There's an interesting debate raging around about Do-It-Yourself Research. I posted this comment earlier today on Power to the People, an article by Joshua Hoffman on the Research Access Blog.
As a quallie, I am well aware that lots of people think what i do looks not just easy, but dead simple. Relatively few clients want to do their own, although some do. The usual reason appears to be cost, from what I can see, as recruiting is no faster or slower for them or me.
I find client's analysis of qualitative is usually of the fast kind -- first impressions. If they did more analysis, many of them could come up with what i come up with.
The real issue for me is more one of raw capability. People who have the capability to do from an analysis perspective what I do certainly exist inside client companies, but they are typically senior managers and executives, and are primarily in a managerial or strategic role. If client companies were prepared to hire people at a senior level to do this work, they could likely obtain great results.
A couple of other things are often missing when clients DIY on qualitative. The longer the person is in the job, the less breadth of exposure they get, the less ability to bring in contextual learning from a broad base of clientele.
For some methodologies, it could be difficult to get people to tell you the unvarnished truth -- i say this because even as an independent, I (and my colleagues) often have to go to some lengths to assure people of true anonymity in their feedback. I struggle to see how this could be done by an employee.
I also -- as do many consultants -- spend a truly massive amount of time and money on my professional development every year. I attend conferences, I speak at conferences, I attend training events of various sorts, I participate in several professional organizations, I read widely.
My clients, on the other hand, are as busy as small mammals, scurrying on their wheel, often without the time to really think about anything in depth. Their voicemail says they are "in a series of meetings", and that menu rarely seems to change. Of course they have access to learning opportunities, but most are mandated by the company, not chosen by themselves for what they bring.
Even large research organizations have relatively few qualitative people involved in the world outside the corporation, which I would guess to be for cost containment reasons. They send one person to a conference with the idea that they will share the learning.
There is a lot to be said for people who strive to invent new things every year to compete. If I worked inside the client organization, I might not feel the same level of pressure to keep up and be inventive to get ahead. It would be easy to fall into patterns. As it stands now, I am constantly trying to figure out how to either add more value, or ratchet down the third party costs somehow.
Finally, I think the cost argument is upside down where qualitative is concerned. The senior people in qualitative would be prohibitively expensive to hire on a full-time basis, with the benefits and associated overhead. Just think of the lost productivity in meetings alone!
It is great to see the tools getting better to do technology-supported qualitative. I love it. I hope that the price drops, as surely it must if DIY is going to take off. Because feature-creep in online research has led to price creep, when it should be going the other way.
Some of the things raised in this article and others are relevant to the qualitative world as well.
* I wish that I could have more access to the learning from the CRM system when i am in the planning or reporting stages. I think clients themselves are struggling to integrate and effectively use all their many sources of data.
* I wish for better long-term collaboration. The best do it, the rest should.
* I wish for better semantic analysis tools -- not to replace me, but to make the work faster and cheaper.
But the good news in all of this is that clients want and need insights. And they don't want to pay 24 carat prices for fool's gold. And that's a good thing for those who can embrace the new reality.
What do you think about all this? I would love to hear your comments, and I know others would too.
[Hey, if nothing else, you can avoid writing that report. And that's gotta be good, right?]