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Emerging from behind the screen….

As we cautiously ease our way out of lockdown clients are starting to ask for a return to face to face fieldwork.

I’ve really missed the authentic contact that comes from face to face groups. But tempting as it is to get back to what we do best, I am hesitant.

Viewing facilities have had to adapt the way they do things.

  • They need to allow for social distancing, for observers in the back room as well as for respondents, which means fewer respondents, and fewer clients.
  • Windows need to be open – which could lead to noise, or lack of privacy.
  • Infection reduction measures are required for stimulus that might be handled.
  • We all need to wear some kind of protection, either visors or masks, which limits our ability create rapport and to read facial expression.

Facilities tend to be in city centres, which not only means that we as moderators have to brave public transport (perhaps for the first time in a year) – but we are asking respondents to do the same. And of course we need to be aware of local area restrictions, and of government guidelines to limit travel and overnight stays.

Respondents must confirm that they feel well (and if at the last minute they do not, we need either to manage clients’ expectations, or to have a potentially costly back-up plan in place). There is also a risk that if cases in their area begin to rise, respondents may suffer last minute nerves and decide not to spend their evening in a room full of strangers.

We are also obliged to inform respondents of the potential contact tracing consequences of attendance. If someone in the group subsequently tests positive that could have significant implications for the rest of the participants.

And what if we are unwell, or a member of our household tests positive? It will be important to have an alternative moderator lined up to take over, which could impact on costs.

We have a duty of care towards the people good enough to turn up and give us their views. That duty is enshrined in the Market Research Society standards in the phrase “Research practitioners have a responsibility to protect vulnerable groups, participants and the reputation of the profession”.

In fact, current MRS guidance stipulates that face to face fieldwork should only be undertaken when there is no feasible alternative. Precisely what this means is not specified, but I think a reasonable assumption is that if respondents need to taste something, that could qualify for face to face; but if they simply need to see it, that should still happen remotely.

We have made incredible strides in conducting qualitative research remotely during lockdown. I have conducted projects I would not previously have considered for an online methodology – including lengthy testing of video games, detailed pack design evaluation, and app UX research, all very successfully. And clients have enjoyed being able to observe from the comfort of their own desks around the world.

The crucial difference between face to face and online fieldwork is that we are not obliged to conduct a risk assessment prior to conducting groups online, and nor do we need to worry that our choices may have a harmful effect on the health of our respondents.

So for now, I am enthusiastically recommending to clients that we continue, if it is at all possible, to enjoy all of the benefits that conducting qualitative research online can bring.

If you would like advice on how online research can help you, or on how to go about it, please get in touch. I would be delighted to share my experience and the hints and tips that I have picked up along the way!

The Importance of Being Choosy

I’m passionate about the service I provide to my clients.

When I have more work than I can handle, I value the support of high quality trusted partners who understand the way I work and help me to provide the consultancy and actionable recommendations that my clients need.

But I know it can be nerve-wracking entrusting parts of your project to a freelancer.

You have done all you can to choose the right person. And now you are really hoping that they will make a good impression on your client…

To be sure you can have confidence in your research partner:

  • Check that they have plenty of relevant experience 
  • Ask for testimonials
  • Don’t rely on communication by email. An (online) meeting will help you to gauge whether you will work well together
  • Invite their input on methodology, sample or discussion guide/questionnaire, so you can judge their skills and knowledge
  • Some relevant questions to ask
    • What have they learned from previous similar projects?
    • What do they see as the potential challenges?
    • What makes them a suitable person to partner you on this project
  • Make sure they are a good fit with your way of working
    • How far in advance do they need confirmation of dates and timings? How flexible are they prepared to be?
    • Agree on deliverables. Will they be prepared to feed back their findings in writing? Or will they be happy to workshop them together with you?
    • How much responsibility and client contact are they comfortable with?

It’s my job to make sure my clients are happy.

And on the occasions when I provide freelance support to other agencies, it’s my job to make sure they look good in front of their clients.

Going the extra mile to choose the right person will pay dividends, and once you’ve found them, it will be the start of a productive and fulfilling working relationship for you both!

Online Research Updated!

Welcome to your updated guide to online qualitative research

We have learned so much over the course of the year as online qual has shifted from the exception to the norm. We have explored new ways to use old favourites like Zoom, and experimented with platforms tailor-made for research.

We’re happy to share some useful tips in the guide below. We hope you find it useful!

View the guide in a new tab

Mobile ethnography provides real insight into the way customers interact with your brand


One of the things I love about qualitative research is the inspiration that comes from encounters with people I would otherwise never have met. Like most researchers, I REALLY miss that.

