FEATURE4 January 2023

The alchemist at court: staying at the heart of decision-making

Features Insight Alchemy

Research Live talks with Britain Thinks co-founder Viki Cooke about the session she will be chairing in March at Insight Alchemy 2023, the MRS Annual Conference.

Viki Cooke cropped

The current pressures in the economic and society haven’t come as a great surprise to most people. Even before the energy crisis exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, it was clear that unwinding the financial solutions to the global financial crisis, Brexit, and the lasting impacts of Covid would be a challenge to politicians and senior decision-makers through 2023 and beyond.

Understanding exactly how those leaders are making their decisions will sit at the heart of many research projects for some time, then. That’s why one of the most keenly anticipated sessions at MRS Insight Alchemy 2023 it titled: “Being indispensable to the top table: how can insight help leaders navigate turbulent waters?”

“The big question around engagement with leaders is whether we’re addressing the urgent issues they have at the top of the to-do list – or the important ones, that will make a lasting difference,” says debate chair Viki Cooke, Co-Founder & Chair of Britain Thinks. “Often, of course, the work we do will cover both! As insight practitioners it’s vital we have a clear view of what’s considered important around the top table. But it’s also a two-way street. We have to be able to reflect what we know should be on their agenda from the work we’re doing.”

And it’s clear from this year’s Call for Contributions that the industry is uncovering both important and urgent issues for the top table. Case studies and ideas from the Call will feed into a knowledge hub – a kind of best practice guide to the methodologies, case studies and relationships that exemplify the ideas around Insight Alchemy. And the chairs are using the brightest, best, and most experienced contributors from the Call to establish panels that ooze valuable guidance on each of their topics.

Viki’s panel will include seasoned professionals from a major FMCG clients and the Cabinet Office – so whether your objective is to tap into board-level thinking in public or private sectors, this session will fuel your to-do list.

“Fraser Hardie, from Teneo, is great to have on a panel like this – he’s been an adviser to many boards, so he knows how those conversations go, he knows how CEOs around the world think,” adds Viki. “That’s important, because this isn’t just about insight professionals uncovering fundamental truths. There are the practicalities of getting those insights acted upon – and that also means becoming more adept at the politics of getting into the boardroom. That’s what this session will aim to explain.”

In other words, an alchemist can only sell their vision – and support their patron – when they have access to the court.

Research Live: What aspect of the research industry right now excites you?

Viki Cooke: The undoubtedly tough economic conditions will be hard for our industry, like many others. But it also will push us all to be innovative, flexible, resilient and agile.  Qualities that will stand the sector in good stead over the coming years.

Give us one prediction for the start of 2023 – one thing you think is going to happen in the research industry this year?

The further melding of different approaches and theories. There will be big strides in bringing together future-facing deliberative approaches with behavioural experiments. As we need to tackle major societal challenges, we need to have the best insight brains working collaboratively.

What’s the most compelling impact you’ve seen from research during 2022?

Some great work – including from BritainThinks! – helping brands and organisations navigate the constant changes, the ups and downs and increasingly the very challenging economy. Good, timely insight has resulting in some big brands taking positive action to help consumers authentically and appropriately. Great examples of this are Lidl and Aldi who are applauded by customers for being consistently on their side.

In uncertain times, what one piece of advice would you offer younger research professionals?

Believe in yourself and believe in your point of view (always rooting this in the data) to make your recommendations relevant, focused and confident.  Get as much experience doing as many different things as you can (methods, sectors, projects, working with different senior people) to equip yourself for a fast-changing world.

Find out more about Insight Alchemy 2023 - programme and headline speakers