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Qualitative Research for Not-for-profit organisations – Webinar Summary (part 1)

Last week the ESOMAR Foundation hosted the third webinar of the series Qualitative Research for Not-for-profit organisations. The webinar focused on examining and showcasing how different forms of qualitative research can be used to help support non-profit organisations.

The online event was hosted by Phyllis Macfarlane (GFK & Esomar Foundation) and featured Simon Patterson, Founder and CEO at QRI Consulting and Philly Desai of UK-based international development consultancy Turnstone Research.

Simon Patterson of QRi Consulting covered a case study on Education in Nepal, to answer the question of how best to support a public secondary school – he took a holistic view of the issues and identified real insights that have enabled the public schools to thrive.

Simon’s words

Over the last 70 years, Market Research has been so influential in helping optimise commercial brand and communication strategies, discovering consumer needs and providing Marketing with key Insights. Harnessing this knowledge and experience for the good of our global society is brilliant. I was also most grateful to be asked to do the webinar with Philly Desai, who I have known and respected for many years.

As Phyllis MacFarlane mentioned in her introduction to our webinar, people often underestimate the tremendous depth of insight that Qualitative Research can contribute to NGOs and NFPs in helping them get to the heart of a problem. It can also help identify solutions as well, which makes qualitative research doubly valuable.

As I mentioned in the Q&A, Qualitative Research doesn’t have to be hugely expensive either, so you shouldn’t dismiss it because the ROI can be huge!

The beauty of Qualitative Research, in its purest form, is that it is about exploration and discovery. It requires an inquisitive yet sensitive mind that can look at the world from different points of view, trying to understand the underlying reasons that people do things, what motivates them, what problems they have and so on, and then looking for ways to get over those barriers.

The example that I talked about in the webinar was such case. We went into the research with a broad objective to try to identify why pupil numbers were declining. By taking a holistic approach we discovered many important insights that have resulted in donations being spent in the right places and making a real difference to pupil’s lives, as well as helping the school grow again.

I have been lucky enough to work on some of the most famous brands in the world and travel to many countries, but this study in Nepal about secondary schools was one of the most rewarding projects I have ever been involved in, Simon concluded.

About the author

Simon is a Strategic Qualitative Researcher with a proven track record of 30 years experience; understanding what makes consumers tick, the influence of the socio-cultural context, and translating these insights into actionable recommendations. He moderates ECGs®, Focus Groups and IDIs in the UK and North America, and conducts projects around the world. He has written papers and presented at conferences on Country & Destination Branding, The Psychology of Branding and Communication, and the psychological origins of Qualitative Research. Above all, he is a hands-on Qualitative Researcher with a love of Brands, Culture, and People, and a particular fascination with Country & Destination Branding.

Following the presentations, there was a live Q&A session. The whole thing was recorded, so you can watch it on demand. 

ESOMAR Foundation will be continuing the series in the coming months with new webinars – so watch this space for more details!


Watch the full webinar



How Different Qualitative Approaches can be used to achieve Various Objectives – Webinar Summary

Esomar Foundation continued the webinar series on Qualitative Research in Non-Profit organizations with a new webinar dedicated to the use of different qualitative approaches to achieve various objectives.

The webinar focused on examining how different forms of qualitative research can be used to help support non-profit organisations.

The online event was hosted by Phyllis Macfarlane (GFK & Esomar Foundation) and featured three participating speakers: Sonia Whitehead from BBC Media Action, the media giant’s international development charity, Georgina Day of London-based NGO Streetinvest and Edward Appleton from qualitative consultancy Happy Thinking People.

In her introduction, Phyllis stressed that qualitative research is of “such growing importance to the world of Market Research” overall.

Each of the speakers then talked about different qualitative tools relevant to Non-Profits in helping them and their donors better understand the lives of the people they are looking to support.

Sonia Whitehead’s talk focused on Group Discussions, In-depth Interviews and Ethnographies.

She stressed the importance of shaping a research design according to the cultural context anticipated, for researchers to ask themselves how important it was as part of the research to understand what is actually happening, i.e. beyond perceptions.

One fascinating example was given on how qualitative techniques can be used to get people to open up on sensitive topics: a project exploring sexual health issues amongst young people in Zambia. A technique was used whereby the moderator introduced a fictitious couple, John and Esther, and a fictitious story about an unfolding sexual relationship. Talking about “other people” in this way overcomes inhibitions. One size does not fit all, however – especially culturally.

Sonia contrasted the success of this technique with a similar topic/ project from Cambodia/Myanmar where the group discussion approach didn’t work, people didn’t open up so much. Paired-depths were instead adopted, participants were more comfortable, outputs were rich in detail about individual experiences, which incidentally isn’t possible in a group discussion where consensus is more important.

As an important take-out, Sonia stressed how perceptions can be different from behaviours, and outlined a mixed method research design in Phnom Penh and floating communities aiming to better understand the impact of climate change.

This involved interviews with community elders, observations and photos of the community itself, and finally a range of tasks completed by members in the community who were asked to draw community maps and seasonal calendars.

The message: triangulation is a powerful insight tool, gathering different viewpoints on one-and-the-same subject matter.

