Geert Hofstede’s theory of cultural dimensions describes the effects of a society’s culture on the values of its members, and how these values relate to behavior, using a structure derived from factor analysis. The theory has been widely used in several fields as a paradigm for research, particularly in cross-cultural psychology, international management, and cross-cultural communication. Hofstede developed his original model as a result of using factor analysis to examine the results of a world-wide survey of employee values by IBM in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The theory was one of the first that could be quantified, and could be used to explain observed differences between cultures.

Keeping Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimension theory as the foundation, here are a few observations of an ethnographer from field research in India

Power Distance Index:

“Power distance is the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally.”(India scores 77 on Hostede’s scale)

Hierarchy plays an important role in India and the use of ‘sir’ as against the first name like in the West is still prevalent. While conducting focus groups, if the participants are from different social status – the results from the discussion can be skewed and biased. Also, it is considered rude to disagree with your elders or question their opinions; hence it helps to have the respondents within the same demographic.


Collectivism v/s Individualism:

“The degree to which individuals are integrated into groups” (India scores 48 on Hostede’s scale)

Scoring really high on the collectivisim parameter, Indians are brought up in a close community culture.  It is inherent to think of the ‘others’ and then take actions, make decisions

While conducting focus groups, the collectivism behavior is quite evident. Participants do not give their individualistic opinion but tend to agree to the majority of participants in the room. The best way to deal with it is to become the devils advocate and go with the flow.


Masculinity v/s Feminity:

“The distribution of emotional roles between the genders”. (India scores 56 on Hostede’s scale)

India is a patriarchal society and even today it is evident in households with the male member taking decisions in the family.

While conducting focus groups, the respondents within a single gender group are more responsive, prompt and genuine in their interaction. The same is not the case in mixed gender groups.

Home interviews with female respondents are better if conducted by a female interviewer – this avoids any awkward moments!

Long term Orientation:

“First called ‘Confucian dynamism’, it describes societies’ time horizon”. (India scores 61 on Hostede’s scale)


In India, it is important to save face in the eyes of others. Social obligations and respect for traditions is ubiquitous in every household.

The respondents find it very difficult to give their frank opinion on established products or brands, especially if they do not like something. It is advisable to have the name of products/brands masked, to get the true reaction. Similarly, for think aloud techniques, participants need a lot of prompting to be on track and respond to the exact question.

Even if participants cannot make it for an interview or a discussion, they do not say no directly because that would be rude, so they will politely say they are available – the ideal way to deal with this would be to recruit more people.

Uncertainty Avoidance:

“A society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity”. (India scores 40 on Hostede’s scale)

In India there is functionality in chaos – things are unstructured, there are few rules to abide by and people find their way out to live upto the term ‘jugaad’.

The drop out rates for interviews are quite high, so it is wise to recruit backups. Respondents may not arrive on time for interviews – reasons could be from traffic congestion to some other unavoidable personal work. Call the respondents 15 mins before the scheduled time – then there are chances that the interview / focus group will start on the scheduled time.

Indians navigate with the help of landmarks and this is an interesting insight while scheduling interviews and focus groups!

Article appeared in POOL Magazine – August Issue.


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