Top 10 tips for managing international qualitative research

Mustard has over 25 years’ experience of conducting multi-country research studies across a variety of sectors.

Our first ever client was ICI, for whom having international capability was essential, and since we have developed a strong reputation for designing, managing and conducting multi-country studies for our clients.

Over recent years we have delivered research in over 60 countries, covering all the major continents (across Asia-Pacific and the Indian sub-continent, Middle-East and Africa, South/Central America, Europe and North America), using our long-established networks to interview respondents in their local language.

All international studies are managed at our head office in the UK. We can deliver international telephone interviews from the UK. We can also set-up and administer multi-language online studies using our in-house platform, Confirmit.

Additionally we are able to draw upon our network of local fieldwork partners from across the world, who we have worked with for many years, to undertake qualitative fieldwork on our behalf in the local language. This approach allows us to tap into the most appropriate and experienced individuals within each market that we operate, and provides greater value (than being ‘tied in’ to an overseas sub-office).

Here are our top ten tips for delivering successful and insightful international qualitative research:

  1. Invest time to build and maintain a solid network of like-minded agencies. The best outputs will come from working with agencies that understand your service philosophy. For example, all of our international partners must be deadline focused, always looking for the ‘So what?’ insights, and willing to be flexible and go the extra mile;
  2. Vet partner agencies thoroughly before formally collaborating. Develop a database of contacts that allows you to understand the specialisms in terms of sectors and methods. Use this as the foundation for building solid relationships;
  3. Develop clear ‘ways of working’ guidelines and Service Level Agreements (SLAs). For Mustard, this includes processes to ensure partner agencies can adhere to our quality control procedures;
  4. Build trust and transparency into ways of working. Greater value is realised by partnership working. This is just as relevant to agency collaborations as the agency/client relationship. Communicate thoroughly and openly – partner agencies should be an extension to the team so share as much information as you’re able;
  5. Deliver thorough written and telephone briefings prior to commencement of the fieldwork. Do this pre-commission AND pre-recruitment to validate understanding of the brief and ensure all questions are answered and nothing is misinterpreted. Maintain contact through weekly scheduled calls;
  6. Conduct face-to-face briefings prior to moderation commencing. Not only to chat through, but to demonstrate the discussion guide. Share video examples of any complex projective techniques or group activities;
  7. Observe fieldwork to ensure consistency in delivery across markets (e.g. questioning techniques, levels of probing, use of projective techniques);
  8. Ensure all moderators are fluent in English. Mustard insists on being able to communicate directly with all Project Directors and all moderators in all markets;
  9. Focus on post-group analysis and reporting. Good quality translations are critical and trusted providers of translation services are paramount. Brainstorm and collaborate to build the story of the insights. Use the knowledge of the local market to allow important cultural differences to shine through. Draw out the important local cultural differences, but also understand the global similarities. Build templates and guidelines for immediate post-group reporting. Structure for reporting ensures consistent delivery of insight from all markets; and
  10. Use multi-media solutions (such as film dissemination) to deliver pan-global insights with impact. Seeing respondents in their true environment (i.e. not in a viewing facility) helps to put the findings in context and bring the research to life.

This is our approach, and as ever we are open to learning and sharing ideas for “best practice” elsewhere – please get in touch and join the debate!