But after almost a year I’ve got used to making those connections happen online, and it has opened up new opportunities and benefits.


A key change is the opportunity for online ethnography, which is giving us valuable insights into the ways people are adapting to lockdown life.

A definition of ethnography is:

“descriptive study of a particular human society or the process of making such a study. Contemporary ethnography is based almost entirely on fieldwork and requires the complete immersion of the anthropologist in the culture and everyday life of the people who are the subject of his study.”

When it comes to market research, ethnographic projects, or consumer ethnography, have tended to be on a smaller scale than academic anthropology.

They involve practical observation of everyday life – researchers spending time with individuals or families, in their own environment, to understand their lived experience, and how they interact with a category or brand. Their value lies in the fact that we can observe the way consumers behave, rather than relying on people to remember and explain their behaviour.

But they are time-consuming, labour-intensive, and have tended to be expensive.

Mobile ethnography

An exciting development is that technology is allowing us to conduct consumer ethnography in new ways. Instead of physically visiting, and being a presence in the home, we are able to conduct less intrusive remote observation of consumer behaviour in their own environment, and (when regulations allow!) out and about

Participants simply use their mobile phone in a guided way to share their lives with us, allowing us to uncover brand touchpoints and to capture immediate real-life behaviour in a more effective and less costly way. And this can take place over a longer period of time than we could realistically hope to spend with them in their home.

Mobile ethnography enables us to understand:

  • When and where consumers encounter our brand and how it fits into their lives
  • How they navigate our category
  • The needs that are met by products and brands
  • The pain points and frustrations that could inspire product development or line extensions

It allows us to understand how people really behave, rather than what they say they do, and by doing so uncover hidden needs and opportunities and identify potential for innovation.

If you would like to chat about how mobile ethnography can help you, please get in touch using the button in the bottom right hand corner of this page, or email info@museresearch.co.uk




Will research ever be the same again?


We have had to accommodate new ways of living and working over recent months.
Qualitative research has needed to adapt to social distancing – and it has accelerated changes that were already on the way

The way we conduct market research has changed in so many ways since I started out towards the end of the last century!!

I’ve been around long enough to remember when interviewers knocked on doors and people were comfortable letting them in. Data was entered using punch cards. We had reams of continuous perforated paper printouts to wade through and make sense of. And we visited clients with armfuls of transparencies, which we hoped wouldn’t slide off the table and end up in the wrong order.

Research methods and logistics have changed significantly over the intervening years. Thank Goodness!

But never so completely, and in such a short period, as they have during lockdown. And there may be no going back.

This feels particularly true for qualitative research. We have long recognised the benefits of online focus groups and communities, but concerns that it was not quite the same as ‘proper’ face to face qualitative research meant that barriers remained.

The pandemic has changed all that.

Home has become the place where EVERYTHING happens. Our respondents are increasingly comfortable with all of the technologies that have made it possible to work efficiently from home – so why not make home the place where we share our attitudes, preferences and feelings?

Although there have been practical constraints on certain types of research (technology has not yet found a way to allow respondents to touch, feel or taste), qualitative research has made a wholesale move online. And on the whole it has been brilliant!

Online qualitative research offers new opportunities and has many benefits

While the virus is still with us, online research does not put anyone at risk, and has turned out to be a very effective alternative – and it’s not going away any time soon

Platform providers are making life even easier for us, by improving security, offering automatised transcripts, video straight to the hard drive, pre-built templates and drag and drop interfaces – which means we can reach your potential customers, and share findings with you, more quickly

And technology is allowing us to conduct all sorts of research in new ways:

  • Ethnography. We are able to conduct remote observation of consumers in their homes – which gives us an insight into the way people live their lives. By experiencing their everyday behaviour we can understand how they interact with your category, how they use your brand, how you might make their lives easier.
  • Online focus groups. Efficient broadband and platforms such as Zoom allow us to conduct focus groups with respondents in their own environment. This has a particular role to play when we need to hear from dispersed communities. We ensure that online groups are as valuable as face to face by having ‘rules of engagement’ and keeping respondent numbers a little lower (ideally no more than 4-5 in a group). In this way we can continue to provide rich insights into consumers’ minds and their decision-making.
  • Online communities. These take place over a longer time period and can take the form of a diary. Consumers commit to contributing each day, either at home or when out and about, and answer a series of questions, which might involve uploading photos or video. This approach is particularly valuable to uncover brand touchpoints and to capture immediate real-life responses

We have enjoyed finding creative new ways to conduct research. And we especially love discussing with clients how they can meet changing needs and consumption patterns brought about by the pandemic!

Get in touch to learn about how online research can get the most out of your research budget and help you to make truly informed business decisions.