Unilever QRC Accreditation to Meet “with limited success and acceptance”

Recently, we posted here about a new Unilever initiative to provide accredidation to ensure that their qualitative research consultants posess the skills Unilever requires.

As one of the leading qualitative associations, QRCA has long discussed the notion of Qualitative Researcher Accreditation.  J.R. Harris is an industry veteran, a founding QRCA member, former President and long-standing Chair of the QRCA Professionalism Committee.  He and his committee have studied and re-studied qualitative accreditation ideas and proposals over the years.  I sent him a copy of the article about the Unilever Accreditation Programme.

The following is an email that JR sent to me about this article and Unilever’s attempts to accreditate qualitative researchers.  I have reproduced it here in its entirety with JR’s permission.

Thanks for sending the article. I’m sure you will not be surprised that I do have a few comments.

The notion of “certifying,” “credentialing” or “accrediting” QRCs is not a new one. Like Halley’s Comet, this initiative seems to reappear consistently and reliably every few years. QRCA’s Professionalism Committee, which I chaired, has thoroughly investigated this issue on more than one occasion and the organization has always decided not to pursue it. Furthermore, efforts by other research organizations to certify members of our profession have met with very limited success and acceptance. I believe this same destiny awaits Unilever, for the following reasons:

1– Unilever’s program is based on a “growing concern” within the company regarding the “quality of the qual work being delivered” yet they don’t specify what concerns or shortcomings they are experiencing from their QRCs. How can they be sure that a certification program will eliminate these concerns?

2– Their program is too subjective in nature. To qualify for accreditation, QRCs are evaluated by “independent assessors” who would examine an applicant’s “mock brief” and observe the 1-hour focus group based on that brief.  Our investigation has shown that any effective credentialing program is typically based on specific professional criteria that the applicant must possess, as evidenced by passing a standardized test, completing specified curricula, etc.

3– The Unilever program is based on the applicant’s skill at moderating one in-person focus group. While the focus group is arguably the mainstay of qualitative research, there are many other important qualitative methodologies that are not included in the Unilever program.

4– QRCA’s investigation of credentialing has shown that their is neither a need nor a demand for it. Research buyers around the world have insisted that they are quite capable of selecting knowledgeable and competent QRCs to conduct their research. They have also indicated their belief that using a certified QRC would not guarantee quality of work or success of the project.

5– The Unilever program, as described, seems out of touch with the realities of qualitative research and the technological and methodological changes in our industry. Nevertheless, using only certified QRCs will make it easier for the company to buy its qualitative research via the Purchasing Dept. rather than the Research Dept.

If research buyers like Unilever want to work with highly skilled and experienced qual researchers, they don’t need a certification program. All they need to do is be aware of the QRCA Professional Competencies of Qualitative Research Consultants. Not only would they appreciate the eleven specific competencies that define our profession, but they would easily be able to match the skill sets of the QRC to the type of project they wish to conduct. I believe this would give them more confidence in the QRCs they select, as well as better outcomes from those who are selected.

QRCA’s Professional Competencies document can be found here.

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