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Kelsey Segaloff

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Qualitative Research: Thinking Outside the Box(ing) Ring

Posted by Kelsey Segaloff

Wed, Aug 02, 2017

My friends and family greeted the news that I was joining a boxing gym with more than a little disbelief. Granted I am an imposing 5 feet tall and have a reputation for tripping over my own feet, so maybe they had a point. But four months and two pairs of gloves later, I’m not only fitter and stronger, I’ve learned some essential truths about boxing that I can apply to my professional life as a qualitative researcher. 

 kelsey boxing.jpg

Don’t forget the “Why”

Boxing is a commitment—physically, financially, and mentally—and it’s tempting to hit the snooze button when I don’t want to get out of bed for an early morning class. Oftentimes, I must remind myself why I keep up with it. To help motivate members, there’s a large chalkboard titled, “Why I Fight” filled with trainers’ and members’ “whys” in the front of the gym.  It’s the first thing you see when you walk in and serves as motivation to both me and fellow boxers.

Focusing on the decisions or the “why” is critical for researchers. Before kicking off a project, we work hard to fully understand our clients’ business needs and the decisions they need to make—this focus keeps us on track for everything from designing a study and choosing a methodology, all the way to the final deliverables and implementation. It’s also important to consider our participants’ “why”—that’s the reason we often use tools like projective techniques in qualitative research to dive deep into participants’ thoughts and uncover their beliefs, motivations, feelings, etc.—the old one-two punch, as some might say.

#FightFam

One of my favorite things about my gym is the sense of community it provides. My #fightfam challenges me to put my all into every class, whether it be Gennifer reassuring me I’m “crushing it,” or Roscoe in the bags room reminding the class we are winners (“And what do winners do? THEY WIN!”). While I feel a personal sense of accomplishment after every class I finish, I also feel a shared sense of pride with my fellow classmates and trainers—and that’s important.

A knockout team is also the foundation for greatness in qualitative research. At CMB, our all-star roster, VP of Qualitative Strategy + Innovation, Kathy Ofsthun, Qualitative Research Director, Anne Hooper, Qualitative Project Manager, Erin Stilphen, and I work together and encourage one another to perform at our highest capacity. We bring inventive and innovative qualitative methodologies like co-creation, and over 40 years of combined qualitative experience to the ring. We’re also adept to thinking on our toes—ask me about the time I recruited for a study in a Canadian train station! And when we need to tap other teammates, we’ve got specialized qualitative research consultants in our corner.

Master Technique, Prepare to Improvise

Boxing is known as the sweet science (the nickname is an appreciation of the technical skills required—strength, endurance, conditioning, core, and flexibility), but it’s just as much an art, requiring improvisation and creativity.

The same goes for qualitative research. We’re masters of improv, but good technique is integral. Recently, I was thrown through a loop while moderating an in-home ethnography for our self-funded research on Millennial and Gen Z use of virtual assistants (think Siri, Cortana, etc.).  Shortly into one of the interviews, it turned out the participant belonged in a different segment than what my guide had indicated. Instead of stopping the interview, I used my improvisation skills and reframed the questions without interrupting the flow of the conversation. Going a little off script helped us gather the insights we needed.

I love that I’ve discovered a sport and gym I am passionate about, and I’m even more thrilled I can draw meaningful parallels between boxing and my profession. Of course, there are times when my muscles ache, my wrists hurt, and I’m tired, but then I remind myself why I keep going. I box because it makes me stronger, faster, and confident—and that these attributes help me be a better qualitative researcher is a bonus!

kelsey boxing 2.jpg

Kelsey Segaloff is CMB’s Qualitative Associate Researcher, and can be found working on her jab-cross at EverybodyFights Boston.

