FEATURE18 June 2012

A wish list for government market research

Five experts tell Research what they want to see from the government’s new cross-departmental market research roster, due to be published in September

Crispin Beale, chief executive, CIE

Government market research has historically been (on the whole) of a high calibre – primarily informative, helping in decision-making through a greater understanding of the views and priorities of a whole range of stakeholder groups. I’d be keen to see a focus on research being used more commercially (i.e. to make money or save money for the UK). Research should clearly demonstrate the return on investment it generates for the UK taxpayer by helping to make, for example, advertising/infomercials more compelling with better cut-through and clearer message take-out, and direct mail campaigns more effectively targeted to allow for the exploitation of commercial opportunities.

Stephen Hughes, managing director, Cint UK

From the taxpayer’s perspective it is encouraging to see the government making efficiencies. However, from an industry viewpoint we have obvious concerns over the GCC’s proposed reduction in market research spend, especially when market research budgets in the public sector have been cut so much in recent years. These changes mean market research agencies looking to bid on government work will be faced with an immediate need to offer better value for money. One possible way they can do this is to re-evaluate their current supplier relationships and explore new technologies. DIY sampling, for example, could enable them to save time and money while protecting their margins and still delivering quality research.

On my wish list I would hope to see a government policy that demands the adoption of more innovation from the research industry. This could be in the form of new research initiatives, methodologies or models. In addition, I feel that agencies should be encouraged to take a closer look at the benefits of the technologies already available to them that provide greater efficiencies yet still meet the industry’s high quality standards.

Paul Hudson, chief executive, Intersperience

We would like to see a more modern and enlightened approach to the tender process so that government departments are not restricted to buying research services from a relatively static list of preferred suppliers. The system needs to adapt in recognition of the fact that smaller independent research firms have much to offer in terms of expertise, new approaches and innovative methodologies. Value-for-money is critical in the current environment and there is an argument to be made that this requires greater flexibility in the tender process rather than a fixed choice of suppliers. The government needs to be highly targeted in its research expenditure in order to structure and target its advertising and general information campaigns effectively.

Consumer research has an important role to play in identifying to what extent current government communications strategy and delivery channel tactics may still be flawed, outmoded, or simply not focused on communicating with the electorate in a way that suits the wide spectrum of people it needs to reach. Research is needed to hone in on the most widespread communication preferences, and it needs to pay attention to the full spectrum of society in terms of age, affluence and a desire to engage with technology. The government also needs to understand how the privacy issue is shaping public attitudes to such things as accessing websites and responding to online campaigns.

Segmentation matters if the government is to get more bang for its buck on campaigns such as those aimed at promoting economic growth and messages and indeed contact channels needs to be appropriate for different groups from entrepreneurs to prospective apprentices or students. Understanding how consumers use technology in their everyday lives is essential to create an effective communications strategy which embraces devices from smartphones to tablets and internet-enabled TVs. Jenny Grey, the executive director of government communications said recently that what is needed in order to get more value-for-money is “rock solid evaluation of what works best”. That, in a nutshell is what we as research experts can deliver.

Richard Oldham, joint managing director, The Value Engineers

I have three main wishes:

  1. Stop asking the public what they want … they probably don’t know and learnings will be inherently conservative.
  2. Do use consumer research to understand underlying needs, hopes and aspirations.
  3. Do develop hypotheses, concepts and stimulus to stretch consumers.

Doing these would make for a more interesting, dynamic and forward-looking policy development via market research.”

Claire Purchase, account director, FreshMinds Research, Public Services Team

I’d wish for two things:

  1. That the GCC takes on-board COI’s core value of placing citizen insight at the heart of communication strategy, using research to co-create compelling behaviour change communications AND
  2. That the GCC show the power and will to act bravely – being open to the diversity of thought that the research market has to offer and trialling new, emerging research techniques, blending them with traditional methods when appropriate.