FEATURE20 December 2023

Review of 2023: Disappointments – economy, disruption & diversity failings

Behavioural science Features Inclusion Trends UK

Economic gloom, disruption, inflexible working arrangements and a lack of progress on diversity are among the disappointments of 2023, according to industry contributors to Research Live’s end-of-year review series.

orange umbrella through rainy window

What has been the year’s biggest disappointment/anti-climax?

Bethan Blakeley, research director, Boxclever
The number of chief executives forcing the workforce back into the office – excluding countless caregivers, people with disabilities, and many, many other people. Flexible working should be the norm, and it’s time people weren’t afraid of it.

Crawford Hollingworth, global founder, The Behavioural Architects
To see the jigsaw of the world break into a million pieces accompanied by a growing sense that no one knows how to put it back together.

Jessica DeVlieger, chief executive, C Space
Times are tough — for both the insight industry and our clients (often going hand in hand). The year began with a major tech crash and continued with slowing economies and signs of recession. The primary challenge is that it’s also a year of disruption and changes: technological (AI), human (the cost-of-living crisis), and environmental. So, how do you reorganise your business, invest in the future, embrace significant changes while navigating slower growth? It’s tough; it requires a patient and strategic board. 

Ray Poynter, chief research officer, Potentiate
All of the client organisations who are playing a ‘wait and see’ game with AI.

Mark James, chief executive, Differentology
AI is a topic that has obviously caused some heated (and valid) debate, from ethical concerns to privacy issues to bias in algorithms to job displacement. My biggest disappointment comes from misleading headlines. A lot of news outlets cited a Goldman Sachs report and led with the headlines “AI to Replace 300m Jobs” or “Two-thirds of Jobs To Be Lost to AI”. However, a closer examination of the report itself explains that worker displacement from automation has historically been offset by the creation of new jobs, and the emergence of new occupations (but I guess that doesn’t make headlines!). My hope is for a balanced debate, based on evidence, rather than scaremongering. Given the need for evidence, I’m sure we as an industry can help.

Andrew Cooper, founder and chief executive, Verve
The unashamed lack of integrity we seem to have in UK politics – for example, where a former prime minister feels that it is OK to give an OBE to his hairdresser.

Ben Shimshon, chief executive and managing partner, Thinks Insight & Strategy
My 2008 nudge-obsessed self would be very disappointed by the long-run collapse of behavioural easy-answers: The Datacolada team’s forensic dismantling of some fundamentally fraudulent data sets; Chater and Loewenstein’s paper from last year calling for more focus on structures and acknowledging the generally ‘disappointing’ impacts of individual level interventions; and If Books Could Kill podcast’s gleeful assault on nudge and the industry it spawned. It’s a well-deserved anti-climax that will do a power of good. Hopefully we can now move towards more mature intervention strategies that pay attention to the structural and social context, as well as the individual.

Jane Rudling, managing director, Walnut Unlimited
Last year there was lots of talk about the metaverse and how we could use it for both business and entertainment. The metaverse revolution seems to have fallen flat – although there is still time for it to make its mark!

Nick Baker, global chief research officer, Savanta
The lack of genuine progress on in our industry on many facets of the ‘summarised’ DEI agenda. There is fantastic progress, but we can and should be doing so much better. Please look in the mirror and ask why aren't we all doing more?

Peter Totman, head of qualitative, Jigsaw
We are not making much headroom in encouraging diversity of viewpoint into the industry, are we? We are not even trying.

Sabine Stork, founding partner, Thinktank
Cop(-out) 28.

Joe Staton, client strategy director, GfK
The further decline of the high street with the loss of Wilko, another retailer that will be much missed in towns up and down the country. Thank goodness for the middle of Lidl.

This article is part of Research Live’s Review of 2023 series, exploring some of the standout trends, industry developments and moments of the past 12 months.