Musings: Reporting on my research experiment

Dear Readers;

An offhand comment from my 25-year old niece a few weeks ago was the inspiration for me to try a research experiment. As I was serving a family dinner Sam said that she “never cooks, doesn’t want to learn, and there’s no need to anymore.” She went on to say that she’s not alone in this–many of her girlfriends feel the same way.

I was distressed, because I thoroughly enjoy cooking as a creative experience, as well as a way to get healthy fuel for my body.

Now I’m a member of the Boomer generation, and when I was growing up the Moms and Grand-moms did most of the cooking and the girls were expected from an early age to contribute to meal prep. As a college student, friends gathered at my house for a good home-cooked meal, and as I entered young adulthood, worked long hours, and was very much a feminist, I still did the cooking.  My niece’s comment struck a chord–I’d heard similar remarks from young women I’ve come in contact with in the last few years…and yet, I’d also heard from young adult males (my nephew included) who took pride and delight in putting a good meal together.

Serendipitously, that week I had been in contact with Jennifer Dale of Inside Heads who was launching a new on-line, text-based focus group platform called My Virtual Focus Room FacilitySM. Jennifer graciously offered me the opportunity to demo the platform without charge. I jumped at the offer to learn more about these younger generations’ attitudes toward cooking while experimenting with the technology.

You can read the details of my learnings in the white paper posted to my website.  I believe there are potential implications for food manufacturers and those who make appliances and tools related to meal prep.

I’ll share a bit of my experience in using this text based on-line focus group method. Now I have a reputation in the qual research world for being a creative, “high touch” researcher. I love to work with consumers, shoppers and my clients in personal, intimate, face-to-face situations where I can read the full array of emotions through words, tones, gestures, body language, etc. I’ve done some on-line research—mostly Bulletin Boards, and not been entirely satisfied. However, this was a better experience, and I can see a place for it in my moderator’s tool-chest.

The oddest thing for me was the rhythm of the groups–I would sometimes get a rush of responses, like a big family dinner party with everyone talking at the same time and no one listening to each other (but you get to see the words real-time, like a live screen opera libretto).  On the other extreme, sometimes I’d pose a question, and wait for what seemed like a long time to get feedback. Because you can’t see people thinking, it’s hard to know if they just have no opinions or ideas, or they are thoughtfully composing and typing a response. I discussed this with Jennifer who is exploring how they might solve this so the moderator gets some feedback that the respondent is typing away, even before the answer is sent.

At the end of the two groups I reviewed the transcripts and found them to be full of juicy quotes, and the on-line input mirrored what I had learned in my pre-groups telephone IDI’s. I was able to mine a lot from the two, 80-minute sessions and my take-away is positive. While I don’t think this platform is as emotionally satisfying for me to work, it certainly has many benefits in fast turnaround, ability to gather together larger groups of geographically diverse respondents and clients, and there are cost savings. Another benefit that’s not being talked about–if this swine flu hits us hard, on-line research may be the best option around.

I’d love to hear about the experiences of other researchers who have been working extensively in face-to-face and shifting to on-line.

Laurie Tema-Lyn, Practical Imagination Enterprises, 908-237-2246,

4 Responses

  1. Glad to see this spark on Latema.

    I don’t know exactly what an-line, text-based focus group platform is, but it sounds interesting! Keep on learning.

    and definitely… keep on cooking.

    • Hi Barrie,
      Rather than leave a detailed explanation here, if you would like to know more, please give me a buzz and I’ll explain in detail. Thanks!

  2. Hey Laurie!

    Very Interesting!!!
    I guess as a Gen Yer myself, I found myself thinking about both aspects here, the cooking issue, and the online MR issue 🙂

    First, as a Gen Y male, I am actually pretty interested in cooking. Unfortunately, as you very well know, the life I lead leaves little time for a decent meal preparation. The majority of my cooking results in a backyard BBQ with friends or simple quick dishes when I am not on the road.

    Second, regarding online research, I think the first big misconception is that it requires less of the moderator’s time and attention. In fact, honestly, I think in most cases it requires more time and dedication than traditional in-person groups.

    I’m glad you got the chance to dive into this methodology! I agree it definitely has its place in the MR toolbox and is something that hopefully everyone can soon become familiar with using.


    • Hi Ben
      I agree, my on-line experience was as labor intensive as my face-to-face (except for the savings in travel time.) It takes a lot of thought to prepare the guide correctly and anticipate what you will want to ask, when. In face-to-face it’s much easier to have a “menu” of probes and areas of exploration and move through them with an individual or group as appropriate. On-line also produces so much material that the analysis may take longer to sort through what’s important, look for patterns, etc.

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