FEATURE5 July 2021

Debrah Harding – Research Hero

Features People

The Market Research Society has launched the Research Heroes programme to celebrate the sector’s unsung heroes. Debrah Harding has been named one of the Research Heroes for summer 2021. 

Debrah Harding, managing director, market research society (MRS)

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Debrah Harding has been managing director of MRS since 2015 and was formerly chief operating officer. In addition to responsibility for MRS operations and finance, she leads the organisation’s standards, policy and public affairs activities, working with government departments and global institutions.

Harding is also vice-president of the European Federation of Associations of Market Research Organisations (Efamro), which lobbies for the European market research sector and promotes best practice and standards, and chair of the Global Business Research Network (GRBN).

Harding was nominated as a Research Hero because: “Not only was she able to hold the MRS fort (maintain operations running, minimising the disruptions, smoothing financial issues by setting a personal example, being a constant point of reference for her employees with understanding and compassion, contributing to maintaining some sense of human cooperation across teams); she was also able to manage the services and support given to MRS members and company partners at the highest quality (providing actual practical solutions and instruments to face the situation) going above and beyond to make sure that the sector was fully recognised and taken into consideration in governmental policies, decisions and interventions.”

What is the biggest challenge you have faced during your career?

While working for the ABC, I went undercover for the Independent Commission Against Corruption in Hong Kong to gather evidence of circulation fraud by a leading Hong Kong newspaper. During the day I was conducting the ABC audit of the newspaper, and in the evenings I was working on the evidence for the fraud case. This was personally very challenging, working with people I had known for a number of years who I knew were going to be arrested for fraud. The last thing I did before joining MRS was to give evidence in the fraud trial. 

What will be the next big trend or development in the research industry, and why?

Large-scale automation, the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence is the next big trend in research. From this, one of the biggest challenges will be how to do so ethically, minimising the impact of bias. 

Who inspires you as a researcher?

I have the greatest respect for all those individuals who work in operations. There is nothing more difficult than keeping the operations supertanker moving. During Covid-19 operations staff have been simply amazing. They have innovated, and kept delivering while facing enormous logistical and business challenges.   

View the full list of Research Heroes for summer 2021

Research Heroes is an ongoing programme throughout 2021, with a second tranche of Heroes to be published in the autumn.