I was watching Q and A last night (for those of you who are not based in Australia, Q and A is a panel program where various notables discuss the issues of the day – it is noteworthy for its use of twitter to engage the audience in discussion… but that’s another story).

Anyway

I was watching Q and A last night and one of the panellists was talking about bullying and social media – the panellist said he didn’t know what the big fuss was about and why social media was attracting so much attention for it. He said (well I’ll paraphrase) that, “Bullying has always been around, it is just the medium that has changed”.

Now, I might not agree with that point on social media and bullying – I do take his wider point that social media is just a medium – the things we are doing have not changed, just the way we are doing them.

I’ve also recently been asked to prepare a presentation on new trends in Qualitative research. Whilst I spend large lumps of my day on the Internet, reading all the posts out there on new ideas, new techniques etc – at the start, this challenge did have me a little stumped. Some clear topics came to mind; online qualitative research (which is still viewed sceptically by many Australian clients and researchers), self guided ethnography, and mobile research / location based research. However the more I thought about these research approaches, none of them are really new – they are in essence old approaches dressed up in a shiny new medium.

Online qualitative research (which has been the subject of much of my cogitating recently as I’ve been preparing a paper for a conference on the topic) is new because it is online. But the idea is old, just repackaged into a new look. I think people have struggled with online qual because, unlike quant, it has not be a straight transition of the ‘hero’ technique of the discipline neatly being transplanted from offline to online (CATI survey becomes Online survey). Online Focus Groups were not an easy transition – particularly in the first days of the Internet – the technology was buggy, the typing speeds weren’t there, participant familiarity with the Internet wasn’t there, and the Internet was just plain slow. I’m encouraged by the recent shifts and advances in the platforms supporting this technique, but I think that Online FGDs still have an image problem (I’m still undecided if this image problem is warranted these days or not – open to convincing one way or the other).

The technique I love in online qualitative is the discussion forum, I’ve posted on it before, and I’ll presenting on it at the AMSRS conference in September. The asynchronous nature of these forums I think is the greatest benefit of the technique, as it allows for more considered responses – as well as for a building and evolving of the research as the project progresses. I think the medium (online) has increased the viability and convenience of asynchronous qualitative research, however I am sure the practice of asynchronous qualitative research was there before, just in a different guise. Diaries, longitudinal qualitative projects helped to tap these more considered learnings – however the barriers to conducting were much greater (cost & time investments were much higher for a start). In this way, online has helped to break down the barriers – allowing us as researchers to gather feedback from participants in a different, more considered way – complimenting the traditional synchronous approaches.

Self guided ethnography is also touted as a ‘new’ techniques – however it is really just an evolution of an old one. Mobile phones, flip cameras, digital cameras allow us to gather ‘trace’ evidence in a new way – but the ethnographic frameworks remain the same, and should not be abandoned in the face of the new data collection methods.

Location based research and mobile research are also newcomers to the scene. There has been a lot of talk about both on the web, in the magazines, but I’m yet to see widespread use of the technologies. However, they are again a new, more efficient and generally more accurate way of gathering the same information – where were you when you did this / saw that? What were you doing then / there?

I’m excited about these new advancements in technology, the changing mediums that we can use to collect information in more efficient, timely and convenient ways – but let’s remember that the research problems we’re solving remain the same. We shouldn’t get distracted by the shiny new medium – but focus on the research problems and choosing the best approach to answer them.