Respondents are not Just Rows in a Dataset

After qualitative research, my clients often ask questions like “What were the key take-aways from respondents in this market?” This is what they’re concerned about, and rightfully so; it’s their job. But I try to remember that, just like my clients are more than their jobs, our respondents are more than just respondents: they’re people with lives and families and problems and passions, and the markets we choose are their homes.

As a moderator, I spend a good deal of time in focus group facilities. One facility usually looks a lot like the next, and it’s easy to forget if you’re in Dallas or Duluth or Des Moines. And truthfully, after awhile, respondents blend together.

But at the same time, there are people I’ve interviewed who stand out in my mind months or even years later, like the pediatrician who broke down crying while telling me about treating kids with meningitis, or the man who had the entire back room nearly hysterical with his snarky comments about the ads we were testing.  And of course the woman who taught me a lesson I still use to this day: Johnson’s BabyShampoo is great for taking off eye make-up.  Meeting people like this drives home for me a fact that is easy to forget in the “research world,” with our focus on statistical significance, data points, and finding just the right word: Respondents are not just rows in a data set; they’re living, breathing folks who take the time to answer questions, and none of the work I do would be possible without their existence, honesty, and willingness to participate.

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