KS&R Blogs


I love over-the-top Christmas decorations.

In the past few years I have been able to convince my husband to put up enough outdoor lights to illuminate the two acres we live on (it takes him a week).

I am also smitten with Christmas ornaments. It started quite innocently when I was in high school. I received a blown glass, antique German ornament, handed down from my grandmother after a lifetime of Christmases.

I was hooked.

Now, purchasing Christmas ornaments has become a year-round obsession. I buy them when traveling for work, on vacation, or whenever something glittery catches my eye. As the number of ornaments has grown (3,000+ and counting), so has the number of trees: a big traditional fresh Frasier Fir in our living room; 3 themed-out trees in the dining room (silver, travel, and a vintage feather tree); and a 9 ft Adirondack themed tree in the sunroom.

Yes, it is a lot of work. But I look forward to bringing the boxes down from the attic and carefully unwrapping the tissue paper. Every ornament has a story attached to it. One of my favorites was a gift from my son Adam when he was in the second grade - a "wreath" of puzzle pieces with his photo in the center. He was so proud when I hung it on the tree.

Every respondent has a story, too.

"Storytelling" as a tool in qualitative research involves respondents recounting the events of their lives, complete with context, characters, plot, emotion, and details. When the research objectives call for an in-depth understanding of respondents' experience - for example, their decision making process, or how they think or feel about a specific experience - a story can provide the framework.

As qualitative researchers, we look for the way respondents "sort" life events to understand how they make sense of experiences. Constructing a storyline and communicating it effectively requires respondents to think carefully about the topic under discussion. Life events need to be worked into a story with a beginning, middle and an end. Storytelling also provides more of a dialogue than a simple narrative, as it is polyphonic (multi voiced) and polylogical (offering different perspectives). As a result, storytelling is a powerful tool that provides data that is richer and fuller.

Storytelling can take many forms. Digital storytelling is the practice of combining narrative with digital content - images, sound and video - to create a short movie. Typically, digital stories have a strong emotional component; they have been referred to as "personal, multimedia tales told from the heart". We employ digital storytelling when it is important to understand respondents' emotional intensity, and critical decision making moments. This is particularly useful in brand research, since consumers often rely more on emotions when evaluating brands than features and facts. Digital storytelling is also very effective when conducting qualitative research with teens and millenials who are very comfortable creating original multimedia content and sharing it online.

Shadow Puppet is a free app that can help respondents to create and share their digital stories, as it allows them to narrate a story to images that they have on their smartphones. Here's how Shadow Puppet works:

  • Respondents take photos with their smartphones.

  • They then select, sort, and order these images into a storyboard format.

  • Next, they use their smartphones to record their voiceover for each image (some respondents kick it up a notch and incorporate music and/or sound effects).

  • As they create their stories, respondents can zoom in and out of the images in order to highlight what they want to call attention to.

  • Once the digital story has been created, it can be shared via text, email, Twitter or Facebook.

How do you utilize these digital stories?

  • Identify and analyze themes that respondents see as important

  • Share them in the focus group setting as a springboard for discussion

  • Explore "what's outside the frame" of the story ("What happened before the story began? What happens after"?) to gain further insights and information

Digital storytelling represents an exciting new opportunity to really get beneath the surface. Try viewing your respondents as multimedia narrators on your next qualitative project!