Qualitative research consultants have the privilege of having a unique glimpse at the lives of real people. Reality television shows are a reminder of the reasons for pursuing qualitative research.
The most prolific type of new programming on television is often referred to as “reality television.” These shows propose to provide glimpses into the lives of a broad range of people from all walks of life….those who want to show off their dancing and singing skills, those who are housewives, and those who want to date a bachelor, just to name a few. I confess to watching a few of these shows myself and enjoying getting what appears to be a glimpse of the daily lives and choices of people who may be just like me, and also those who aren’t anything like me. Obviously other people enjoy this, too, as these are some of the most-watched shows on the air.
I’ve tried to figure out why these shows sometimes intrigue me so much, and I have come to realize that, in some ways, watching certain types of reality television reminds me of the reasons I like being a qualitative researcher. I have an endless fascination to understand people - why they behave the way they do, what motivates them, and why they make the choices they do - a trait that I think I share with many other qualitative researchers. So, watching some types of reality television is intriguing to me because it allows me that insight into understanding more about people and their motivations.
What is clear to me, however, is that there is no better job for someone who is fascinated by people than to be a qualitative researcher. Having the opportunity to get a glimpse into people’s lives and stories while engaged in conducting research is a unique honor and privilege. When an environment of trust and openness is created between the researcher and the respondent(s), it is the perfect opportunity to explore potentially new insights into why decisions are made. Sometimes the respondents are learning more about themselves and their decision-making at the same time as the researcher.
In a research facility, a professional researcher knows how to build a trusting environment for respondents to share. With online research methodologies, we often get a real-time look at behaviors as they are happening, such as when respondents mention that they are wrapping up their comments to make dinner or to run to pick their child up from school. Sharing of photos during these online research explorations can give an even more intimate look at their lives, homes and workspaces. The use of mobile technologies also creates the opportunity for a “just like being there” peek at the decision-making of real people as they take photos during an activity or text while shopping. These are the true “real people” sharing their real lives with us.
Many examples of intriguing glimpses into the lives of respondents can be seen at the Symposium on Excellence in Qualitative Research on May 12, 2011 in Chicago, IL. This Symposium, sponsored by the Qualitative Research Consultants Association, is a day where researchers and research buyers come together to present and share insights on creative and effective uses of qualitative research in a variety of industries. From working behind store counters to using online bulletin boards to get close to consumers, the presented case studies will provide inspiration for ways to embrace the real-life experience that qualitative research can be.
I feel very honored and grateful when respondents develop a comfort level to share their lives with me and their fellow respondents. Qualitative research consultants have the privilege of having a unique glimpse at the lives of real people.