FEATURE14 October 2016

Outside in: big data and technology

Data analytics Features Innovations Technology Trends UK

Yesterday, the Market Research Society hosted the Technology and Data Summit: a day of strategy, understanding and disruption, in London. Ray Poynter has picked out some highlights.

Blur tech crop

The Technology and Data Summit 2016, organised by the MRS, provided a refreshingly new view of the issues surrounding market research’s use of big data and new technologies, and the smorgasbord of opportunities that they present.

The day got off to a flying start with a presentation from Matt Ratcliffe (co-founder of Masters of Pie) who reported on how virtual reality was being used to help social researchers envision a really large complex data set, the ALSAC (Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children).

ALSAC has been continuously studying 14,500 mothers and children over the last 25 years, gathering a mass of data about each participant. Imagine multiple researchers, meeting via VR (with goggles and hand tools, from diverse locations), looking at data showing individuals, topics like BMI and blood pressure, over time – utilising 3-D tools, plus sound and movement.

Ghislaine Boddington (creative director at Body>Space>Data) comes from an arts and performance angle and focused on putting humans at the centre of digital, employing the term internet of bodies, and highlighting biofeedback, performance, and the evolving nature of telepresence.

Ghislaine also probed a number of the ethical issues surrounding our digital lives, themes picked up in the afternoon by Kerry Rheinstein (head of FF Invest, Future Foundation) and Gawain Morrison (CEO of Sensum) as they explored the area of biofeedback and biometrics further.

The potential and limitations of big data, both in the context of research, but also in the much wider business context, were central to the presentations by Edwina Dunn (co-founder of dunnhumby and now CEO of Starcount) and David Selby (senior data scientist with IBM). Edwina made the point that some CEOs are becoming worried that focusing on big data (which is a rear view mirror) may make them miss the next big trend. David highlighted the problems with getting data into the right format and of identifying the right business questions – with some great examples of how things can go wrong.

Miranda Roe of White Swan showed the conference a world beyond research when she showed how big data analytics, including the use of social media data, were being used to help solve social issues. For example, White Swan has been tackling an disease known as AS (Ankylosing spondylitis). AS is a cause of chronic back pain and on average it takes about eight years for it to be correctly diagnosed – because there are so many other reasons for back pain.

White Swan has been using big data, social media scraping, and predictive analytics to create a model for early diagnosis. The public good was also at the heart of Jen Hawes-Hewitt’s presentation (director of global cities strategy at Accenture). Jen looked at how cities could leverage large data and more open data to create smart cities, making cities better in a variety of ways. This theme linked well with one of Miranda’s topics, which related green spaces in cities to mental health.

To some extent, it was up to the audience in the room to make the connections between all these non-market research uses of big data and new technology with our world of market research. However, this process was facilitated by Marc Brenner’s chairing, a presentation by Duncan Roberts (chief technology officer at weeseethrough) on the use of first-person video in market research, and by a final panel session led by Coling Strong (the recently appointed head of behavioural science at Ipsos).

For me one of the key takeaways was the near universal view of the speakers and audience that we need to be sceptical fans of big data and these new technologies. Nothing we saw was a panacea, nothing will change the world fundamentally, but all of it, used in conjunction with existing strengths, can provide a better solution than market research currently provides.

Ray Poynter is managing director of The Future Place