Q & A with Vivian

  1. What’s is your ideal project?

    Honestly, that’s an impossible question to answer—much like, which is your favorite child? Every project with a clear objective and engaged clients is enjoyable, because I am on a journey with my clients, and we both know the outlines of the territory before us, but not the detail within it. And filling in that detail with the results of the research is highly satisfying work. Beyond that, the most interesting projects of all are exploratory projects; in other words, when a client wants to understand a particular type of customer or segment of the population more deeply. In this case, clients tend not to have a preconceived notion of where we will end up. When they are very open to learning, we can do some creative things to explore a world they don’t know much about.

  2. How does qualitative research fit into the age of big data?

    I think it’s an important and necessary complement. Data is clearly where we are and where we will continue to be, as so much of our activity and behavior are tracked and shared and analyzed. But that alone tells really only part of the story. It’s still important to hear people talk about their lives and their passions, what happens inside them between the actions they take, what motivates them to try something completely different, what addresses their fears and anxieties. I recently completed a study where the data about a segment’s behavior led the client to a quite rational conclusion, but some deep qualitative research has uncovered more complexity and a potential opportunity that was not initially apparent. So, again: qualitative research is an important complement to big data.

  3. What line of work would you be in, if not qualitative research?

    It’s hard to imagine not being a qualitative researcher, because it feeds so many of my passions. I love mysteries, and there is a mystery in every study: Why is this happening or not happening? How do people think or feel about this, and why? Also, I am curious about people. I love hearing stories about how people live, and I have deep empathy for the many ways people struggle on both small and large scales. I also have deep respect for the many ways people triumph. And, finally, I am personally so satisfied by the range of subject matter I am exposed to in this work, which feeds my love of variety and my need for intellectual challenge. I think if I weren’t in qualitative research, I’d love to be a documentary filmmaker or a museum curator, both of which offer some of the same benefits as this work.

Behind The Owl

On the day I left my last job in February 2008, I drove home through the snow thinking about this new business I was about to begin. As I passed under telephone wire, I noticed a barred owl perched there—a bit strange, as owls are not a typical sighting, especially on a snowy afternoon. But there he was—solitary, strong, braving the cold and snow to stake his ground. As I launched VMHQ, this owl became a personal but private totem, a lucky charm.

It's a fitting symbol for a moderator and researcher, as owls have very keen listening skills.

Privately, I also love that much of the owl’s hunting success lies in its ability to be stealthy, to slip through the night observing but unnoticed. Unlike some moderators who like to perform for their clients (peacocks, maybe), I prefer to create an environment where I slip into the background and bring the focus to the respondents. So whether I’m embarking on the first interview of the day or analyzing research late at night, solo, I remember that owl.