Archive for moderating

The Gestapo qualitative research moderator

Posted in Qualitative research moderation with tags , , on February 20, 2009 by Cristi Popa

Here’s something I’ve stumbled on. It’s a year old, so probably many of you have seen it already. I find the presentation very interesting and honest. I think it tries to talk of some subjects more or less avoided by people in the research industry. Here you can find the author.

One point he makes in this presentation is that research is, more often than none, a dull and unpleasant process for respondents. Of course there are many reasons for this, but to me this idea brought back the Gestapo moderator’s image (kind of a Soup Nazi from Seinfeld).

It is very easy to recognize this type of moderator: most of the time the Gestapo moderator is very serious and focused. He knows exactly why he’s there and these good for nothing respondents would better behave. Cause he’s on the job.

There’s nothing more important to him than absolute control. He knows the guide by heart and in his whole career he never forgot a question. Not even once; unlike his no good colleagues who sometimes think they are having a chat with their mates and not doing market research. RESEARCH. But he knows his job. And he always gets the info the client wants. The info the client wants and the guide can get, that is. Because the guide is like a contract. The client approved it and he cannot expect anything more or less than that.

Anyhow, he likes his job. Sometimes he wishes it were a more precise job, but in the end a job is what you make of it. And this is RESEARCH. It’s kind of like science. He’s a kind of scientist with his faithful guide at hand, trying his best to squeeze the information out of his lab subjects. Sometimes he catches one of these pests lying. In those moments he whishes they were just guinea pigs. How he would zap them. But, unfortunately, they’re people.

“You’ve just told me you consume chocolate twice a week and now you’re telling me you are on a diet? Well, which one is it? You either are on a diet, or you do consume chocolate.”

In a way, she loves these moments. Now she can prove to the clients that she can challenge the respondents. She only whishes she had an interrogation lamp. How she would get the truth out!
“So, which one is it? When did you lie?” “Well… it’s a new diet, in which you are allowed to eat chocolate twice a week”.

“Eat – they don’t even know how to speak right. I asked her what she consumes. The chapter is called consumption habits and not eating time. Savages. But that’s ok. I only have 26 minutes left and I’m out of here. Anyhow, they already want to go home. They’re bored. Well, what did they think this was? Oktober fest? Maybe they were expecting champaign and stripers. Now way, this is RESEARCH. Almost a kind of science. And those bastard clients… probably half of them left and the other half is sleeping or updating their Facebook profiles. What were they expecting? A show? Stand-up comedy maybe? Well, not tonight, cause in here we do RESEARCH. If not a lamp I have to get me one of those leather whips at least.”

This is the Gestapo moderator. But rest assured. This is not an illness that’s spreading from moderator to moderator. It’s just how some people are taught to think about qualitative research.

This happens when you believe that just having a conversation with someone on whatever topic is to degrading to call work. And that you were meant for science. The bad news is that, besides traumatizing even a professional respondent, this type of moderators doesn’t actually get the information the client needs. People get bored, scared, intimidated, so they give you whatever plausible answer they can come up with. They just want the thing over, so they can get away.

So: be yourself, laugh, swear, scratch your nose if you feel like it, but do not make your respondents feel uncomfortable in any way. And the information will flow. All you have to do is to show them the route. In many cases a conversation guide goes a longer way than 10 books on qualitative research.


Why shouldn’t little boy-moderators play with dolls and little girl moderators with toy cars?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on January 19, 2009 by Cristi Popa

13Bias is the Boogie man of qualitative research. It lurks everywhere around us: recruitment, stimuli, but, more importantly, moderation. Moderation can bias the results of research big time. Questions like “You like this, don’t you?”, remarks like “of course by this you mean …” are textbook examples of don’ts. But moderation bias is more insidious than that. It can originate in the tone of voice, dressing style, age, gender, body language etc. So, the little boys and girls moderators are careful to wear adequate clothes (resembling in style and price with those of the respondents), to have a similar phone, similar tastes (drink what they drink, smoke if they smoke, eat if they do), similar type of humour etc. before starting to play. Let’s say that the research agency has an IDI with a 35 y.o. housewife, mother of two, low to medium income, user of medium tier shampoos. Will it send the 25 y.o. little boy, a big fan of punk music and user only of premium shampoos which he “barrows” from his girlfriend? Or the 32 y.o. female that has a child and does her own shampoo shopping?

For the sake of the argument, let’s say that the boy is the only one available. So, the agency sends him. In this case, he will say to the respondent that he’s 28 y.o. so to narrow the gap, wind down his hair style, wear a shirt, borrow a low end Nokia from a colleague, say that he has a little nephew and generally lying his pants off to get the respondent think he’s her best friend. And, in the end, the moderator has to be a respondent’s best friend, so he has to be as similar as possible. But is that enough? Not really, because when getting to the part of usage habits, the respondent gets embarrassed to talk about how she’s getting naked in the tub. And so, there is a last thing the male moderator has to change. Fortunately for all you male moderators out there, it’s no need to. And here is why:

1.     First of all, respondents are usually not retarded. They will find it very odd that you “by accident” are so similar to them. And pretty soon they will start to challenge you.

2.     Moderating is hard enough without having to watch everything you do and say in order not to blow your cover. Giving attention not to reveal your “secret identity” will take a lot of your energy from the actual moderating process.

3.     And, most importantly, if the ideal would be to have a perfect identical moderator for each respondent, then why do we even bother to interview her. The moderator can meditate a little about the discussion topic and directly write the report.

In order to find another trap of this line of thought, let’s go back to the research agency and send the female moderator to do the interview. She is pretty similar to the respondent, as you might remember. So she has no reason to lose any energy by lying. She is practically her best friend. But, wait a minute, she still doesn’t find out what happens in that tub. What is happening? Well, the respondent is acting as a friend. And between such good friends that have so much in common there is no need for too many words. Certain complicity is born. You can spot it in phrases like “you know…when you enter the tub…” and then a smile. And the female moderator would say “well people are different so please tell me from your point of view what happens”. And the respondent replies “well it’s obvious. Aren’t you a woman too?” and so forth. The harder the moderator presses in this point, the more likely it is for the respondent to get annoyed and say anything just to get off the hook. The friendship is gone. And so is the interview.

So, what if we would drop all this similarity ideal and go for alterity? What if we would say to the respondents:  “I am different from you. I am a young man trying to understand how you wash your hair. I have no clue of how you do it, so please explain it to me in great detail. Being such a stranger to the subject will force me to ask you a tone of what may seem stupid questions, but please bear with me and make me understand”. I have tried it and it works. You wouldn’t believe the openness you are treated with after they understand your position. And that is why I know what happens in that tub.

In the end, here is a thought for all the girls and boys moderators: let’s just admit that it is impossible not to bias the data. Being alive means that we constantly interact with everything around us and by doing so we alter those things. There is no way to control all the variables coming into play in any interaction, may it be qualitative research or going to a movie. In fact, all we can do is to be aware of this and try as much as possible to take it into consideration in our analysis.