I was asked the other day about how to choose a research firm for qualitative global research projects – interviews and focus groups.
NOTE: We work exclusively with technology, so this advice may not translate to consumer products – what do you think? Do let us know in the comments.
At Dimensional Research, we’ve recently done a number of projects in India, China, Japan, Australia, and Singapore, as well as Germany, France, UK, and other countries in Europe. We’ve also done virtual projects with participants from Peru, Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela.
We have found that the principles are basically the same in any international country, with special caveats where English is not the first language.
Our recommendation is to prioritize deep experience in the industry rather than first looking for deep experience in a particular country. It is always possible to find local language support, but almost impossible to find the combination of both language and technical expertise. Of course, a firm has to have some sense of doing international research and know the pitfalls, but once you’ve done it in a few countries, the process translates to almost any other country.
The most typical approach is to pick the locations, and then partner with a local facility. Since recruiting works straight off the guide, people answer the questions the way the guide is written it to determine qualification. The important step is getting a really good guide that does a great job of filtering out unqualified people – if you do this, the local people can easily translate and get a good recruit.
Firms like Dimensional Research keep track of the really great research facilities in various countries through our direct experience and our research network – and since we specialize in technology, we work only with facilities that do great technology work. That evolves over time since there is a lot of consolidation in the market research facilities business, so it’s an ongoing effort.
In terms of moderation, if it is at all possible, we conduct research in English. Since English is the language of corporate IT and business technology, that is a real option in our research. While you need to give participants more time to communicate, the results are better if English is an option.
But it’s not always possible – in Japan it’s nearly impossible to do English-language research. In China, it depends on the audience – if you deal with very senior IT executives in the modern cities of China you might be able to use English, otherwise probably not. We have found some really excellent Japanese and Chinese moderators that we use on our projects who know technology really well and we coach them heavily before going into projects.
Bonus Tip: Make sure any firm you work with is aware of and embraces international culture. It really does make a difference to have experience outside the US to pull from. A big part of a researcher’s job is to put the participants at ease so they want to tell you the stuff that is a bit sensitive or embarrassing or doesn’t make them or their company look good.
During one of my first experiences with international research (I was only an observer), the moderator was an incredibly nice man who clearly believed that the US was the best country on earth. Unfortunately he didn’t quite get it that the British people he was talking to didn’t seem to agree with him. Not the best place to start a research conversation!