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Making Behavioural Economics a Qualitative Reality

What data collection methods are best to address the underpinning pillars of behavioural economics?


Since the world of qualitative research began, we qualitative researchers have been confidently telling everyone that we can answer the big questions, such as how, who, what, where, when and why?

Yet, recently, behavioural economists have been asking us some pretty hard hitting questions, most notably how can we answer ‘why,’ when it is pretty obvious that consumers are very bad witnesses of their own behaviour. Yes, they can give us a rational response as to why they bought a particular brand, but critics say this is unlikely to be the true response when so few of our actions result from the conscious and so many from the unconscious.

Some qualitative researchers have risen to the challenge, suggesting changes in thought processes and analyses that can address most of the issues raised against us. But this still leaves a gap: what data collection methods are best to address the underpinning pillars of behavioural economics.

The key data collection issue is the separation between the ‘considered/entrenched’ views held by consumers and the ‘here and now’ opportunities and responsive actions taken at the point of purchase. Both play a key role in purchase decisions. Typically group discussions and other traditional qualitative techniques employ interactive discursive methods combined with well-targeted enabling techniques to help us to understand many of the biases (i.e. considered or entrenched views) we hold. Meanwhile, (self) ethnography and current behavioural reportage, typically collected via online data collection methods, address the ‘here and now’ that help us to understand many of the heuristics in operation.

When this topic is explored further at the Worldwide Conference on Qualitative Research, discussion will go deeper into the roles played by heuristics and biases and indicate how each can be allocated to a specific data collection approach.


Ken Parker, chairman of Discovery Group, will discuss behavioural qualitative research in more detail at the upcoming Worldwide Conference on Qualitative Research, hosted by the Association of Qualitative Research and the Qualitative Research Consultants Association. The event will be April 25-27 in Rome, Italy. He is a committee member of the Association of Qualitative Research and a Fellow of the Market Research Society.

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Qualitative Research Consultants Association

Qualitative Research Consultants Association

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About Qualitative Research Consultants Association:
QRCA is a non-profit association of consultants involved in the design and implementation of all types of qualitative research.

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