So why shouldn’t junior researchers (JRs) be allowed to moderate client-paid focus groups?
Two main reasons:
1. They’re often still learning the mechanics of facilitating a group. The cognitive effort they need to master this art will be at the expense of the greater commercial purpose of the research.
2. JRs are relatively new to the actual marketing business (vs the theory). In effect, and relatively speaking, they don’t have much business world experience.
This is not, by any stretch, a criticism of JRs. Most of the JRs I’ve worked with have been bright young things with verve, insight and a great passion for their work. But these wonderful qualities are no substitute for business world experience.
Consider this scenario:
A research agency gets a brief and a team, usually comprising senior researchers (SRs) and JRs, is put together. There’s a proposal to write and the JR will often be asked to ‘have a go’ at writing it. Of course, before it actually goes out to the client, it’s checked by the SR. More specifically, it’s checked, edited and/or rewritten.
Ditto the discussion guide. The JR ‘has a go’ at writing it, and then, invariably, it’s pulled and pushed into shape; re-ordered and re-worked by the SR. Out in the field, the SR moderates the focus groups that the client wants to watch, while the JR does the regional/interstate focus groups that are unlikely to be viewed.
A couple of things to note here:
1. That JRs are being involved in the whole research process and thus, getting experience in the field. Hooray, until you read the next point.
2. That JRs, who aren’t quite across developing a proposal or a discussion guide, often end up moderating focus groups despite the fact that they don’t fully get it.
This cannot be best practice. Not by a long shot.
What are the implications here? And is there a solution? Stay tuned…