A recent Guardian review piece discussed whether authors had the experience and understanding to talk about cultures they were not a part of. This not only an interesting question for authors, but it is one that a researcher is often confronted with as well. For instance, can a researcher like me (a white, 30-something Briton) talk about the experience of minority UK audiences? Alternatively, without sustained first-hand experience of a culture is it possible to assess a foreign market? The short answer? Yes – with the use of respectful ethnographic research techniques.
To paraphrase Hari Kunzru, good researchers transgress without transgressing because they are well aware of how much they don’t currently know. In other words, researchers recognize that their understanding of the world and the topic at hand is provisional, incomplete and needs the input of research participants to help shed light on an issue.
This leads to the key quality which any professional, proficient researcher needs to have in spades: respect. Researchers (as authors) ‘respect people, not by leaving them alone in the inviolability of their cultural authenticity, but by becoming involved with them’.
At Hook Research, this involvement means constructing longitudinal relationships with research participants that allow us to respectfully understand the worlds of different audience groups.
Building online/offline relationships
At Hook Research, we build these relationships by speaking to people in environments they are comfortable in – both online and offline.
Ethnographic research techniques are constantly evolving for online spaces. Naturally, Hook increasingly uses social networks as platforms where we can initiate conversations and make connections. Facebook has proved to be a fantastic place to connect with members of specific interest groups and start conversations. Beyond this, other platforms often naturally lean towards classic methodologies: Pinterest for moodboards; Twitter for live commentary; Instagram for picture diaries.
Offline, we facilitate research in physical places where participants are comfortable. This goes beyond in-home: in the same day, we may visit a skate-park to learn from young taste-makers and a local gym cafe to speak with older fitness conscious female magazine readers. Understanding and respecting the reality of respondents’ lives allows the construction of scenarios and situations from which we can build a genuine sense of real behaviour.
Respect for participants is why we seek to put them at ease as much as possible, but there is another side to this as well. Research can often be a one-sided process where participants are tapped for information but never get a sense of what they are helping to shape. For that reason we created a methodology called Consumer Consulting.
Powering up ethnographic research techniques with Consumer Consulting
In appropriate contexts, Consumer Consulting lets participants get closer to the business issues being addressed in the research.
After getting to know participants and their lives in the ways above, we then introduce participants – where applicable – to the issues we are researching. We try and do this before respondents come to face-to-face research sessions.
We feel that as participants have already been thinking about specific aspects of their lives they are already primed to think in a critical way and to tackle knotty research issues. Knowledgeable participants help us create scenarios where informed consumers, knowledgeable clients and Hook Research can combine to more fully discuss issues. The level of knowledge in the room powers up this method beyond co-creation – it is a consultation between subject, stakeholder, and researcher where everybody has an informed, interesting and valid opinion.
Ultimately, Consumer Consulting facilitates a respectful dialogue that blends participant authenticity, research proficiency, business objectivity and market knowledge to produce something incredibly powerful. This respectful approach to research is not only vital to building strong, insightful connections with participants from different backgrounds, but is something that informs and continues to inform all of our work. We strongly believe that this approach is the key reason we’ve been behind so many successful product launches and refreshes in the past year.