Streetinvest’s Georgina Day talked about how her Non-Profit organisation has been using simple but effective Video Ethnographies in both educational and advocacy work, to help correct negative and potentially dangerous perceptions about street kids.

Methodologically, she interpreted ethnographies as being about observing people in their natural settings, immersing oneself into their community.

Importantly, ethnographies also empower participants – allowing them to do research in their own time, in their own space.

Georgina’s case study involved her sharing the outcome of video ethnography interviews with 21 kids living on the street, conducted by 7 street workers, who she characterised wonderfully as “great ethnographers”!

A direct and moving summary video of this work is currently being used educationally amongst a range of stakeholders to great effect – in workshops with police forces for example.

Finally, she touched on an ongoing effort to capture a fuller picture by staying in touch ethnographically over time. A structured case study is currently in progress for a 1 year period, whereby monthly reflections are submitted quarterly.

Happy Thinking People’s Edward Appleton stressed how tools from the commercial world of research have increasing relevance for Non-Profits as digital penetration continues apace globally. He talked about the use of Insight Communities and Mobile Ethnographies, outlining what they are, how they work, what they are for, when and where they make sense for non-profits.

He underlined how cost and convenience were common reasons for adopting online qual tools – when face-to-face options are simply not feasible.

Mobile ethnographies are useful to capture life “in-the-moment”, as it happens, in particular out-of-home. These are full of visual details thanks to the video and camera functions inbuilt into smartphones. They also help plug memory gaps.

Edward touched on digital caveats: the need to check for both technical and cultural fit in a particular geography for example – in India it’s very common for people to get interrupted constantly, so executing Online Communities are extremely challenging; in Indonesia participant compliance issues are common, there isn’t a tradition of doing this type of research.

Following the presentations, there was a live Q&A session. The whole thing was recorded, so you can watch it on demand. 

Esomar Foundation will be continuing the series in the coming months with new webinars – so watch this space for more details!

Watch the full webinar

EF webinar 26 July: What different Qualitative Approaches can be used to achieve various objectives?



ESOMAR Foundation believes that a fair, just and peaceful society is deserved by all and recognizes the immense promise that the research community offers to those striving to achieve these goals on a global level. We bring volunteers and resources together to execute projects and provide financial support to help and support charities and NGO’s to achieve their aims. In this second webinar of the series, the speakers will identify and tackle different  Qualitative Research Approaches for Not for Profit organisations which can be used to achieve various objectives.

Experts from the NFP world and market research agencies will share their experience of using ethnography to bring to life the situation (e.g.) Street Invest’s work to change donors and the public’s perception of and attitude to Street Children. Using Focus Groups and In-depth interviews to develop the actual communications and get the best out of media strategy. Making the best of online qualitative approaches and present new opportunities that technology offers the NFP sector, whilst also mentioning the limitations.


The webinar will feature

MODERATOR Phyllis Macfarlane A lifelong market researcher currently working on the GfK Verein’s University Cooperation Programme to improve the quality of education in Market Research in Africa and China.


Sonia Whitehead is the Head of Research at BBC Media Action, the international charity of the BBC that uses media to inform, connect and empower people around the world. She has worked there for 11 years and has specialized in conducting media research to develop content and evaluate its impact. This work has ranged from understanding people’s perceptions of climate change across Asia and exploring gender-related issues with people living in conflict in Syria, Afghanistan, Darfur and Somalia. Before that Sonia worked in market research both in the UK and India.


Georgina Day joined StreetInvest in 2016, after six years in advertising and CSR communications, working on household brands including Dove, Ford, Virgin Media and Amnesty International. She made the move into the charity sector to see how she could apply her experience to driving positive social change. Georgina combines analysis, strategic communications thinking and creative execution, to tell meaningful stories about StreetInvest’s impact and to build the organisation’s profile.


Edward Appleton is Director Global Marketing and Sales with Happy Thinking People. Edward has worked for over 20 years in market research on both agency and client side. Prior to his current role, Edward was Senior Insights Manager with Coca-Cola in Berlin; before that he was European Insights Manager at Avery Dennison. His career started many moons ago with Mass Observation UK, which he left to join the Insights team at Nestle UK. He blogs regularly at www.researchundreflect.blogspot.de and for Esomar.


26 July 2018, 17:00 CEST


The use of Qualitative Research by Non-Profit Organisations

May kicked off with the first webinar of the series How can Qualitative Research support and inform a Non-Profit Organisation’s aims and objectives?  Speaker Sven Arn took insights from the research industry and explained how to address and understand different types of Donors.


It was fantastic to be a part of the kick-off for a new series of webinars set up by the ESOMAR Foundation to help and encourage non-profit organisations to use qualitative research. In our piece we focused on how principles of commercial marketing thinking (like the customer journey) can be translated effectively for non-profits for their communication with the general public and donors.

My co-speaker, Sonia Whitehead from BBC Media Action spoke about how qualitative research is used in actual development projects. Showing that qualitative approaches can be applicable in many different areas of non-profit activity.

