So, your friend tells you to help yourself to anything in their kitchen. Great. You scan the contents of his cupboard at eye-level and grab some moderately appetizing crackers, or you might poke around a little more and find out that the cookies you are craving were hiding on the top shelf out of sight.
Qualitative research can be a lot like poking through someone’s kitchen. “Laddering” is a technique that is used to take us to a higher level of insight into a constituent’s values. It is a simple process with profound results.
There are three basic steps to follow in standard Laddering.
1.) Ask about a preferred feature.
2.) Ask about the benefit of that feature.
3.) Ask about the benefit of the benefit.
Here’s an example from a series of Depth Interviews I facilitated for volunteers of a faith-based organization.
Me: What do you like most about the program?
Respondent: I like that we see first hand the people we are helping.
Me: What is the benefit of seeing this first hand?
Respondent: It’s that wonderful transformation that I get to be part of. I tell people often, I just have a front row seat on God’s restoration projects. So, that’s the most rewarding.
Me: What is the benefit of this transformation?
Respondent: If a man turns his life over to Jesus and decides he wants to walk in the ways of God, that will impact his family. He won’t reoffend. He’ll be a father to his kids. And Lord willing, he’ll get a job. Right now it’s tough. He simply will become the man that God created him to be. And that impacts every aspect of his life for the good. That’s why these guys need to be restored.
In just a few easy questions we’ve gone a lot deeper than “seeing the change first hand.” If you want to find the cookies on the top shelf, grab a ladder.