Recent Ethnography Research, Particularly of Recruitment Challanges in Japan

Over the past three years, I have become more and more concerned with the difficulty in creating highly exciting learning session for foreign inspiration/innovation seeking customers of both design companies and end user companies. It has a lot to do with recruiting process for people to research.

I see following problems in recruiting, some of points may be particular to Japan:
1. Lack of ample discussion before deciding on the brief
If the project manager is able to explain the big picture with articulated purpose and general research direction to recruiter and conduct open ended, ample discussion before deciding on the brief, with a good recruiter with reasonable amount of time for search, your research could be considered already about half done at this point. When ample discussion is not held first, recruiting brief could be created to suit Internet based recruiting agency, which is often too specific for the interview/observation recruit to offer enlightening findings.
2. Too much use of Internet based recruiting agency
Perhaps in the earlier days of the Internet, enticing respondents with small income to talk about the things they loved anyway worked. But now that some people discovered what easy money it could be, and recruiting agency having their list of favorite respondents who are articulate and fit into many categories, unless it is very special case such as smoking secession or serious marathon runner who placed as top 100 at marathons who writes blogs, Internet based recruiting agencies are becoming more and more monotonous in producing vanilla flavored respondents.
3. Cost cutting in research
Tied to (2), because research companies have been under more pressure to cut research cost in any way possible, this naturally affected the budget for recruiting. Who can cope with lower cost of recruiting as well as shorter period to recruit? Internet recruiting companies who has their favorite respondents, who are good at getting vanilla flavored respondents.

Researchers who has been traveling all over the world told me that it is the case in many of the countries, but information privacy has become concern to people in general. In Japan, ever since individual information privacy law has been enacted about 3 years ago, people has steadily lost their nonchalance about their information, especially of being filmed and photographed. The market has matured so much that now, if a person signs up with internet recruiting agency, that person is doing it because s/he really wants money bad, and a person who volunteers to participate in marketing research primarily for money are not open minded and relaxed compared to people who’s biggest interest is to fulfill their curiosity. Thus, when my team does the recruiting now, we are finding that we can only go as far as friends of our friends and people we previously worked with. With the general mood in Japan as it is a “normal” person’s duty to take very great care of their identity and privacy, recruiting perhaps has become 10 times harder than what it was 5 years ago.

This all sounds pessimistic. It is not.

Come to think of it, research took time and money to do properly. The recent trend has been to see research as something that offers quick fix up ideas. With that kind of starting point, not only recruiting process, but everything about research need to be quick and cheap. In Japan, companies that have never done design research, let alone user experience, innovation research, have begun hiring individuals and companies who are capable to doing the research right.

The pie itself has grown quite large, but like everything else, good research will be rare.

Disclaimer: The article is of Fujiko Suda’s current perception, and it is subject to change, could be in many ways as time goes by. Some of the ideas may be rooted in idea gained by someone else, but Fujiko Suda would only be happy to acknowledge the source to share the ideas.

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