Unilever chasing improved qual quality with accreditation programme
UK— Unilever is asking qualitative researchers to take part in a new accreditation programme, amid “growing concern” within the company about the quality of qual work being delivered.
The Qualitative Researchers Accreditation Programme was piloted in April but is now being rolled out to all agencies in the UK and elsewhere. Under the leadership of global consumer insights director (food) Manish Makhijani, similar accreditations will be required of researchers working in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Turkey, India, South Africa, Russia, China and Latin America.
Ulrike Hillmer, a consumer market insight manager for Unilever Deutschland and one of the UK programme leads, said the company “is embarking on a ambitious journey to significantly raise the quality of qualitative research in the business in order to help deliver superior consumer insight”.
In a slide deck obtained by Research, Unilever describes the aim of the programme as twofold: to train and issue qual guidelines to its own customer market insight (CMI) teams, and “to identify the best researchers in the industry to work with Unilever”.
It defines the “gold standard” qual researcher as someone “who has the ability to go beyond the findings and provide strategic advice in terms of implications for the brand or category”.
“This researcher needs to be conscientious; a strategic thinker; to have empathy with the Unilever context; able to provide fresh ideas and thoughts and have the ability to link up brand/category issues with consumer understanding; and be challenging and pro-active,” says Unilever. “These qualities need to be consistently evident over and above excellent qualitative skills in moderating.”
Researchers will be accredited at two levels: as ‘research leads’ and ‘moderators’. The assessment process involves issuing applicants with a mock brief for which they have to write a proposal and a discussion guide and to recruit one live group of six respondents for an hour-long discussion.
Independent assessors are then sent to meet the researcher to talk through the brief, conduct the group and to discuss afterwards how the researcher might analyse the findings and plan for the debrief. Unilever says the process should last approximately three hours. Researchers who wish to be accredited as both research leads and moderators complete all stages of the assessment. In the case of research leads only, they do not conduct the group, instead leaving that to those seeking only moderator accreditation.
Research leads can be awarded either full-accreditation or temporary – the latter is for those showing “potential”, who are given a set of development areas to work on and who are then reassessed after one year.
Unilever says that it will only work with accredited research leads and moderators. It has written to agencies asking them to nominate candidates for the accreditation programme.
At this stage it is unclear how many have applied to take part, though it seems likely many will. As Unilever itself says: “Getting accreditation from one of the top spenders on qualitative research in the world is aspirational to qual researchers.”
Some, though, are concerned about the costs associated with the accreditation process. One researcher, who contacted Research anonymously, reckoned agencies or independent qual researchers would have to stump up somewhere in the region of £1,000–£2,000 in order hire a viewing studio, a moderator and six respondents.
But the same researcher also expressed concern that Unilever felt it had to take such a step unilaterally: “How damning is it that the industry hasn’t formed its own recognised accreditation and that a client feels it has to set up its own formal system to monitor quallie quality?”