Unveiling the Multifaceted Moderator: Navigating Qualitative Research

In our previous blog post, we explored a different approach to thinking about the definition of “interviewer” versus ‘”moderator.” Now, let’s delve deeper into the role of the “moderator” and why they are indispensable, especially from a client’s perspective.

Moderators, as defined in our last blog, assume a broad role that goes beyond asking questions and eliciting responses as dictated by a script or guide.

Indeed, moderating requires a multifaceted skillset.

So when your research requires looking for in-depth insights — the why behind what — you need someone who knows when to ask questions that aren’t on the script, and how to dig deeper for answers buried beneath the obvious. In other words: a moderator. And not just any moderator. To be truly effective, moderators must be part business advisor, part market insights generator, part psychologist. You can add brand guru and circus ringmaster to that list, as well. Let’s take a closer look at these roles, and why each one is necessary to maximize the value of your research.

Business Advisor Who Gets Your Industry

In addition to understanding the art of asking questions, a moderator should understand the client’s industry, market dynamics, and business objectives. Ideally, your moderator will have first-hand, in-the-trenches industry experience they can call on. Need someone who can talk confidently about molecular biology with a focus group of physicians? Make sure your moderator speaks the language. Along with industry-specific knowledge, it helps to have a moderator with enough business acumen to translate research outcomes into actionable strategies.

Market Insights Generator Ready to Dig Deep

More than reading questions off a script, a skilled moderator uncovers rich market insights in the answers they elicit. To do this, they employ a multitude of techniques to stimulate discussion, encourage participants to share their perspectives, and excavate insight beyond surface-level responses. They help reveal unspoken thoughts, emotions, and motivations, providing a holistic understanding of the target audience that powers better business decisions.

Psychologist and Empathetic Listener

Understanding human behavior and motivations is a core aspect of moderating. Moderators need to create a comfortable and non-judgmental environment where participants feel encouraged to express their thoughts and emotions openly. That requires having active listening skills and empathy, as well as a toolkit of psychological techniques that enable them to connect with participants and delve into their underlying attitudes and beliefs.

Brand Guru in the Room

Moderators need to have a deep understanding of the client’s brand, its values, and its positioning in the market — as well as a familiarity with the importance of branding in general. This brand fluency enables them to steer discussions towards brand-related topics and explore participants’ perceptions, associations, and experiences with the brand. This additionally allows moderators to identify gaps, strengths, and opportunities to strengthen the brand’s positioning.

Circus Ringmaster and Focus-Group Tamer

You thought we were joking about this one? Have you ever seen a focus group? A moderator worth her title knows how to facilitate and manage the complex group dynamics that, when unguided, can quickly derail focus group discussions. Moderators ensure that everyone has a chance to contribute (including that shy person in the corner), manage the group’s time effectively, and steer the conversation towards the research objectives. They also navigate potential conflicts and dominant participants while creating an atmosphere conducive to open and respectful dialogue. All that’s missing is the top hat and bullhorn.

The Moderator You’ve Been Missing

If you’ve been less than thrilled with the outcomes and insights generated from your qualitative research studies, the missing piece may very well be the moderator — or lack thereof. A moderator who has the freedom, skills, and experience to assume multiple roles beyond question-asker and answer-taker will seek out, find, and extrapolate the truly valuable insight you need to make decisions and move forward.

Can we add quick-change artist to our list? A truly skilled qualitative researcher will know when and how to switch between being a moderator and an interviewer to achieve research objectives and help move your business forward. If you’d like to dive deeper into the role of a moderator versus an interviewer and which one best meets the needs of your research study, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We love answering questions as much as asking them.

And keep a look out for our next blog post, in which we scrutinize one of moderators’ most vexing tools: the discussion guide.