We are often asked about the tools we use when we conduct research. Truth is we have been reflecting and debating about tools for many years now. They are attractive, especially when given “sexy” or “scientific” names. They demonstrate that you’ve done the extra effort and you created them and you own them. They can exude bigness and sophistication. Yet, we take a cautious stance towards them. Especially when it comes to qualitative research. Experience from working in big multinational research agencies has taught us several things. First, having it there, can restrain actual creativity and open-mindedness when it comes to answering a client’s question and we tend to “sell” it because it is there, rather than actually using something that would fit a specific study better. Second, often, when using it we have to adapt it to the specificities of the study, endangering and canceling its actual value. Third, designing, creating, developing, systematising and standardising a tool can be a long and complex process in itself that rarely pays back the time and the studiousness invested in it. At the end of the day, a tool is as good as the craftsperson using it. And we are not all equally apt, trained, willing, committed, etc.
So, we take an alternative route. That of the “ad-hoc tool-maker”. When we deem it necessary, useful, important for a specific study and for answering specific challenges, we resourcefully create our tools. We refrain from naming/branding and overly reusing our tools. Most are combinations of techniques, exercises, games that we, as most of our colleagues, are using. Some are totally handcrafted activities we develop from scratch. Photo-sets to project, laddering type exercises to ascent and descent emotional relevance, sorting and evaluating in set timings so as to move from spontaneous to cognisant and many many more.
Therefore, each time the tool is there, it looks a bit different, it may have new perks, it serves a different purpose and it is there only because it is useful, makes sense and is relevant. And each time we finish up using such a tool, we reflect upon its effectiveness, we learn from its performance and we keep this knowledge for the next time we may consider something similar. This approach does not have the glam, the elegance and the sophistication of a branded, named, owned tool. It has however the freedom, the experimentation, the merging, the flexibility and the ability to do exactly what we want it to do. Allow me a metaphor. A very expensive and elegant swiss army knife is really attractive and nice to own, if you like this sort of stuff. Yet, we have found out that, often, a sharp knife attached to a screwdriver with duct tape can go deeper, can be sturdier and does the job brilliantly. And then, we disconnect them, put them back in our tool-box to be used at a different time, in another combination, under different conditions, for a different purpose.
We keep our eyes open for whatever is out there that can teach us how to create new, better, contemporary and smart tools. And even when we get thrilled with what we created and its outcome, when we fall in love with the way a customised tool worked and excited our client, we keep the firm belief that it most probably it was a once off case and we get ready to think, craft, search, improvise and experiment more the next time.