Vivian Harris, Founder and President
Vivian is inspired by the stories people tell her.
Cool and unflappable, Vivian has a knack for asking the critical questions that arise in the moment. She creates a safe, comfortable atmosphere for participants across focus groups and interviews, both online and off.
Vivian has decades of experience in qualitative and quantitative research design and execution. Before founding VMHQ Research in 2008, she built her career at prominent New England research firms, leading projects, managing operations, and mentoring staff. With expertise in healthcare, media, women, and unique consumer and B2B populations, Vivian is adept at navigating sensitive topics, plumbing the depths of the issue at hand, and crafting actionable business recommendations.
She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Notre Dame, and an M.A. in English from the University of Chicago. Equally at home in the cultural buzz of New York City and on the shores of New England, Vivian lives in Portland, Maine, with her husband. Together, they have two grown daughters and two demanding dogs.
Through VMHQ, Vivian is supported by a team of partners that allows her to scale or specialize to meet the needs of any client project.
Q & A with Vivian
What three skills does a great moderator need?
First, listening skills. I really believe the best moderators listen more than they talk. I think of myself as a tool to open up your customers and get them talking about what you want or need to learn.
Second, focus. This is important in two ways. While we develop a guide to outline the flow of the discussion, we rarely refer directly to it or use it as a script. The moderator needs to internalize the conversation flow to such a degree he or she can put the guide aside and focus wholly on the conversation before them. But a moderator also needs to focus on what individual respondents are saying, in order to refer back to a specific comment later in the conversation when it makes more sense to do so.
Third, flexibility, both in the group and in the backroom. As I said, the guide is not a script, and a great moderator knows this and is comfortable moving with the conversation as it naturally flows, as long as it remains relevant to the objective. And being flexible with clients in the backroom is key as well, because project needs and ideas evolve.
How did a background in literature prepare you for a life in qualitative research?
In a broad sense, the study of literature is the study of humanity. It is about exploring the lives of others -- other people, in other times, in other lands, through the written word. So the student of literature is, at her very core, curious about people. That's the first and perhaps obvious connection.
But there is a practical connection as well, and that has to do with the analytic process. Simply put, literary analysis involves exploring a set of qualitative information (the text), identifying themes and patterns, and making sense of what we've found. This is also what we do in qualitative research. As it turned out, my time in the humanities prepared me well for a life as a moderator, analyst, and consultant.