OPINION16 February 2016

‘Respondents’ are people too

Opinion UK

How we interact with, and show respect to, people filling in our surveys is vital for good market research says Research Now's Christian Dubreuil.


As market researchers, our connection with the public is not a one-way dialogue, it’s a relationship based on mutual trust and respect between the research agency or fieldwork company and the people completing a survey. 

We know from experience that a happy and engaged survey-taker provides you with better quality data. But over the past few years, throughout the industry, we’ve seen participants being treated more and more as commodities rather than as real living, human beings.

 Even the language in which we refer to the survey-taking public can, after a time, dehumanise them. Some in the industry have the habit of describing people with ‘rich 3D lives’; people that are a sum of experiences, fears and hopes; as 2D ‘consumers’ whose lives are defined by the goods and services they buy.

We haven’t helped ourselves, and have moved in part from ‘respondent’ to ‘participant’, now to ‘survey-takers’ but it’s important that we reawaken the understanding that we’re dealing with humans not numbers. These people are research contributors. The problem is, if we don’t engage with people, they don’t engage with us.

Recent industry debates have suggested perhaps the prime motivator for survey participants are incentives, with some proposing higher incidents of survey speeding and low response rates are due to this disengagement. But it’s never ‘just about the cash’ – incentives alone do not buy you quality responses – incentives are a factor with engagement, part of the mix.

The question we need to ask is ‘are we relevant and engaging’? Think –

  •          Interesting and relevant subject matter
  •          An involving experience
  •          Consideration of mode
  •          Consideration of environment for the survey taking journey.

The discussion on mobile survey optimisation has been going on for years, and although everyone agrees this is essential moving forward, some panel companies and agencies, worryingly, are still talking about it more than they are doing it.

We’ve seen the proof that mobile optimisation improves data quality and increases engagement, and failing to deliver shows a lack of respect for how people can contribute to our research studies.  It’s all part of the bigger issue of the way we see our research contributors – as numbers on a chart, commodities and consumers, rather than human beings. And it is completely unnecessary.

We can put many initiatives in place to ensure we look after the people we invite to contribute. We can take care not to over-survey them, to reward them suitably and to motivate them to be honest and faithful – this includes considering modality and when we are interviewing them.

As a client of research agencies, or online panels what can you do about it? Consider the research contributor’s experience, and ask questions around how the research connects in a respectful and relevant way to the consumer.

As the world changes it’s important that the market research industry stays ahead of the game. We need to set new standards in quality and constantly re-invent ourselves to remain contemporary. This includes how we interact with survey-takers.

Christian Dubreuil is managing director – Northern Europe, Research Now

1 Comment

8 years ago

Agree with what you say Christian. What an ugly market research word 'respondent' is. We have banned its use. We have a saying- 'people hate surveys, but love being listened to'. In our view, if you can show that you are doing things with a participant's feedback that's often enough.

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