FEATURE23 December 2021

Review 2021: Biggest disappointments

Asia Pacific Covid-19 Europe Features Inclusion Latin America Middle East and Africa North America Trends UK

What were the biggest disappointments in 2021? For many of our panel, Covid-19 led the way.

Covid-19 cast a long shadow over the year for many…

Sabine Stork, founding partner, Thinktank
Well, the Omicron variant comes at the end of an up-and-down year and does mean it ends on a bit of a downer. It will no doubt affect business.

Sinead Jefferies, consultant, Vela
That we are still living life on pause. Although we have largely adapted brilliantly to getting stuff done in our own little virtual home-working bubbles, humans need other humans to feel inspired and motivated and so we can thrive.

I would love to be able to come back to London and spend several days seeing people, and hugging people and just being around people again, but we’re not quite there yet. I hope that next year not only will we be able to (literally) embrace people again, but that companies figure out how to make a remote/hybrid balance work.

Kelly Beaver, CEO UK and Ireland, Ipsos
I guess like most people I am saddened that we are still living with a pandemic and I hope it doesn’t stop us from having a proper family Christmas – missing another one of those would certainly be an anti-climax.

Anna Cliffe, joint managing director, Trinity McQueen
Not so much a disappointment as a challenge – the pandemic has been hard for colleagues at the start of their careers, who cannot get the help they need to grow. It’s difficult to develop relationships on a video call.

The ties that bind us are better served by spending time together. All of us must make greater efforts here to ensure new starters get the input they need. 

Frederic Charles-Petit, CEO, Toluna
It’s the vaccination divide between rich and poor countries. Although we’ve had a successful roll-out in some countries, this is not happening like it should in others.

It’s nothing short of a miracle that we have multiple vaccines that save lives and can be deployed and distributed quickly across countries. For poorer countries, however, the immunisation programme is not running smoothly; this is something we need to fix so that they’re on a level playing field with the more developed, richer countries.

Matilda Andersson, group managing director, Crowd DNA
That I don’t think anyone felt as happy as we thought we’d be from coming out of lockdown and being able to start travelling again. We’re also disappointed that we’ve not been able to return to as much in real life ethnographic research as we’d liked to, but safety comes first. 

Peter Totman, head of qualitative, Jigsaw
The return of face-to-face didn’t really happen, for all sorts of reasons, both legitimate and self-serving.

Rebecca Cole, managing director, Cobalt Sky
Although the year started badly in terms of the pandemic, I was holding on to some hope that by the end of the year the industry might be back to being able to do events in person.

There have been some fantastic virtual events, and I tip my hat to organisers of them, and of course safety must come first. But there are so many people that I have met ‘virtually’ since the start of the pandemic – so fingers crossed for meeting them in person in 2022.

Lisa Wilding-Brown, CEO, InnovateMR
The biggest disappointment for me this year is that we are still living in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic after nearly two years. During the first wave of our Covid-19 study, nearly one-third of the participants felt that life would “return to normal” in three to four months. Less than a quarter thought it would last longer than six months. Today, we know we will never get back to normal; it has fundamentally changed how we live life forever.

Others had different disappointments in a tumultuous year

Nick Baker, global chief research officer, Savanta
The lack of the genuinely new. I think perhaps as a result of the ‘bunker down’ preceding 12 months, we saw fewer true innovations in 2021, but perhaps that means 2022 is set for a bumper year.

Ray Poynter, chief research officer, Potentiate
Artificial intelligence – each year it delivers something, but it always seems to deliver so much less than was promised.

Barrie Brien, CEO, STRAT7
There were some high hopes when Boris Johnson spoke about levelling up the north of England, but the U-turn on HS2 has thrown that into disarray. The country needs a greater level of investment outside London and the southeast to keep it globally competitive over the next decade, not least with so many people now leaving the capital to work from home in other parts of the country. 

Shazia Ginai, CEO, Neuro-insight
Unfortunately, the biggest disappointment for me has been the client/agency culture shift. Many clients have lacked compassion and empathy and it feels like we’ve travelled back in time to a decade ago when there was a clear hierarchy versus the mutual respect that has been developed over more recent years.

We must get back to mutual respect; we are all part of one ecosystem and should treat each other the way we would wish to be treated.

Jane Frost, CEO, MRS
Globally, I think the lack of progress on the environment has been very disappointing. There have been some successes, and I’ve been especially pleased with the take up of our net zero pledge as we strive to be carbon neutral by 2026, but I would like to see more young researchers stepping up to agitate for change.

Graham Idehen, director customer success, Emea, Lucid
Actioning diversity. The year started with a massive appetite to improve diversity, but personally, I would have liked to see less lip service and more action at this point.

We need more companies to step up and lead by example so that the wider industry can start to really reap the benefits of the hard work we all put in during 2022 and beyond.