QRCA 2024: The Qual Research Landscape of Tomorrow

The L&E team has just returned from the QRCA Annual Conference held in Denver. We came back inspired and energized by the innovations sweeping through the market research qualitative industry, and the alternative thinking promoting growth and inspiration within the industry. We left buzzing with new information and ideas; here are our top learnings:

New talent for a growing sector

There’s strong evidence that the market research industry is thriving. Major universities now offer advanced programs in market research, showing increased awareness and the need for formal education. Even though formal education is important, recognizing, hiring, and mentoring new talent directly into the profession is still highly valuable and crucial.

Psychedelics in an AI-Hyped World

What do psychedelics have to do with research and AI? Presenters provided an overview and history of psychedelic research, its historical uses, and how the human mind responds to psychedelics compared to AI-related technology. During the presentation, the case was made that the more creative, authentic, and interpersonal experience provided with controlled micro-dosing may have a place in both modern mental wellness and possibly in research. This was a thought-provoking-only conversation, as current federal laws actively prohibit formal research into psychedelics dating back to the early 1970’s.

Put Participants First

Several presentations revolved around understanding the research experience of the qualitative study participant. The challenge of engaging authentic participants in real-life scenarios is becoming increasingly recognised and a debate has struck up regarding the best ways to utilize them. On one side of the debate, brands and researchers are pouring themselves into identifying and researching their ‘ideal audiences’ while grappling with the issues of heightened fraud, consumer mistrust, and an increasing number of participants sharing negative experiences, influencing potential candidates for future research within the industry. 

So how can we tackle this? Researchers need to be intentional about providing and safeguarding a positive participant experience, extending from screeners to incentives. This involves disqualifying candidates early, creating inclusive screeners and discussion guides, anticipating diverse opinions and emotions, respecting participants’ time, and, when feasible, sharing the results with them. 

The Role of AI in Qual

AI tools can assist in nearly every facet of qualitative research, but not without caution. The recent reliance on AI platforms has been sparking questions around safeguarding proprietary information and Personally Identifiable Information (PII) when utilizing different AI platforms. To ensure the protection of this data, the recommendation is to use a paid version of Gen AI. Paid versions of Large Language Models (LLMs) establish a “walled garden,” preventing the LLM from continuous learning within the context of your inputs. This ensures the safety of the information involved in your research.

Despite this precaution, it is advised to still scrub any PII before incorporating data into any Gen AI software, even within the walled garden framework, for the utmost security.

Steps towards Inclusivity

The Insights Association’s ‘IDEA counsel’ presented their 2023 research into how qualitative research approaches Gender and identity when going into a project. How do research candidates respond to gendered questions during the screening process? And how do we ensure the inclusion of as many participants as possible? As considerations surrounding gender continue to remain fluid, the ‘IDEA council’ found that using Male, Female, and I chose to self-identify, as gender options within screeners resonated within the LGBTQ+ community. Further work is being done by the IDEA Counsel to explore additional subsets of data as well as answer order (Alphabetical vs. Male, Female, etc.) and various gender-affirming terms and how they are presented during the screening process.

The QRCA Annual Conference has not only provided our team with a wealth of insights but has also reinforced our conviction in the vibrancy and potential of the market research qualitative industry. The emphasis on key topics such as AI and gender inclusivity reflects the industry’s adaptability and forward-thinking spirit. As we integrate these learnings into our practices, we are excited about the industry’s trajectory and our role in shaping its innovative future.