Demand-side surveys (DSS) in financial inclusion are growing in popularity. These are surveys that focus on the consumers of financial services and, though this increase is encouraging, we find that existing DSS rely heavily on standard cross-sectional survey designs, and often ignore emerging qualitative survey techniques. Sticking to traditional methods is fine if we want to superficially cover a broad range of financial topics and get an aggregated measure of financial inclusion. However, limiting ourselves to focus groups and in-depth interviews can mean missing out on valuable data that will shed light on how best we can service low-income individuals with useful financial products.

Using innovative research techniques help us to delve deeper into the dynamics of financial inclusion. They give us a better understanding of the behavioural and psychological drivers of financial product uptake, usage and value. We explore some of these methods in the pre-survey qualitative research module in our recently released demand-side survey implementation guide. This blog builds on this module and presents a list of ten emerging qualitative methods that can be introduced into the financial inclusion researcher’s toolkit. 

What is qualitative research?
Qualitative financial inclusion research gets to the bottom of “how” and “why” low-income individuals use – or don’t use – financial products. It may not always begin with a clear research question, but is always concerned with the meaning people ascribe to products, services, symbols, rituals, and stories. It seeks to gather and understand the perspectives of the target population and obtain culturally specific information about the values, opinions, behaviours, and social contexts at hand. As such, it can be valuable in explaining various aspects of consumer financial behaviour. 

Depending on your research objectives, a variety of methods can be used in combination to inform a qualitative approach to any research question. Ten alternative and innovative methods on gathering the “how” and “why” of consumer behaviour are outlined below.

1. Dyads and triads are where two or three people are interviewed together. They are typically from the same family or village, and make joint decisions around the purchase or use of a product or have similar interests. This technique is designed to help give you a deeper understanding of the real-life dynamics of the decision-making process and drivers of uptake and usage. Dyads and triads give an insight into the interpersonal dynamics and influencers around joint decision-making. Interviewing can be structured or semi-structured and sessions can last from one to three hours. This method has the advantages of in-depth interviews with the added dimension of the interaction between the respondents. 

2. A conflict group is where the participants are selected due to their conflicting or alternative views on an issue, product, lifestyle, decision-making style, interest etc. This allows the researcher to explore the topic in-depth as the conflicting dynamic in the group unearths new perspectives and insights. Conflict groups can take the form of traditional focus groups, dyads or triads.

3. Affinity groups are conducted with participants who know each other. These groups can be used to understand social networks or how products and services are shared amongst people with existing social bonds.

4. Bi-focal groups are where two sets of participants with different perspectives on the issue of interest take part in the research. One group observes the other group discussing a topic then the situation is reversed and they are observed by the other group discussing the same topic. The groups are then combined and the topic further explored. The groups can vary in size and can be a lengthy process to carry out. 

5. Ethnography requires the researcher to immerse themselves into the lives of the target population and uses formal and informal interviewing as well as observation techniques over an extended period of time. An ethnographic approach provides a view of the world from the target group’s perspective to better understand their goals, values, cultures, challenges, motivations and themes that emerge around financial decision-making and usage. 

6. Online focus groups and in-depth interviews can be conducted if the target population has access to mobile devices or computers. Various software platforms, such as FocusVision, have been designed to host, moderate, capture and analyse online qualitative research. With the right audience, this method can help save on costs and produce faster results. In addition, participants can’t see each other (unless you want them to) and therefore tend to be more honest and open about sensitive topics. However, a lack of access to the internet, hardware or software, and low levels of computer or general literacy are all limitations to this method. 

7. Market research online communities (MROC) involves creating and hosting an online community on a specific topic of interest. Here you will have a captive audience to explore the intricacies of product uptake and usage. MROCs, orchestrated by providers such as Inkling, can include forums, blogs, discussion groups, individual discussions, idea generation, as well as quantitative surveys. Communities can be any size and can run for any length of time. The questioning can be in real-time or asynchronous over an extended timeframe. Multimedia such as audio and music can also be used, and community members can continue to interact over time without a moderator. Again, this method requires access to the internet, suitable hardware and good computer literacy amongst its users.

8. Vox pops are short, filmed interviews with random members of the public who are stopped on the street or in a specific location and asked for their opinion on a given topic. It is useful for getting top-of-mind and spontaneous views and particularly helpful where the context of the research is relevant. For example, asking people about a location-specific issue or an experience they are having in real-time.

9. Netnography involves observing online discussions or user-generated content. It is sometimes called social media listening, where mining tools are used to crawl platforms such as Twitter, Facebook etc. in search of specific content or recurring phrases. This includes video, audio and other multimedia. The data is then subjected to a sentiment analysis, semiotic analysis or another form of text mining. The challenge of this passive method of data collection is that it can be difficult to get specific insights into a defined problem.

10. Cognitive interviews are usually used during the questionnaire pre-testing phase. These interviews are used to detect questions, or parts of questions, that are not understood by respondents to mean what is intended by the interviewers. In this way, question validity and possible response errors can be identified.  There are four stages of the cognitive interviewing process. The first is understanding the question. During this stage, the respondent processes what the question asks and what the specific terms used in the question mean. The second stage is retrieval. During this stage, the respondent actively recalls information to answer the question. At this point, the interviewer can take note of what type of strategy is used to retrieve the information. For example, they may recall events one at a time. The decision process follows retrieval. In this stage, the respondent assesses the relevance of the information that is recalled to answer the question. It is important to evaluate if the respondent has devoted enough mental effort to answer the question. The sensitivity of the questions should also be taken into account. Perhaps the respondent may not feel comfortable discussing their bank account balance in a busy area; as such, they may respond with an amount that would make them look more affluent. During the last stage, the respondent edits their answer to satisfy the format that is provided by the interviewer. This includes, for example, selecting an answer from a multiple-choice list. 

What does this mean for financial inclusion research?
The examples above show how financial inclusion qualitative research can reinvent itself and take our understanding of the topic to the next level. Traditional focus groups and in-depth interviews serve an important purpose in a researcher’s toolkit, but these more creative qualitative methods can help us further decipher consumer behaviour. 

Explore i2i’s online guide to demand-side survey implementation which exposes the various methodological considerations when executing financial inclusion surveys.