In the past year, we’ve been forced to try new things and step outside of our comfort zones. After almost a year of challenging transitions to virtual everything, this year’s annual Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA) conference (exclusively virtual) exceeded my expectations. The content was easy to access (and great, as always), and the platform (Pathable) seamlessly replicated the social nature of conferences by enabling a sense of valuable networking. With social justice so prevalent in our minds this year, it’s no surprise that “inclusivity” was a significant topic of discussion.
For the purposes of this roundup, let’s think about inclusivity in two ways: first, as a human, and then as a researcher. As a human, I have some concerns about being exploitative about “inclusivity.” As companies continue to make attempts to raise their consciousness and convey accountability, I fear that inclusivity will only be viewed from a corporate and/or brand health perspective. As researchers, we can play a role in helping companies implement truly inclusive practices, finding meaningful and authentic ways to convey it for their brands. While we cannot control how organizations think about these issues, we can implement our own ethical standards—which is something qualitative research has always sought to do. Here are some of the discussions our industry is having:
INCLUSIVITY IS DIFFERENT THAN DIVERSITY. As Roben Allong expressed during the roundtable discussion “Inclusivity is Messy,” inclusivity is not just checking boxes to make sure that there is a varied set of research participants. It is a responsibility—not a choice—in research. For example, what is “gen pop”? Why does this often mean “mostly white?” Inclusivity is not just about race; and race (many times) is only one factor in our many differences—it is not monolithic. It includes ableness, geography, employment status, gender identity, micro-culture, ageism and more. Our responsibility as researchers to be inclusive also means taking a tailored approach when the topic (or research participants) calls for it vs. using a standard approach across all sessions.
WE MUST CREATE SPACES OF BELONGING. As Jyo Maan shared in her “Inclusive Research for Social Justice” presentation, inclusive research should encompass DEIB: diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. We must find ways to dig deeper so that people of all backgrounds can not only be included, but also feel a sense of belonging in the research community (as colleagues, as research participants, etc.). Researchers must keep aim on the ever-evolving target market and how that informs how we need to conduct research. The more “inclusive” our research is, the more applicable it will be to our clients’ goals and research objectives.
HOW DO WE ACHIEVE THIS? While I don’t claim to have all of the answers (or even close to most of them), there are some things we can start doing now. The most obvious thing is from a recruiting perspective. Perhaps “gen pop” is an outdated term. We need to ask who we are really trying to reach and what, if any, implications social identity has on who that is. A few points to reflect on:
- With so many unemployed or underemployed, we need to reconsider employment as a terminating qualification
- Make space for gender identity to be expressed in a non-binary way
- Consider senior citizens viable parts of the conversation (as they have both technology know-how and buying power)
- Accommodate people with disabilities in the research environments we create and cultivate
Sometimes these pivots will require consulting those more qualified to respect, understand, and convey the thoughts of a particular culture or micro-culture.
Regarding the research methodology itself, we may need to re-think how we structure our approach. Most qual researchers practice “unconditional positive regard” (as an attempt to dissolve incoming bias and treat research participants with respect) and are purposeful in checking their biases. This is more important than ever. As we attempt to be more inclusive, we must truly listen (and not in ways that simply confirm biases) rather than sticking to a prescribed discussion guide.
It is my belief that the best learning comes from discussion, different points of view and experience. If you have something to say about the ways we can make meaningful changes in the research approach, I would love to hear from you. Reach out to me with any thoughts, ideas, criticisms, etc. at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lauren is a Senior Moderator at CMB.