Commercial qualitative research is employed in both the public and private sectors to help organizations understand their customers or clients, with the aim of providing them with better services, products or environments. Using their research knowledge, the researchers act as consultants, helping their clients to shape their strategy and decision making. The role of the commercial qualitative researcher is therefore quite diff erent than that of most academic researchers.
Commercial qualitative research has long an uncomfortable position straddling a positivist and a socially constructed understanding of knowledge generation. This often creates misunderstandings between researchers and clients, not least because these diff erent epistemological stances are not explicit.
This essay explores how the concept of emergence derived from the complexity sciences, alongside contributions from neuroscience, can help us to conceptualise an holistic theory of commercial qualitative research—emergent inquiry—which embraces the role of emotion in judgement and decision making.
Sheila Keegan’s essay is exactly where to go to find the most contemporary and insightful views on qualitative research. She traces its history and provides a challenging perspective on ‘commercial’ and ‘academic’ research which is balanced and well argued. Her articulation of the development and use of ‘emergent inquiry’ in a modern ‘multi- channelled’ world leaves me in no doubt on how it will enhance qualitative research now and in the future and its strong fit with current management styles.
Peter Allen, Chartered Psychologist
Program Director Employee Brand Engagement Fujitsu
Sheila Keegan has written a very interesting account of the current state of commercial qualitative research and the challenges professionals in this field face. She also presents an insightful analysis of research methods and suggest ways of bringing research closer to lived experience. I am sure the book will be welcomed by professionals in the field.
Professor Ralph Stacey
Complexity Research Group, University of Hertfordshire