6 Tips to Adapt Your Research to International Cultures

Qualitative research methodologies have to be tailored to the target and subject matter at hand. When conducting research in countries and cultures with which you are not familiar, it can be difficult to anticipate exactly how to customize the research for that particular audience. We did a little research on the subject before conducting a series of focus groups in India and now we'll share some of the most important tips with you.

1) Choose a culturally-relevant moderator.

Beyond simply choosing a moderator who can speak the language, opt for a moderator who is familiar with the culture and customs of your target. That way your moderator will be able to detect and decode important cultural nuances from the respondents.

2) Familiarize yourself with social customs and business etiquette.

This will not only help you better navigate a new country; it will also assist in designing a discussion that feels appropriate and comfortable for your respondents. For example, in some cultures there is a strong aversion to conflict and disagreement. This could cause some respondents to withhold their opinion unless measures are taken to encourage them to speak up. In this case, reinforcing the need for their personal opinions and presenting hypothetical situations rather than confronting respondents with opposing views would be beneficial.


3) Understand the role of language and visuals.

Some cultures prefer visuals while others are very responsive to verbal explanations. Know which is more important for your respondents ahead of time so you can supplement stimulus with visuals if needed. In India, for example, we supplemented all of the concepts with images in order to stimulate discussion.

4) Learn about gender roles and socioeconomic stratification.

Before you begin recruiting, it will be important to understand whether or not you are able to mix genders and people of varying socioeconomic status. In India, for example, we learned it was best to separate men and women as well as respondents from different income brackets and caste levels in order to ensure a comfortable environment where all of the respondents would feel encouraged to speak freely.

6 Tips to Adapt your Research to International Cultures

5) Know what your presence means to respondents.

Depending on where you travel, your presence could create a bias. Even if you typically rescreen the respondents yourself, your presence as a foreigner may encourage respondents to adapt a more international stance after speaking with you. Do a little research before you travel and arrange for additional assistance if you determine your presence has the potential to bias respondents.

6) Be prepared to adapt!

You are bound to encounter something unexpected when conducting research in a new country so build some flexibility into the discussion guide and the schedule and be prepared to make changes when necessary.