FEATURE11 January 2023

Practical ideals: representation at a crossroads

Features Insight Alchemy

Research Live talks with Kenny Imafidon, co-founder and managing director of ClearView Research, about the session he will be chairing in March at Insight Alchemy 2023, the MRS Annual Conference.

Insight Alchemy 2023 is all about turning survival into growth. Panellist Imafidon is clear: that process can only be ‘magic’ if it’s also inclusive. But that doesn’t mean sacrificing practicality. Quite the opposite.

Imafidon will be joining the Insight Alchemy 2023 panel on representation in the insight profession. And he’s got a hugely positive message for the industry.

“There are challenges ahead, clearly,” he says. “Budgets do look like they’re getting tighter this year. What gives us optimism is that there are still lots of puzzles to be solved – and the problems are always shifting.”

Like many agencies, Clearview grew rapidly in Covid. It looked bleak in those first weeks of lockdown, with cancelled projects. “But then organisations started to discover a number of really sticky problems during Covid – often things they had only uncovered as a result of changes to work patterns, or thanks to global developments during the pandemic,” Imafidon explains. “And once it became clear they needed answers to those problems, we were able to step up and start offering ideas”

And that’s giving him hope that while many clients are nervous right now, the need for insight will be as acute as ever.

“There are still plenty of cases where long-standing problems – often ones we’ve been working on as an agency for some time – become bigger issues for clients,” Imafidon says. “The cost of living is a good example: it’s becoming a bigger challenge for a lot more people at the moment, but there have always been people struggling to get by, for a host of reasons. Now it’s a ‘narrative’, so we’re seeing more eagerness to understand it. But we’ve been working with people living with that kind of crisis for years.”

Clearview has a long track record of helping organisations understand consumers and the parts of society often overlooked by the mainstream – and attendees to Insight Alchemy 2023 are sure to get some great ideas on ensuring their own projects are truly representative from Imafidon and his fellow panellists. “The past two years has been intense, and we’ve seen the emergence into the mainstream of a lot of the things that we’ve been doing for a long time,” he explains.

“The old saying, ‘never waste a crisis’ has become really important. I’ve always felt that the best way to treat a challenge is as an inspiration. That’s not to minimise the pandemic or economic hardships people might face this year, at all. There are always questions about framing these challenges, and how we build the resilience to address them. But I’m a faithful, hopeful person – and that really helps.”

Be honest with clients

There’s a practical edge to Kenny’s resilience. Less well-off consumers and a greater need to understand the pressures affecting communities will inevitably be countered by tighter public spending and shrinking budgets in the private sector.

“If you have positioned yourself well, with capabilities you know will be needed, you will have an edge over other people who wait until they see which way clients are heading before they gear up,” Imafidon says. “For us, that meant knowing how important proper representation in research is, for example. That’s at the core of our mission, and when clients embraced that need, we were ready.”

Authenticity is key: you have to genuinely believe what you’re offering is right. And, he says, the research sector still has a lot of work to do – especially on project accountability and representation. “We need more personal accountability, too,” Imafidon adds. “But we should be positive – we should also be showing people the value of the work we’re doing, at the same time as we’re dealing with the skeletons in the closet, putting things right.”

The best way to deal with budget pressures, he says, is to be honest. “We need to be clear with clients about the implications of cutting back on project resources – explain where the gaps will be, where the quality will fall a little short. In some cases, it might be worth pointing out that if you buy cheap, you often buy twice.”

As a sector, then, the aim is to feel comfortable being honest with clients – and even challenging them: there are consequences to failing to be truly inclusive. “We need to accept financial realities, this isn’t about having a fight,” Imafidon concludes. “It’s about being clear on the implications of a more ‘pragmatic’ approach.

“As an industry, we’re meant to be a resource for organisations to understand communities. The way we work, who we work with – that needs to reflect society. It’s not about tokenism, about filling quotas. It’s about an inclusive mindset. It’s about avoiding groupthink. It’s about being clear in pressurised times about the implications of cutting corners. So yes, we need to be realistic – we need to be creative, and design projects that help resolve real problems. But always in ways that provide a true picture, not something that doesn’t reflect society.”

Kenny Imafidon will be joining debate chair Sabrina Trinquetel and panel to explore what all of us can be doing to drive representation in research – now, next and later. Join them on 14 March at Insight Alchemy 2023.