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  • Posted by Ben Speizer
  • May 18, 2016
  • Blogs

Viewing facility research, re-imagined

Viewing facility research, re-imagined

As technology has evolved, so too has the world of qualitative research.

Where once we were limited to in-person IDIs and focus groups (and telephone interviews, to an extent), we can now choose from web-enabled interviews, interactive online bulletin boards, mobile ethnographies and many other new methodologies.  Nonetheless, in-person research using a dedicated market research facility location remains very popular, even though it can be expensive and time consuming. In this day and age where every dollar matters to a company’s bottom line, it is important to identify situations where the benefits of facility research can be successfully replicated in a more cost-effective manner.   

Facility research still serves an important role in the industry, with inherent capabilities unlikely to be completely replaced by technology in the near future.  For example, testing the usability of medical devices requires respondents to be physically present.  And sometimes web-enabled interviews aren’t an option because the country has legal or cultural restrictions preventing them from being used. 

But why do we still receive requests for in-person research when web-enabled methods are perfectly viable and appropriate? It could be because team members feel they are more engaged when they are viewing research with their peers than when they are viewing the research at their desk via a web-enabled platform.  Collaboration makes for a successful project.  Viewing research in a physical setting with the rest of the project team promotes a sense of ‘togetherness’, and allows for interaction and face-to-face discussions based on real-time observations (compared to email or text chat via a web-streaming provider).  When a team travels for a day of research, there is an understanding that this will not be a ‘typical day at the office’. Every team member in attendance has an important role to play, driving home the sense of shared responsibility and increasing engagement.  Even the team lunches/dinners during days of facility research help to promote this sense of ‘togetherness’ (anyone who has had an early morning facility start will recall the excitement that starts to build up around lunch time!).  

However, I believe you can still enjoy these benefits without being physically present at the viewing facility. As long as the team is able to meet and view the live, streamed research in a comfortable environment, the aforementioned benefits would still be evident without the need for costly travel and facility rental.  

One way this can be done is with an ‘in-house viewing day’, as opposed to a facility day. The mentality going into the ‘in-house viewing day’ would be identical to that going into a central facility day. The entire day is spent with the research team, discussion focused on the one project at hand, meals ordered in. But instead of renting a room at a dedicated market research facility, a conference room is booked at the company’s own office building, removing large rental fees and reducing or even eliminating travel costs and personal expenses.  The agency team can also attend the viewing day in order to facilitate client discussion and collaboration. Instead of face-to-face interviews, web-enabled interviews are conducted with webcams, the live interview and stimuli streamed on a projector in real time (using FocusVision’s ‘InterVu’ platform or similar).  Food and beverage costs would be greatly reduced (as facilities tend to slap a large markup on these items), with printing and parking fees reduced or eliminated as well. Productivity would remain steady, and compared with facility research, may actually increase with travel time reduced.  

The use of dedicated market research facilities has been a staple of the qualitative research industry for decades and this looks likely to continue.  There are certainly cases where the use of a facility is a necessity, and technology-based methods aren’t appropriate.  There are also many situations where facilities are being used for research designs that do not inherently require an in-person interview.  If it is something the client is keen on, we would first ask if a web-enabled interview is viable. If it is, and what the client actually wants is to take advantage of the benefits of team interaction and collaboration, then options such as an in-house viewing day (as one example) could be considered as a way of dramatically reducing costs. Given the focus surrounding budget expenditures, especially in this business climate, I imagine that these savings would be warmly welcomed by many a qualitative research project manager.

Ben Speizer, Research Executive

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