NEWS6 October 2020

Researchers should resist calls for faster insight

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UK – A mixture of online and face-to-face qualitative research is likely in the future, but researchers must be prepared to push back against the demand for faster insights, according to a panel discussion at the Festival of Marketing.

Speaking at a Market Research Society-led session at the virtual conference yesterday ( 5th October), Leah Kennedy, head of consumer commercial insight at BT, called for researchers to be more confident to resist demands for immediate insight and analysis.

“The demand for faster insights and a more agile approach had been seen long before the pandemic,” she said. “Now it is about pushing back and saying: ‘it is too soon, we can’t tell you right now’. Having that confidence and giving stakeholders the reassurance that we are looking into this, but it will take some time to figure out what this means in the long term.”

Catherine Hunt, head of insight and evaluation at the Cabinet Office, said the pandemic had heightened the desire for abundant, high-quality data among organisations’ leadership. 

“The value and role of research is apparent, but then the expectations are also huge,” said Hunt. “People want as much information as they can to make the best decision they can when the consequences of not making a good decision are so suboptimal.”

Hunt also said that online qualitative work is here to stay after the pandemic, due to its speed and accessibility, but that face-to-face research still had a future and would probably work in tandem with online panels.

“For more complex ideas where people need to reflect, that combination of an online panel and face-to-face group may be better,” she said. “Where you need to get hard-to-reach audiences quickly, online has a real value. But I think it is not the end of the face-to-face research group, as some things are lost online.”

Kennedy also agreed that face-to-face research has a future, and that not everything could be done over the internet. “I don’t necessarily think it replaces the face-to-face experience, especially for things like innovation and co-creation workshops where there are more physical activities that are happening that are hard to replicate online. I don’t think online is a substitute for everything.”

Christina Finlay, director of data and insight at the National Trust, said that the pandemic meant that research had been “put in front of more people in the organisation”, with data about members filtering throughout to a greater extent than before.

Companies should make insights more central to projects and product launches, Kennedy said. “Treat us as strategic problem solvers and not as research project managers,” she said. “Involve us early throughout the process, help us understand the challenges you are trying to solve.

“Don’t come to us at the point at which you think you need research and ask for some focus groups. That way we can add a lot more value to your project.”