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The Iron Triangle of Qualitative Analysis

Qualitative ResearchAmidst all of the recent frenzy regarding big data and data scientists, the Corona team wondered how another piece of data – qualitative data – fits into the picture. We already utilize a robust toolkit of qualitative methodologies; however, as technology continues to evolve in this area, offering everything from online focus groups to real-time interviewing platforms, we desire to stay current with emerging qualitative analysis software and provide insights that are ultimately better, cheaper and faster for our clients.

But is this even possible? It’s often said that, in the “Iron Triangle” of providing good, fast and cheap products or services, it’s impossible to accomplish all 3 goals at once. As Marc Chun, Ph.D. put it, “Ask a chef to whip up a meal quickly and cheaply, and more likely than not it won’t be very good; ask an architect to design a building of higher quality but in less time, and that won’t come cheap; or ask NASA to create a new space probe that is better but to do so with limited funds, and it will inevitably take more time.”

While we’re waiting for NASA’s research department to call, Corona wanted to find out if there are qualitative research tools out there that could help us disprove the theory behind the triangle. Naturally, we set about doing our research. Our question to answer: “Would qualitative software allow us to provide services that are better, cheaper and faster than what we’ve provided in the past?”

After evaluating a number of different tools, including text analytics software, qualitative data analysis packages and even transcription services, we arrived at our answer: not really.

You see, Corona has been fine-tuning our qualitative services and processes for almost 14 years now, and our clients tell us all the time that we’re good at what we do. In order to help our clients learn the “hows” and “whys” of their customers or target audiences we don’t rely on our computers to crank out analyses. Instead, we rely on pure intellectual horsepower. That’s right, folks – even in this time and age, we choose to use our brains over computers. And we’ll continue to do so.

Because as the big data evolution continues to unfold, the fact remains that, just like any tool, it has its strengths and limitations. As David Brooks’ New York Times op-ed piece “What Data Can’t Do” mentions, data struggles with the social. It struggles with context. It obscures values. That’s where simple, old-fashioned qualitative analysis using highlighters and our thinking caps comes into play, because in the words of Mr. Brooks, sometimes “[…] it’s foolish to swap the amazing machine in your skull for the crude machine on your desk.”

So while Corona’s qualitative team will continue to guide our clients to the research tools that are best for their needs, whether it’s focus groups, interviews, online bulletin boards or ethnographies, our analysis techniques will remain the same. And our clients can rest assured that an actual person is determining the answers to their qualitative research questions while efficiently managing cost, time and quality.


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