Categorizing qualitative findings
When we create methodologies to better understand the depth of emotion, behavior, and motivation behind an issue, consumer profile, or topic, we choose qualitative approaches like authentic ethnography, creative groups, digital ethnography, contextual interviews, and IDIs that often yield dramatic findings. But, how do we know in which category these findings fall? Are they:
Universal: Trends that represent big archetypal or typological patterns that are quantifiable and become directly applicable to other consumers and subjects? Idiosyncratic: Spacific only to that person or family because of their unique situation, history, and lifestyle? Cultural: Specific to the culture, community or region in which the family or person lives and has a relationship? Aspirational: Although expressed as a reality, the consumer or family wants it but may not actually experience or move toward the aspiration for some time, if ever.
This is where experience, training as a cultural anthropologist, teaming with other experienced research professionals, team involvement, study of the data, careful debriefs, expertise in discerning the right methodology, and ongoing careful analysis show us the path out of the thickness of data.
On the positive side, there are ever-increasing number of brilliant qualitative methods that we work with daily and add to our repertoire as they become available. On the difficult side, the amount of data that comes from these combined methodologies is so intense that it requires concentrated skill and discernment to decide whether we are dealing with a cultural hypothesis, a family-specific situation, or whether the learning has wide and broad applicability. This is the joy of research -- to see the big picture through the creativity of many compelling details.