Does Qual still have a stand-alone role in the Age of Analytics/ Big Data?


Esomar has this year decided to merge its two concurrent annual conferences Big Data World and Global Qualitative – the new, 4 Day event is entitled “Fusion”(Esomar Fusion). It’s left quite a few folk in the qual world puzzled, alarmed even – it seems an odd construct.

There is no doubt conceptually that Insights as a skill is, was and always will be about pulling on different data streams/ sets to get a balanced assessement of a business problem. As qual grows in stature, assuming a more strategic role, this will increasingly be the norm. All fine in theory.

What that means in conrete terms for up-sklling, and in the practical world of global conferences, is tricky – it’s easy to see two worlds and mindsets colliding that have little or nothing to do with one another.

Big Data and qual audiences are at their extremes very disparate with little overlap – analytics folk are techy/ numbers-driven, comfortable with mathematical formulas, qualies are almost the opposite, are into people understanding, feelings, thoughts, context, emotions. Mutual fascination or empathy is often lacking – disinterest, even mistrust are more common.

The tool kits are also totally different. Python, SPSS or R don’t really overlap with in-depth interviews, cognitive biases or ethnographies.

There is certainly a danger that the Analytics category, which is by far the larger of the two, with vastly larger budgets, will dominate – narratives will be tech-driven, the disparate voices of qual likely diminished, lost.

Which would be a great shame – Esomar Global Qual is a great brand, an event people worldwide look forward to; plus the qual segment seems to be on an upward trajectory in many geographies.

So: back to my original question: what’s best thematically, structurally and practically in the world of conferences
, as we look to move towards a mixed-modal MR future?

Is the Esomar experiment – if that’s what it is – bold, looking to shape what a “fused” MR world could look like? Or is the notion of fusion misleading, with other, mono-focussed MR events such as the upcoming joint bi-annual qual conference in Valencia hosted by the QRCA and AQR (QRCA/AQR Global Qualitative) more immediately relevant, inspiring?

My take: an expanded role for qual will definitely involve embracing targetted aspects of tech, but at its core its value will be in the power of small numbers, teasing out tensions, highlighting contradictions, helping unearth commercial opportunities through granularity.

Asking quallies to explore computer coding, Python or R likely won’t be useful – but I may be wrong, maybe I just dont know enough Renaissance women or men.

What do you think – can qual still have a stand-alone role in future?

Curious, as ever, as to others’ views.

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