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Conference round-ups: QRCA Conference 30 Jan-1 Feb 2019, Savannah, Georgia; ECQI Conference 12 Feb-15 Feb 2019, Edinburgh, Scotland

05 March 2019 - BY Silvana di Gregorio

I’ve had an amazing few weeks attending two qualitative conferences nearly back to back and on two continents.  As the conferences targeted different types of qualitative researchers – QRCA – commercial and market researchers; ECQI – academic researchers, there were differences in their focus, but I was also struck by similarities in some trends.

The Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA) is an association of consultants involved in qualitative research. Their goal is to promote excellence in the field of qualitative research by pooling experience and expertise to create a base of shared knowledge.  Besides their annual conference they run a series of learning events including monthly QCasts (webinars) on different techniques and methods, YCasts (webinars) aimed on helping young consultants, a magazine, blog and podcasts.

The European Congress of Qualitative Inquiry (ECQI) is in its third year and is a spin-off of the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry (ICQI) founded by Norman Denzin.  It brings together academic qualitative researchers from a range of disciplines.  The theme for this year’s conference was – Qualitative Inquiry as Activism.

There were several common trends but two struck me in particular– performance as a way of both collecting and presenting data and the increase of the use of audio/video over text in both data collection and presentation.

Performance as a way of collecting and presenting data

At QRCA, performance is seen mainly as a way to collect data.  Laurie Tema-Lyn of Practical Imagination Enterprises sees theatre games as a way to shake up the thinking in your group and get them out of their comfort zone, to illuminate brand perceptions or service/product usage, to engage emotional responses, and inform creative strategy.  These games originate from exercises used in training actors. They are improvisational and unscripted.  They include games that are about word associations, improvisations that involve exaggerating benefits or detriments of a product and the use of masks and superpowers to brainstorm ideas.

Liz George of Market Strategies International offers a more structured approach using role play when barriers such as ethical constraints, protecting privacy, increasing regulations, prohibitive costs and logistical hurdles prevent ethnographic techniques.  It involves the use of actors (who can be professionals/student actors or non-professionals drawn from colleagues or the client’s employees).  Actors are provided with solid backstories and are given guides and prompts as to how they should approach the conversation, the topics they need to guide the conversation towards and how they should respond emotionally.  Technology can also be used such as tele-conferencing or augmented/virtual reality.

At ECQI, performance is seen mainly as a way to present data.  One of the keynotes at the conference was the performance – Heavier than Air – a play devised by Anne Harris (Associate Professor in Education at RMIT) and Stacy Holman Jones (Professor in the Centre of Theatre and Performance at Monash University) based on the verbatim accounts of interviews with LGBTIQ teachers. It reveals the professional challenges and resilience experienced by such teachers in schools.  The play was directed by Edgar Rodriguez-Dorans (Research Fellow in the Centre for Creative-Relational Inquiry, University of Edinburgh).  The performance was a masterful example of how qualitative research together with the performing arts can provide more powerful and inclusive ways to communicate research findings.
My own presentation, Performance ethnographies in NVivo, illustrated how NVivo could be used in performance research as an archive of the videoed actual performance(s) as well as an analysis tool of the responses of critics and the audience in talk back sessions.

Technology offers creative methods

At both the QRCA and ECQI conferences the use of audio/ video was popular for both data collection and presentation.  Kelly Heatly of Heatly Custom Research showed how mobile technology has moved from having niche usage in 2000 when smartphones did not exist, few people were using laptops compared to PCs and just 51% had webcams to the present day when over 77% of people own smartphones, the camera is part of the device, and VoIP has replaced dial-in.  She advocates the use of webcams for in-depth interviews and focus groups as it gives you access to a wide geographic spread of respondents, respondents who are house-bound due to health/mobility issues, as well as flexible scheduling and savings on travel costs.

There are many research-specific platforms (20|20, Civicom, iTracks) where you would have access to a tech assistant/ troubleshooter but with a limited budget it is possible to do it yourself – with platforms such as Zoom, GoToMeeting and Skype. All of these solutions offer video recording which you can import into NVivo and use NVivo Transcription to automatically transcribe the recording.

However, Casey Barnard of Nimble Modern Radio offered a compelling presentation on the use of podcasting to explore, collect and deliver insights. The growth of podcasts has followed the same adoption pattern as smartphones. Fifty per cent of US homes are podcast fans – they are more popular than blogs. She illustrated how you can get ideas for data collection by listening to existing podcasts.  Examples included: Radio Diaries (give recorders to subjects and let them tell the story), StoryCorps (two subjects interview each other), Everything is alive (speaking to an inanimate object – similar to projection techniques).

She listed the advantages of collecting audio over text or video as: engaging (you can add sound effects/ambient noise to set the scene), emotional (you can hear the emotions not conveyed in text), give privacy back and remove visual bias (focus on the voice only), and easier to collect (easier to ask for an audio comment than writing a blog post or survey). In terms of deliverables, Casey suggests using a podcast for an executive summary, providing real consumer voices to support insights. 

She has even produced entire reports in the style of a podcast. Reports can take the form of a news report, a talk show, or even a dramatized performance.  If charts and visuals need to be in a report, it is possible to create a dedicated password-protected website with such visuals included with the podcast. She has an example here.

Multi-modal presentations were also the subject of many of the presentations at ECQI.  Karin Hannes (Associate Professor, Centre of Sociological Research at KU Leuven) advocates creative ways of communicating research. Traditional academic research has been dominated by the printed report but that has been at the expense of communicating to a wider public. Karin claims that we are at a tipping point for a renewed interest in disseminating research findings to the broader public, connecting with policy makers, the mass media etc and an increasing interest in the use of creative research dissemination practices as complementing the standard written formats of research dissemination.

She used as an example the ‘Magnificent Rubbish’ project which looked at young people’s relationship to their living environment through their collection of found objects in the area as well as interviews. This collection of visual, tactile, narrative and auditory data was curated as an exhibition (see video link). The exhibition was followed up with blogs and a written report.

My main take away for qualitative researchers whether you work in the academic or commercial sector is to experiment, explore and be creative!  There is a lot of imaginative thinking going on with your peers. What’s the most creative way you’ve ever collected or presented data Let us know in the comments.