Homework isn't all that bad.
In a recent issue of Quirk's
there is an interesting
article titled, "Learning to love homework," written by Linda Binder, senior
vice president of Primary Insights of Lisle, Illinois. In the article,
Linda describes a unique way she conducts some of her Focus Groups. Her
homework refers to assignments given to respondents to be completed outside
of the qualitative sessions. Homework is used in studies where respondents
return for multiple sessions. It can also offer value in more traditional
qualitative studies when assigned at the time of recruitment where the respondents
agree to complete the homework before the qualitative sessions.
I agree with Linda's position on the value of homework. In my days
at P&G, we had a group of qualitative researchers who within my experience
had no equal. One, Ms. Jane May, has since joined the ranks of the
retired while the other, Ms. Susan Wissman has left P&G and set up her
own company. They had set up similar qualitative sessions that required
homework. Actually Susan had formed groups of specific population segments
that met monthly. Each month they would report on their previous homework,
discuss the findings and leave with a new assignment. The homework
would involve discussing specific topics with their friends, observing shopping
habits, reporting on changes in their local markets, recording various task
habits and practices, etc.
Our clients found this type of research to be very helpful. The clients
would systematically feed us topics for exploration. The results were
not used for conclusions, they were used to help design better and more complete
The only real criticism of the research was from the purists that thought
we were directing or biasing the respondents, never mind that we were not
using the results to form conclusions, only direction. Those who criticized
the research were the same ones that fought directed interest studies such
as identifying blind test products as detergent with bleach or fabric softener.
Or the one I liked best is where they complained that we identified
the automatic dishwashing detergent as "designed to remove baked on foods."
Had we not told the user of the product feature, they would have continually
used the detergent as they had in the past, that is, they would have removed
the baked on food before washing, thereby, removing the opportunity of seeing
the basis for which the product was designed.
The skeptics were also the same people that did not believe that you should
conduct brand identified home use tests. They could not be convinced
that people do not purchase products, they purchase brands and at some point
you need to determine if the product and brand name are a good match.
Have fun with research, try new things. If you don't explore, you will
never uncover a new gold field.
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