FEATURE2 October 2012

Q&A: Andrew Cannon and European self-regulation

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Andrew Cannon discusses Efamro’s plan to establish common standards for industry self-regulation and enforcement throughout Europe.

In September, members of Efamro, the federation of national research industry associations, agreed to build a European self-regulation system for market, social and opinion research. The plan, as described by Efamro, “calls for the development or adaption of national self-regulation schemes based on common principles and supported by best-practice guidelines. These schemes will in turn be linked by a cross-border complaints mechanism.”

The finer details of the plan are still to be worked on, beginning with a conference for members to be held in Germany next year. In the mean time Research spoke to Efamro president Andrew Cannon to find out more.

“Most countries have an association and those associations generally have a code of conduct which they require their members to abide by. It is less common however for the national association to have a mechanism of receiving and adjudicating complaints”

Research: Research already operates under self-regulatory frameworks in most countries, tailored to specific national laws – what is the purpose of a European self-regulatory system?
Andrew Cannon:
When we talk about a European self-regulatory system we are referring to an interlinking set of national self-regulatory frameworks, adhering to common standards while conforming to national law. This builds on the existing systems you note, without duplicating or replacing them.

Most countries have an association and those associations generally have a code of conduct which they require their members to abide by. It is less common, however, for the national association to have a mechanism of receiving and adjudicating complaints, and applying sanctions where necessary. Our first goal is therefore to ensure that all Efamro member associations have a method of enforcing their code of conduct.

The setting up of a disciplinary process requires a significant commitment of time and expertise. Some of our members such as MRS in the UK or MOA in the Netherlands have many years experience in self regulation. Working together, we will develop a template or model for national self-regulation, that will allow new or developing associations to quickly introduce a system which is appropriate to their needs (in terms of scale or complexity) but meeting a common standard, so that there will be a level playing field for member companies operating across Europe. These templates and model will be developed in consultation with Esomar and other industry partners.

How do you see the cross-border complaints mechanism working?
The cross-border element is necessary to recognise the reality of the modern research sector. In the UK for example about a third of turnover comes from international projects – that is, a project which involves data collection in one or more overseas countries.

The mechanism will need to resolve two issues – which association is responsible for regulating a company and which rules apply to a particular case. Ideally a company should be subject to one regulator and one set of rules (as happens in the advertising sector) but given the respondent-focused nature of our codes of conduct, the national rights of the respondent will have to be given primacy. In practice, this would mean that where two sets of rules differ, the higher standard would be applied by the regulator.

We are still in the process of designing this mechanism.

Why do you feel the time is right for Efamro to pursue this?
In 2012 Efamro’s membership has almost doubled and in part this has been driven by associations’ recognition of the need to work together to provide better self-regulation. Efamro has provided advice and guidance to members on this topic for a number of years. In the case of my own association, SMTL in Finland, Efamro is instrumental in helping us identify and develop a system that allows for effective self-regulation in what is a small country. Other members have reported similar pressures, so we decided to embrace this challenge as an opportunity to build a coherent and consistent system of self-regulation for Efamro members.

Has Efamro’s initiative been informed at all by what European legislators are doing in the areas of data protection?
Self-regulation has been identified as an important element of the data protection proposals, particularly given the failure of the system of approving self-regulatory codes under the current directive. Market research does however have to respond to a wider range of issues – such as, for example, maintaining and improving public trust and clearly defining itself as separate from direct marketing – and self-regulation is important in these areas too.

Broadly, how does the regulatory environment in Europe stack up for researchers at present? Is it friendly, hostile or somewhere in between?
We believe the environment is favourable. This risk, however, is that research is not always front of mind when problems relating to other sectors – such as cold-calling or unsolicited marketing – are being addressed. There is a tendency to attempt to regulate methods of communication for example, without reference to the purposes for which a call is being made or an email is sent. Our role, as national associations, is to help regulators define the problems they seek to solve, while promoting the importance and value of market, social and opinion research.