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Friday, March 30, 2007

Research as craft..

I’ve just finished reading a book called the Wall of Fools by the Japanese thinker Takeshi Yoro which has got me thinking about the nature of ‘craft’. The following passage in particular caught my attention…
Salaried workers are loyal to the source of their salary, rather than to their occupation, whereas craftsmen can’t earn a living unless they are loyal to their occupation because they’re responsible for the work they produce
Reading this, several questions pop up. Is this definition fair? Can research be considered a craft? And if it can be then how is it similar to more traditional crafts? I took the topic up with a carpenter friend of mine, who makes furniture for a living. He considers himself to be a craftsman. When he’s working he aims to produce the best piece of work he can. He takes pride in his craftsmanship. Even so, he has to admit that he is not free of constraints. His work is usually commissioned and aims to suit somebody else’s need or idea. Even when this is not the case, he is creating with some end in mind – something for people to comfortably sit on, something to store food in etc. Creation for the sake of creation and with no end in mind would be anarchy. The finished article in a piece of research is a model of the world that helps you to understand it more clearly. It is a painting, an insightful picture of its subject. Of course, as for my carpenter friend, our research is conducted for somebody else, to illuminate our client’s view. And once it has been given over to them, it is up to them how they put it to use. But in the process of working, it is painting an accurate picture of our subject that should be our prime concern and not other, often more political, worries (something the best clients understand and those that are difficult to work with often don’t!). For me, the fundamental thing that the above definition does is put the emphasis on the finished article. As researchers, this is something we are and should be doing. Having this end in mind is what distinguishes good research, real craftsmanship, from bad research. This needn’t be exclusive of remaining loyal to the source of your salary. After all, our client’s aims may give some direction to our finished article but they don’t give it its final form. That comes from our observation and examination of the world around us and the way that the many people we speak to express themselves within that context. It is the skill of absorbing, understanding, analysing and presenting this that is the real craft of research

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Some links for Tuesday

Happy Tuesday all... In the spirit of us using the blog to share information across the team here are a few links I've come across on my travels sur l'internet On the new free-to-call advertising-funded virtual mobile network for young people, Blyk. Their website here (obviously yet to be made suitable for it's target audience!) On word-of-mouth marketing << Link inexplicably replaced by an (early and yet to be formatted!) article on April Fool's Day - sorry! On the new media company-sponsored video content site which is aiming to provide copyrighted content with ads, filling the whole left by the recent lawsuits against YouTube and its removal of much of it's unlicensed videos. Hugh McLeod on "advertising 2.0" (or the lack of it) And finally a lesson in dirty tricks from Microsoft... this site was plastered all over chairs they gave out to overnight queuers at last week's PS3 launch at Virgin Megastore, London Anyone got anything else to share?

Friday, March 23, 2007

What next for online research

Went to quite a buzzy Warc conference on the above topic last week… thought I'd share my, hopefully balanced, take-outs: 1. Everyone was talking about reframing attitudes to consumers, who, in the 2.0 climate of open-ness and democracy are to be seen as active brand stakeholders rather than passive vessels for marketing. Research is being encouraged to 'reframe' its attitude - to listen rather than ask questions, to reconceive respondents as 'research participants' - and researchers are well advised to get into co-creation… fair enough but actually, as I've said on this blog before, I'm not entirely sure whether this really is a million miles away from how good qual would regard consumers already… 2. That said, online communities and environments do offer interesting new opportunities for product and concept development. I believe 'open source' development is being adopted by people like BMW - but I particularly like the idea of using Second Life for products of an experiential nature - (See this article on hotels in Second Life) as a playful online environment may well generate some freer thinking than traditional offline npd research. These forums are obviously useless for fact-based research but could be a lot of fun and very productive for a bit of blue sky idea generation. 3. Some of the most interesting developments seem to be happening in quant, which seems to be becoming far more multi-facetted and sensitive online than it ever was off…importantly, the web allows both online interviewing but also measuring and diagnosing what is already there. Was quite impressed, for example, by the accuracy of prediction curves for the success (sales) of films based on online WOM. 4. Quant is gaining a quasi qual side - given lesser time and physical constraints online, there's far more opportunity for open-enders in online vs offline quant surveys, going even as far as 'story telling'. Clearly, quant researchers are much less well equipped to interpret these - so new hybrid techniques or hybrid researchers may be emerging 5. Information Management will emerge as key topic for both clients and researchers - whether it's blogs (research-commissioned or already existing), online communities or indeed qual-type answers within a quant survey - there is ever more data out there and there's a real danger of a. information overload and b. people jumping to uninformed conclusions. I'm wondering for example who analyses and contextualises the entries on a site like P&G's Capessa? Qual researchers would be obviously highly qualified to do so but do we really want to spend a lot of time at our desk sifting through pages and pages of online text, not all of which (to be kind) is likely to be hugely relevant to our clients? 6. Online qual is a supplementary method - or needs supplementing by offline interviewing. Existing blogs - and possibly increasingly social networking sites - are clearly useful to help us to get 'up the curve' at the beginning of a project and can help in trend spotting. Research commissioned blogs can make use of the confessional nature of the medium especially for sensitive topics and can make for a far more interesting-to look at and 'life-like' online diary. But I'm not convinced of the benefits of online groups beyond cost and ease of recruitment for EXTREMELY hard-to-get targets. Yes, offline groups are artificial and not ideal in many ways and people are likely to over-rationalise their ideas but at least as a researcher you can look into their eyes, see their body language and, let's face it, talking in the physical presence of others is far more likely to reveal emotions than the more left brain activity of writing down thoughts in the presence of a 'virtual' moderator...

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

WiFi and a pint of Guinness, please

I was absolutely intrigued this weekend to see that our local pub has started to offer ‘Wireless’ to customers …and even more so to learn from the landlord, that there had been much more of an uptake than he’d anticipated. He even reported to have had one or two people coming in during the afternoons specifically to work away on their laptops My immediate thought was to see this as real clash of cultures. Surely all of the rituals and behaviours caught up in the British pub are the antithesis of what the wireless worker is signifying when they open up their PowerBook and start to type away During some on-trade ethnographic research for a drinks brand last year it was very clear that being in the pub is about personal freedom, but also about community and spending time with others. Whereas, the wireless hotspot user at present looks to be much more isolated and in need of being alone… But perhaps with the launch of WiFi mobiles and the smoking ban just around the corner, there won’t be such a clash after all. Accessing a wireless hotspot through your mobile phone puts up far fewer barriers to ‘the community’ than using your laptop ever could. And a smoke free environment, well that just makes it a nicer place to stop and pick up emails or do some work.

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