 

Topics: our people, qualitative research, Consumer Pulse, co-creation

The Elephant, the Donkey, and the Qualitative Researcher: The Moderator in Market Research and Politics

Posted by Kelsey Segaloff

Wed, Nov 23, 2016

capitol-32310_1280.pngAmericans have a lot to reckon with in the wake of the recent vote. You’re forgiven if analyzing the role of the presidential debate moderator isn’t high on your list. Still, for those of us in the qualitative market research business, there were professional lessons to be learned from the reactions to moderators Lester Holt (NBC), Martha Raddatz (ABC), Anderson Cooper (CNN), and Chris Wallace (Fox). Each moderator took their own approach and each was met with criticism and praise.

As CMB’s qualitative research associate and a moderator-in-training, I noticed parallels to the role of the moderator in the political and market research space. My thoughts:

 The moderator as unbiased

"Lester [Holt] is a Democrat. It’s a phony system. They are all Democrats.” – Donald Trump, President-Elect

Concerns regarding whether or not the debate moderators were unbiased arose throughout the primaries and presidential debates. Moderators were criticized for techniques like asking questions that were deemed “too difficult,” going after a single candidate, and not adequately pressing other candidates.  For example, critics called NBC’S Matt Lauer biased during the Commander-in-Chief forum. Some felt Lauer hindered Hillary Clinton’s performance by asking tougher questions than those asked of Donald Trump, interrupting Clinton, and not letting her speak on other issues the same way he allowed Donald Trump to.

In qualitative market research, every moderator will experience some bias from time to time, but it’s important to mitigate bias in order to maintain the integrity of the study. In my own qualitative experience, the moderator establishes that they are unbiased by opening each focus group by explaining that they are independent from the topic of discussion and/or client, and therein are not looking for the participants to answer a certain way.

Qualitative research moderators can also avoid bias by not asking leading questions, monitoring their own facial expressions and body language, and giving each participant an equal opportunity to speak. Like during a political debate, preventing bias is imperative in qualitative work because biases can skew the results of a study the same way the voting populace fears bias could skew the perceived performance of a candidate.

 The moderator as fact-checker

“It has not traditionally been the role of the moderator to engage in a lot of fact-checking.” – Alan Schroeder, professor of Journalism at Northeastern University

Throughout the 2016 election moderators were criticized for either fact-checking too much or not fact-checking the candidates enough. Talk about a Catch-22.

In qualitative moderating, fact-checking is dependent on the insights we are looking to achieve for a particular study. For example, I just finished traveling across the country with CMB’s Director of Qualitative, Anne Hooper, for focus groups. In each group, Anne asked participants what they knew about the product we were researching. Anne noted every response (accurate or inaccurate), as it was critical we understood the participants’ perceptions of the product. After the participants shared their thoughts, Anne gave them an accurate product description to clarify any false impressions because for the remainder of the conversation it was critical the respondents had the correct understanding of the product.

For the case of qualitative research, Anne demonstrated how fact-checking (or not fact-checking) can be used for insights. There’s no “one right way” to do it; it depends on your research goals.  

 The moderator as timekeeper

“Basically, you're there as a timekeeper, but you're not a participant.” – Chris Wallace, Television Anchor and Political Commentator for Fox News

Presidential debate moderators frequently interjected (or at least tried to) when candidates ran over their allotted time in order to stay on track and ensure each candidate had equal speaking time. Focus group moderators have the same responsibility. As a qualitative moderator-in-training, I’m learning the importance of playing timekeeper – to be respectful of the participants’ time and allow for equal participation.  I must also remember to cover all topics in the discussion guide. Whether you’re acting as a timekeeper in market research or political debates, it’s as much about the audience of voters or clients as it is about the participants (candidates or study respondents).  

The study’s desired insights will dictate the role of the moderator. Depending on your (or your client’s) goals, bias, fact-checking, and time-keeping could play an important part in how you moderate. But ultimately whether your client is a business or the American voting populace, the fundamental role of the moderator remains largely the same: to provide the client with the insights needed to make an informed decision.

Kelsey is a Qualitative Research Associate. She co-chairs the New England chapter of the QRCA, and recently received a QRCA Young Professionals Grant!

Topics: methodology, qualitative research, Election