Research for non-profit organisations, however, has its own particular set of challenges. These include

  1. Non-profits are driven by their principles and aims rather than by commerce so the very nature of ‘consumer’ research itself may be questioned.
  2. Because they are focused on effectiveness of their activities, they tend to be quite numbers driven and thus less inclined to use qualitative research.
  3. From the donor perspective, the concern that money is being spent on non-essentials rather than going to the projects and people that need it.

In the webinar we talked about how qualitative research can be an excellent reality check and lead to better decisions when it comes to addressing donors. In our experience we have often seen it invaluable in finding that fine line between creating reaction through impactful (and sometimes controversial) messaging rather than reactance.

Adjust claims using qual. research to better reach your target audience

In a recent project we conducted for a conservation organisation, we explored different claims that the organization is planning to introduce to support a new communications strategy. A small quantitative pre-check helped to separate out the strongest three claims, but it was only through qualitative research that we could understand which of the claims had the strongest potential to engage the audience.

Using storytelling research techniques we could explore how the claims worked in reassuring donors that their donation could really make a difference. This does not happen when communication is too optimistic and positive – but is equally endangered if the messaging is too drastic.

Qualitative research offers fantastic possibilities to explore individual reactions but also to set these in a social context. There is something fundamentally social in the relationship that people have with the non-profits they support, but the decision to become a donor is very personal. With qualitative research you can look at both sides of the donor experience and this can be invaluable in optimizing communication and messaging.

Methodologically there are a few considerations to bear in mind. First and foremost, it is important to get research participants on board. Careful explanation is required to avoid perceptions that money is not being wisely spent. This can elegantly be offset (and costs reduced) by offering participants the possibility to donate their incentives.

Traditional qualitative methods like focus groups can be a quick and easy way of exploring the audience’s perceptions and gauging reactions to ideas. Newer, collaborative methods such as co-creation sessions and online communities an excellent way to develop ideas and to engage different audiences and internal stakeholders. It also gives internal audiences a real sense of the point of view of the general public.

One thing we have learnt in translating marketing principles to the non-profit world is that these organisations need to engage fast and emotionally. The decision to support an organisation does not usually come from carefully considered reflection but is made relatively spontaneously.

In summary, qualitative research provides extremely valuable ways of identifying how to achieve this connection.

About the author

Sven Arn is Managing Director and Partner at Happy Thinking People in Germany. He has been with the company since 1991 and became Managing Director in 1997. His research focus is in international and cross-cultural research with a specific expertise in insight development, positioning and brand strategy.

Missed out the presentation? You can still check it here.

Interested to learn more about the topic? Join us for the next webinar!

What different Qualitative Approaches can be used to achieve various objectives?

The ESOMAR Foundation continues the series “How can Qualitative Research support and inform a Non-Profit Organisation’s aims and objectives?” with a new webinar. The second webinar of the series will identify and tackle different Qualitative Approaches that can be used to achieve various objectives. The online event will take place on 26th of July.

The ESOMAR Foundation is embracing qualitative methods as a means to improve the impact of NGO’s. With the knowledge and support of the many qualified researchers in this discipline, the ESOMAR Foundation wants to build an offer of online training webinars to advance knowledge of NGO’s in this discipline and to showcase the outcome of great research.

An overview of the different qualitative approaches

One of the things that non-researchers can find confusing is to understand the different qualitative techniques and what they are best used for.

–        When exactly should you use depth interviews versus a focus group?

–        What is the difference between ethnographic research and qualitative research? And when is ethnographic research appropriate?

–        And if qualitative research is about ‘really’ understanding people through observing body language and identifying unspoken triggers and drivers … how can it be done properly online? When is it appropriate to do qualitative research online?

Experts from the NFP world and market research agencies will share their experience of using ethnography to bring to life the situation (e.g.) Street Invest’s work to change donors and the public’s perception of and attitude to Street Children. Of using Focus Groups and In-depth interviews to develop the actual communications and get the best out of media strategy. Aiming to make the best of online qualitative approaches.



How can Qualitative Research support and inform a Non-Profit Organisation’s aims and objectives?

The ESOMAR Foundation launches a series of webinars to advance knowledge of Qualitative Research for Not for Profit organisations and to showcase the outcome of great research. The first webinar of the series will be held on 23 May.

There is demand for training, to get a better understanding of NFPs need for research, and what research really can do for them.

This series of Webinars will provide a better understanding of why NFPs should be doing more qualitative research as well as provide hands-on learning of the different types of qualitative tools and what they can be used for both offline and online, including social media.

The first webinar will focus on research which will help you identify your different audiences and develop and hone your messages to address each of them.

The webinar will feature:


Sonia Whitehead

Sonia Whitehead, Head of Research, BBC Media Action, will describe their aims, identifying the audience, and give examples of learnings and outcomes from research.

Sven Arn

Sven Arn, Managing Director and Partner, Happy Thinking People, will focus on how to understand donors  – their decision processes, barriers, touchpoints, the total ‘donor experience’ – and then taking the insights from the research to understand how to address different types of Donors.

Phyllis Macfarlane

Phyllis Macfarlane, Treasurer, ESOMAR Foundation, will moderate the Session.