Views from the Hills by R. E. Stevens, GENESIS II (The Second Beginning) E-Mail

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 research.

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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