So there we were, three researchers in Borough Market, one Friday lunchtime with two pink tables, some pink chairs (thanks to Better Bankside) and bottles of soft drinks.
Our first ever pop-up group discussions.
It was strangely unnerving at first. It made me realise how much most paid-for MR is within our comfort zone. Normally, we call the shots.
Of course, a lot of people didn’t really get what we were doing. What was the catch? This is a good reminder of the importance of context.
It’s a powerful thing, really listening. Not just Active Listening but Unconditional Listening, ie listening without judging.
I think that clients and maybe also us as qualitative researchers take this for granted - we should make much more of it.
Between us we had about 12 conversations of up to 25 minutes with a variety of passers-by. We said that we were interested in whatever interested or mattered to them, no agenda, no commercial interests, just a conversation.
Afterwards we compared notes:
- Spontaneously convened conversations with strangers really worked. It was surprising how quickly and how easily people moved to deep and quite sensitive topics (see below)
- We covered a huge range of topics, from government, politics, royalty and personal identity, via banks, the financial crisis, immigration to career, prospectsand work/life balance
- The setting and the fact that people knew they could go whenever they wanted, helped give the feeling that everything was out in the open.
- With no clients, no interview guide, no materials, it was very freeing, far less performance anxiety.
- Several people found it cathartic to rant and vent their feelings to someone who wanted to listen. How much anxiety and mind space do these issues normally take up?
- Handing over control and the agenda to the public helped to make the conversations very productive: as one person said at the end, “It’s good to let people dance to their own tune … (I) feel better for it, it’s been good to let it out.”
Here is an excerpt from the start of one pop-up group. It took less than 30 seconds to get on to ‘the ultimate question’. The participants were three men in their 20s who were work colleagues.
Intro … we’re just interested in what matters to you …
1. “Well I’m at an early stage in my career so I’m wondering where is it heading …”
2. “…or is it heading?” (laugh) 1. “… yeah and is it the best?”
3. “It’s the ultimate coin toss. The three of us, in suits, but is it the bohemian lifestyle, spending time travelling, or doing a job?”
1. “Do you commit your life to fiscal gain, getting material things, property, or you can live, I suppose, by other values, more spiritual values maybe.”
3. “It’s the ultimate question, how do you live your life?”
Indeed. We intend to repeat our Listening Post experiment. One question which arose was, how can an ‘agenda-free’ conversation be made of value to clients? Some possible answers in the next post.
Or maybe the next but one.