus groups.
Since you’re not limited to a specific time slot or even a specific geography, online discussion boards also allow you to reach out to a larger sample. Even better, their asynchronous nature is more conducive to participants providing more candid and thoughtful responses to prompts. And without getting too technical, they offer a variety of question types and response modes, including mixed media, open-ended text, images, and videos. This allows for greater flexibility and customization when designing research guides and meeting overall research objectives.
Using senior advisors to conduct qualitative research also can be useful. If you are trying to determine the full scope of the competitive landscape, for instance, or the relative attractiveness of a market, outside subject matter experts (SMEs) can provide dedicated capacity and guidance. Those SMEs often are former senior-level industry executives, functional experts, or technical experts who are now independent. Advisors may work a few or several hours a week for many weeks or even months. They often join calls, meetings, and presentations, and review project materials.
About Lauren Bledsoe
Lauren Bledsoe, Director of Qualitative Solutions at GLG, currently leads a book of business focused on managing and growing a suite of products with professional services firms’ clients.
Subscribe to Insights 360
Enter your email below and receive our monthly newsletter, featuring insights from GLG’s network of approximately 1 million professionals with first-hand expertise in every industry.