Conducting Qualitative on an International Level

by Amy Finke

Coordinating the details and logistics of qualitative research is always challenging, but it is magnified when such research spans multiple countries.  Balancing country-specific findings while still drawing overall conclusions is only possible through rigorous attention to detail.  A recent multi-country study showcased how best practices in planning, through reporting, elicited optimal insights.

Success Factor 1

At the onset of the research, immersion in the category with a focus on between-country differences is critical to set the stage for interpreting results through an accurate lens.  This includes advancing the team’s understanding by leveraging any category insights derived from previously-conducted research.  Processes put in place at the beginning of the research will help ensure a successful project.

Success Factor 2

In this time of preparation, the choice of the moderating team is equally crucial.  Whether the project requires a multi-lingual moderator able to manage multiple countries, or whether moderation will be managed across a team, this choice should be made with confidence in his or her experience with the category in the countries of interest.  A moderator’s style has to be relevant culturally beyond fluency in the language.  Where applicable, having a lead moderator coordinate the insights across countries is vital to discover continuity where it exists, while extracting country-specific findings.  An “insights grid” allows all moderators to be sure that relevant information is captured in a consistent manner while still allowing for cultural differences.

Success Factor 3

A kickoff meeting, inclusive of all team members who will be asked to activate on the research, is the perfect time to discuss the purpose of the research, define what will make the project a success, and to be sure everyone is aligned on objectives, sample and strategy.  While preparing the screener and the discussion guide, choices that reflect the culture of the various countries need to be taken into account, especially when it comes to any activities or assignments for the respondents.  Shopping behaviors, as well as a category and product usage within a particular country need to be considered when assigning activities, such that they are in line with standard routines for that country.  Similarly, the request for photo or video uploads need to be aligned with typical category behaviors so participants can follow instructions without the misinterpretation of unfamiliar activities.   Finally, if conducting in-person research (ethnographies, focus groups, etc.) be sure to conduct the research at a time appropriate for the norms of the culture.

Success Factor 4

While the research is taking place, multiple touchpoints, either through informal debriefs or more formal toplines, will help to keep insights organized and will give the team a chance to pivot if changes are needed.  Engaging any local team members allows for additional context to be added to the interpretation of findings, and can help clarify any discontinuity that might be found.  It’s crucial to leverage their local knowledge and give them a voice to be an active contributor while still remaining true to the guiding objectives of the research across countries.   If applicable, having a strong backroom from the immediate team and the research’s sponsors will help guide the discussion and keep it from veering off course.

Following these steps before and during the research will set the team up for reporting success.

Debriefing after research is completed in each market will ensure that the team is aligned on the dissemination of information and key findings per country.   If the team is protective of the core objectives while allowing flexibility for in-country insights, coordinating findings and organizing the report should be a seamless process, and ultimately make the project a considerable success.

As Vice President, Client Services at Burke, Amy Finke has a consistent goal of providing creative yet meticulous research solutions for her clients struggling to answer questions within their organizations. 

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