At last week’s TMRE conference, Peter Simpson, president of Segmedica, provided an interesting look at qualitative methods that increase user engagement and participation. The presentation demonstrated examples of striving to observe natural events in their normal setting.

The key message, which we’ve been hearing elsewhere, is the changing role of the moderator as the “driver” of the conversation. Should the moderator adapt to become an active listener? Should the moderator morph into an observer, leaving the room once the task has been assigned?

These thought-provoking ideas grew out of the postulate that budgets allocated for market research aren’t working as well as they should or working as they have in the past. Some researchers believe that qualitative research lacks the rigorous, scientific basis used in quantitative methods.

A moderator delivering successful results, as an active listener, was depicted using a community example. A native speaker working collaboratively with a moderator managed online communities in multiple countries, in local languages, from Segmedica’s home base in Tonawanda, New York.

Similarly, moderation can lead to our brand language and assumptions being played back to us. For example, Peter noted that in a series of focus-group sessions, tracking talk time showed that the moderator was speaking 55% of the time. The question becomes how can the respondent, in a group setting, effectively share their thoughts and emotions when they’re allowed such a small window time for expression.

As Alex Hunt from BrainJuicer observed in his separate presentation “Death of the Traditional New Product Concept,” with Andy Smith of Hershey, the focus shouldn’t be on keeping up with new market research technology, rather the focus should be keeping up on the changing psychology of the brand’s consumer audience.

In a typical focus group, four HCPs (Health Care Practitioners) can be difficult to moderate, based on their level of education and the often observed competitiveness among them. If the moderator assigns them a task and leaves them to it, these challenges can turn around to produce better insights as the HCP’s expertise and drive motivates them to produce a great result.

Peter also stressed the importance of psychological profiling of respondents prior to participation. In the Q & A session, we discussed this idea in greater depth including the implications and use in other fields like training and education. If we as researchers understand the “entry behavior” of respondents, prior to conducting research, we have a richer context from which to draw insights.

It will be interesting to see if and how the role of the qualitative moderator changes in light of these developing changes