August 30th, 2011
Most research is analyzed thematically and in semi-quantitative fashion, even when highly qualitative like ethnography. Qualitative researchers and anthropologists are used to noting consistencies of a primary nature and creating a hierarchy of importance for other findings as they unfold through the methodological processes of a study.
For instance: After the researcher has conducted multiple focus groups in multiple locations with multiple segments–or ethnographic observationals, depth interviews, online groups, and other qualitative methodologies–the research analyst begins to work through the data, writing about it and speculating, kneading, and turn it over like digging a vegetable garden–whether unclear or clear–labeling it, compiling it, seeking consistencies, surprises, new ideas that repeat again and again, and that turn out to form qualitative hypotheses and beginning “truths.” She will examines inconsistencies and data points that don’t seem to fit into compact buckets because there may be intriguing variations on major ideas or divergence among segments, regions, and in response to the techniques that shift in the research itself. Finally, she creates a report (usually under pressure because it’s due, there’s a presentation about to happen, and the client team needs results immediately) which is based upon her indepth understanding of the issues accompanied by hypotheses and clusters of thematic findings, carefully balanced by segment, region, stimuli, that meets all objectives and moves into a transcendent place of next-steps and recommendations.
The exception to this cluster-repetition-thematic rule typically followed when analyzing qualitative research data is an interesting element called synchronicity.
This does not happen in every research study, but when it does, a coincidence is unmistakable.
Sometimes in the middle of an intense study–particularly one whose goals and objectives haven’t been solved yet or that contain pieces of data that don’t fit together, and everyone on the team is scratching their heads–the observer witnesses an event, finding, impression, situation, icon, or visual sighting that at first appears to be nothing. It’s idiosyncratic or insignificant yet it has a certain attraction; it’s arresting. It’s interesting, odd, and the astute researchers glances at it intensely, but may not know what to do with it. She may forget about it or mull it over without result. But later, under new circumstances, this same observation, event, or situation–or one very similar to the first oddity–repeats in another part of the country. It is unexpected and is accompanied by shock or a startled effect. The observer sees it, is amazed and surprised by the reappearance of it in another unexpected medium, and discovers–upon reflection–that the existence of this synchronistically repeated situation portends a greater depth of resonance and relevance for the overall findings than expected. Or, it suggests an ending to how the research will go. Or, the synchronistic event–although not immediately meaningful s in itself–begins to emphasize something newly important to the study. Or, it unravels a research puzzle that could not originally be figured out.
Suddenly, this synchronistic occurrence–even if it only happens twice–provides a new, dramatic moment of indepth insight to the overall research momentum. The researcher may be taken on a new journey, or a new line of thinking may be opened up. Synchronicity becomes a kind of discovery mechanism facilitated by coincidence, by larger forces interfering and exerting power in what once was an orderly, expected, research unfoldment.
In a future post, I’ll show photos and examples from packaged goods ethnographic research in which synchronicity not only amazed the observational team but drove home powerful truths that could no longer be ignored for the overall findings and next-steps marketing strategies.
Synchronicity may lead to breakthrough.