NEWS14 March 2017

Creative research can drive profound and positive change

Charities Finance Healthcare Impact 2017 News Technology UK

UK – It’s not every day that researchers feel their work has been a true force for societal good, but Impact 2017 heard three ways that insight has been saving lives, helping rebuild lives, and enabling lives.


* Caroline Kingston, project lead – suicide prevention, at Network Rail, talked about the ripple effect of the roughly 260 suicides on the railway every year, and the need to find new ways to stop at-risk individuals taking their own lives. She described the effect on drivers and other staff of witnessing a suicide, and the effect on other commuters.

But there was hope in the fact that last year, 1,189 people intervened in situations that were potentially fatal, indicating that rail users genuinely wanted to look after each other. The Rail 505 app was born; a way for commuters to learn about the kind of behaviour that indicated a risk of suicide, and to report it anonymously from the platform.

It was research agency Tempo’s task to evaluate the effectiveness of a small-scale trial of the app. Two weeks’ work with 20 travellers took place in stations, so respondents could feel the context in which they responded. It became clear that they understood risky behaviour, knew when to use and when not to use the app, and were motivated to discuss the app with other commuters – overcoming British train users’ usual reluctance to break the silence. The Rail 505 app is now in line for national roll-out.

* The SURF Survivors Fund, set up to help people whose lives have been scarred by the Rwandan genocide, worked with Kantar Public and other WPP companies to help widows become self-sufficient. UK co-ordinator David Russell described a project in which some of Rwanda’s 25,000 widows were making their own jewellery to sell online to support themselves. The key challenge was driving traffic to the site, and turning interested people into buyers.

Step forward Kantar Public, which used a three-step research programme to raise awareness and reach people most likely to donate with a message that would inspire them to buy. Research manager Amy Abdelshahid said the first step was a study of 3,000 people about their attitudes to charity, their other charitable giving and reaction to selected advertising messages.

Those most likely to be willing to donate or buy were identified, and then lookalike modelling was used to match their behaviour with a much broader segment of the UK public. Finally, this broader group was targeted with an online campaign that evolved as it went along, adapting imagery and copy to maximise engagement. More than 4,000 new visitors went to the web site, and there was a 15% rise in online donations.

“We do think that with innovation and data-driven marketing campaigns, this will give further opportunities for charities to reach out to more people who are relevant to them and to maximise their impact,” Abdelshahid said.

* The third case study in this “Transforming Lives” segment of the Impact 2017 conference looked at work by the Financial Conduct Authority into the needs of dementia sufferers.

FCA chief of market research Leslie Sopp said there were now 850,000 people in the UK with dementia, and by 2039, that number would have doubled. The FCA’s primary concern was protecting vulnerable people, but research into the needs of dementia patients was also proving instructive in how to improve customer service more broadly.

Blogger and dementia sufferer Wendy Mitchell, who was interviewed as part of research conducted for the FCA by The Big Window founder Lisa Edgar, described some of the challenges she faces.

“The main thing is the speed with which I can do things,” Mitchell said. “Imagine yourself driving a car. You automatically start the car, you automatically put it into gear and hopefully remember to take the handbrake off, and drive off. For me, it’s like when you’re first learning to drive … and the more you rush me, the more confused I become.”

Mitchell said banks and other financial services providers frequently rushed customers, particularly on the phone, with a barrage of questions that could lead people to agreeing to something they didn’t want, simply to end a stressful situation. “New and improved” web sites led to confusion, she said. But the biggest change she asked for from businesses was for patience and a ready smile – something brands often claimed to promote but not all staff are willing to deliver.

“One bad experience can lead to a loss of confidence,” Mitchell said. “I have a friend who didn’t leave the house for 10 years because she’d had a bad experience and saw the world as an unfriendly place, always trying to rush her.

“If you get it right for people with dementia, you get it right for so many others.”

The FCA’s Ageing Population Consumer Strategy is due to be published later in 2017.