Who Will Carry the Qualitative Torch?

A Picture of Mike Kuehne

For what seems like the last decade, researchers and news outlets have predicted the demise of face-to-face qualitative research. It’s hard not to blame them. Over the past ten years, more and more people are opting for digital interactions instead of face-to-face contact in their daily lives. Communication, and by proxy qualitative research, is changing due in large part to a new generation of “digital natives”.

The Changing Face of Face-to-Face Qual

Millennials are the first digital natives: experts in manipulating and utilizing technology to meet their daily needs. Comparatively, Baby Boomers grew up with face-to-face interactions as a norm. For this reason, Boomers are intimately familiar with the value of focus groups and face-to-face qualitative research. However, approximately 65% of Boomers will be eligible for retirement within the next two years.

Millennials now make up the largest generation in the US, weighing in at 92 million compared to the second highest group, Boomers, at 77 million. As Millennial qualitative researchers gain more experience and seniority, one of three likely scenarios will play out: Enrichment of face-to-face via technology, a shift away from face-to-face towards digital or a continuation of the current status quo.

The Future is Bright

There is a significant opportunity for Millennials to enrich face-to-face qualitative research by augmenting and manipulating technology. What’s more, seasoned veterans continue to illuminate a path to the future. This includes innovators like Shelly Forrester, who has developed a new participatory focus group experience, and Zoe Dowling, who has been instructing researchers on the value of qualitative video storytelling.

As a qualitative researcher and digital native myself, I see a future of face-to-face qualitative research bolstered by technology, on both methodological levels and in application. Services and technologies such as video storytelling, 360 degree cameras, facial coding, auditory emotional analysis, and idea and concept visualization are already increasing the value of qualitative research. Just in time for a new generation.

Mike Kuehne monitoring a focus group

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