Longitudinal Research GuideThe notion that learning is a journey, not a destination, is the basis for the following discussion of longitudinal research. A longitudinal research study involves conducting research over a period of time (from several weeks to months) and contains several touchpoints with participants. In consumer research, this approach is well-suited for tracking topics such as: market trends, brand awareness, product feedback, customer satisfaction, employee engagement, and more. Benefits of Longitudinal ResearchA longitudinal research design offers many benefits, including: Ability to show patterns and trends because data for the research topic is collected over a period of time. Flexibility to mix research methods (both quantitative and qualitative) to not only understand the answers to research questions, but the “why’s” behind those answers. Potential to identify a connection between separate events that occur over time – connections that may not have been uncovered if the topic was only studied and reported on during a shorter time frame. Power to reduce respondent bias by merging what respondents say with observed behaviors (collected either through in-person exercises or observed interactions between group members online, etc.)Ability to validate the data collected or gain clarity about specific topics as the moderator can ask the same question(s) at various points during the experience to determine if attitudes or reactions have changed. Flexibility to introduce new topics as priorities change within the client organization or additional research questions emerge. Proceed with CautionDespite the numerous potential benefits of the methodology, researchers should be aware of some important things that can impact the success of the study.Stringent recruiting methods must be adopted to ensure articulate respondents, who are willing to openly engage with the group, are recruited. To find the right participants for your project the moderator should initiate an introductory telephone conversation with potential recruits after initial screening and prior to the participant being fully scheduled for the research. In some cases, an in-person meet and greet and initial discussion should occur (when this is geographically feasible). Participants may discontinue participation during the course of the research. To ensure success, the researcher should plan to over-recruit respondents to ensure a sufficient number of participants will complete all of the research requirements. The risk of fatigue and disengagement can be reduced by compensating participants at key intervals during the research experience, initiating fun activities and exercises allowing community members to engage with each other and providing clear and complete instructions throughout the process to participants to ensure continued satisfaction and commitment to the experience. Join the ConversationA practical and cost-effective longitudinal market research method is market research communities. Research communities are private online forums where a group of participants (who are recruited to participate and are incentivized for their participation) discuss topics presented by the group moderator on a weekly basis. Developed from a strategic learning plan, topics are introduced to respondents as activities which participants are asked to complete at a time that is convenient for them. Activities could include completing a simple online survey or may involve a more in-depth discussion board exercise where community members can exchange ideas and discuss topics. Once in-depth discussion topics are presented to the group, the moderator monitors the overall activity of the group and can post follow-up questions to participants or probe for additional information to gain clarity or provoke deeper thinking on the topics presented. Findings from the individual exercises are reported to the client team throughout the process to allow continuous learning as well as direct and influence the overall learning plan. Key TakeawayLearning over time through longitudinal research methods such as online research communities can provide researchers with a more holistic understanding of the larger research question in a cost-effective way. Having a solid learning plan, recruiting the right respondents, and keeping participants engaged for the duration of the experience are critical to the success of the method.