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The use of opposite gender moderators in traditional subject matter
By Nancy Siller and Dave Pyke
Typically, in qualitative research on traditional gender-specific
topics, a moderator of the same gender conducts the groups. In some
cases, such as intimate products, there may be some justification
for this practice, however, there can be real benefits to using
opposite gender moderators for “traditional” female
or male subjects.
In the case of fashion, cosmetics
or other traditionally female products, the use of a female moderator
may lead to an unintentional bias in the results based on images
conveyed by the moderator’s dress or appearance. The same
holds true using male moderators for traditionally male subjects
such as sports products or alcoholic beverages. In both cases, assumptions
may be made by both the respondents and the moderator that cause
one or both sides that lead to biased results.
It is important to note that in
all research, researcher bias is
inevitable. To some extent, it may be inherent in the process. “[The] qualitative research
paradigm believes that the researcher is an important part of the
process. The researcher can’t separate himself or herself
from the topic/people he or she is studying, it is in the interaction
between the researcher and researched that the knowledge is created.
So, the researcher bias enters into the picture even if the researcher
tries to stay out of it.”1 By beginning with a moderator that
is partially removed from the issues at hand, the assumptions made
by both researcher and respondent can be minimized.
Some might argue that using same
gender moderators eases communication
within the group (i.e., women will warm faster to a female moderator
and vice versa). The ease
in communicating, however, is more
likely a factor of the skills of the moderator than gender association.
If the moderator is able
to work within the group without
causing strain due to personal limitations, the ease of communication
flow is not affected.
For qualitative research to be
effective, it is most important
for the moderator, regardless of gender, to have the following qualities:
- Competence: Does he or she truly
understand the issues and have
the basic skills?
- Flexibility: The ability to change
directions as the discussion evolves.
- Rapport: The ability to establish
a connection with respondents so
that they speak honestly about their beliefs.
- Interest: Can the moderator keep
the respondents involved and working
even if the topic bores the group participants?
If a moderator has these basic
skills, gender becomes less important.
Some moderators may be limited
in their ability to establish rapport or maintain re spondents’ interest
if dealing with opposite gender respondents. A good moderator will
be able to establish a working group under almost any circumstance.
The primary benefit of opposite
gender moderators is the ability
to remain detached and external
to the subject matter. In this case, respondents will not make assumptions
about the knowledge level of the
moderator. As example, a male moderator
interviewing women on the
topic of cosmetics will have no
or limited personal knowledge of the use of
the product being discussed, thus
is required to ask questions that might be assumed by one with personal
knowledge of the category. A female
moderator conducting a group or
interview on a traditionally male
topic such as power tools might
find it easier to elicit more detailed
explanations and advice, since
respondents will not assume a higher level of knowledge.
In consumer research studies, a
moderator is needed to remain external
to the community or target group
to allow for unbiased review of the issues. If a moderator
makes assumptions based on personal
knowledge or belief, the information
gained can be incomplete or limited to the moderator’s current
understanding of the topic at hand, especially in areas where he
or she has extensive personal knowledge of the topic area.
In these situations, most moderators
will feign ignorance of the topic
to allow free flow of expression
from the respondents. However, respondents may omit details due
to their assumption that the moderator
has sufficient understanding or
the belief that such detail is “common knowledge” among
the gender. With an opposite gender moderator, these assumptions
are far less likely to be made. If the moderator states a lack of
knowledge, the statement is more likely to be accepted.
For cultural studies, the use of
a member of that culture to research
the topics is often assumed. However,
studies have shown that this research
is often flawed. Data are overlooked
or misinterpreted due to the cultural biases of the
researcher conducting the study2.
The findings apply to gender
topics, products and services as well. If the moderator is close
to the topic or has strong beliefs,
an issue may be overlooked or
be given undue influence, whether
overtly or implicitly. While use
of an opposite-gender moderator
may not eliminate issue bias, when
applied to “traditional” topics, the moderator’s
ability to draw out deeper information
can be enhanced through respondents’ assumptions
on the level, or lack, of knowledge
an opposite-gender moderator is likely to have.
It is imperative that companies
looking for a researcher to collect
information review their assumptions on the appropriate individual
to conduct the study. In cases where
research has consistently confirmed
their beliefs or shown issues as consistently important or unimportant,
it may be advisable to
have the research conducted by
an opposite gender moderator. The result shows that issues are
given different priorities, new issues
might be uncovered that were
previously hidden by assumption.
REFERENCES 1 Mehra, B. (2002, March).
Bias in qualitative research: Voices
from an online classroom. The Qualitative
Report, 7(1). Retrieved 2006, November,
2 Lea Kacen and Julia
Chaitin; “The Times They
are a Changing”: Undertaking Qualitative Research in Ambiguous,
Conflictual and Changing Contexts;
The Qualitative Report, June 2006;
Nancy Siller, CMRP, is a life
long moderator and a founder of
Research Dimensions. She can be
reached at email@example.com
or (416) 486-6161.
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