Hope Felton-Miller March 6, 2017 No Comments

Pre-work is about asking qualitative respondents to do some tasks before the focus group, CLT, or in-depth interview (for both in-person or online methodologies) to gather extra information through a different lens, and of getting respondents “into the space” before the interviews even start. This extra information and different lens often combine to reveal deeper and more interesting insights.

In the early days of marketing research, participants were often given a short, pen-and-pencil questionnaire to complete while they were waiting for the groups to start. It was challenging to incorporate the findings of this short survey into the group discussion, but the results could be brought into the report after the groups were completed.

Thankfully, technologic advances, combined with thoughtful creativity, have given researchers many more pre-work capabilities which can be brought into the discussion, as well as into the reporting:

  1. Mobile diaries. Ask participants to purchase the product of interest, using their mobile phone to document the trip. Additionally, you could ask participants to use their phones to record  themselves completing a certain task (e.g., baking a cake from scratch, bathing their baby, etc.), narrating their thought process as they do so. Participants upload their videos and the moderator (and clients) review the videos before the groups or interviews.
  2. Photos and videos. Ask participants to bring photos and videos to the discussion – either in person or online. These photos and videos can help participants connect with each other by providing instant context for individual perspectives. For example, in a series of focus groups for a pet food store, participants introduced both themselves and then showed photos of their pets. For an online focus group about home improvements, participants were asked to post photos (ideally before-and-after) of their latest DIY projects, adding information about their interests and capabilities, with many compliments and suggestions from other participants.
  3. Online surveys. Rather than pen-and-pencil, it is easy and cost-effective to set up and analyze a short online survey for participants to take before the groups. Again, this can provide common-ground for participants, as well as give the moderator insight into participants’ perceptions, opinions, and beliefs before the research.
  4. Unlimited other creative uses. The possibilities are legion. Take a picture of what you are looking at while you are washing dishes. Create a Pinterest board with your favorite flooring ideas. Use images from the web to create a collage of what it means to have diabetes (may be literal or metaphorical). Download some music to share that sounds like how you want your laundry to smell (trans-sensory work can be VERY enlightening!). Whatever the topic, there are many cool and different things you can ask participants to do, so use your team’s creativity.

There are many benefits to pre-work. Information collected from the pre-work can inform the moderator’s guide, and add richness to the report. Another benefit of pre-work is that participants arrive at the discussion or interview prepped and ready to go. They don’t need to spend time recalling their latest purchase or experience – they’ve just had it! And if they have been able to review others’ pre-work before the group or interview, they already know what they have in common – instant rapport! Through pre-work, respondents sometimes gain new perspectives into themselves and their behavior: “I did not realize that we have SEVEN open packages of cereal in the pantry until I took that photo!” (If you are concerned that they experience they bring to the group may not be their typical experience – just ask about differences, and why they usually do things another way.)

While including a pre-work exercise may require a somewhat larger incentive to encourage participation, the benefits are well worth the relatively small added costs. After all, you have already paid for all the recruiting and room/platform costs, the professional fees and most of the incentives – this is just a small incremental investment to get a lot more back. You will find that you get richer more insightful discussion in the interview or group, as well as the additional insight to be gained from reviewing the pre-work results. If you haven’t been using pre-work in your qualitative research, you may be missing a great opportunity!

Get Creative with Pre-Work! Call us to brainstorm what works for your next project: (513) 235-7189

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