OPINION5 July 2021

It is time to redress the voice of participants

Opinion People Privacy UK

Market research needs to re-examine how it treats and engages survey participants and give them greater control over their data, says Sabrina Trinquetel.


There are some ‘silent’ problems in the market research industry that deserve greater attention. One issue is the largely silent – or silenced – voice of the huge number of people around the globe that take part in the thousands of surveys that the $73.4bn market research industry distributes each year.

Despite being the foundation of the industry, these individuals are often ignored and overlooked and, sadly, rarely engaged with in any significant way. They are reduced to a number, a complete, a participant, a respondent, sample quota, or just plain old ‘n’.

We often forget the fact that the ‘n’ is, in fact, a person. This ‘n’ could indeed be the very same person targeted by brands that are using their data in the first place. On one hand they are a ‘complete’ and on the other hand a ‘customer’. This creates its own set of challenges for brands. 

In market research, the problem in reducing these individuals to a number is that we forget about their treatment in our ecosystem. We often have little or no visibility into who they are, where they come from and what real experiences they have had to give us data for our critical insights. As such, with the downward creep of budgets and commoditisation of online research, we’ve created a process that means people are not afforded the treatment they should be receiving.

It really boils down to three key challenges that we must face as researchers: people who take part in research are not in control of the data they provide; because of this, data provided is not private and is open to misuse; and the compensation for taking part is not balanced for the value of time and insight.

A by-product of the above is that poorly paid people who are not in control of their data provide lower quality answers. And ultimately that impacts our insights, and the decisions that businesses make across the world.

A closer look at market research’s systemic problems
First, we need to put people back in control of their data. Technology allows us to build systems that are not centrally housed and prone to breaches and other security issues. How radical would it be for people to store their own data from profiling and surveys on their own systems, ensuring they are fully aware of the specific data they are providing, each time they provide it?

This not only gives the individual control of their own data, but it also creates a transparent forum so researchers know exactly to whom they are speaking and through what system they have come. It could even mean people are able to monetise their own data and, without having to take part in additional work, they could offer the data that already exists to researchers.

Privacy of data is definitely the challenge du jour. As an industry we need our participants to feel 100% happy with our privacy and security processes, so they are assured that their data is safe. However, this is not currently the case.

Our research found that almost half feel concerned about privacy and trust when completing an online survey. This means that it is likely that a full half of your data set is not happy with the actual or perceived privacy of their data. That’s a huge number who may end up giving false information, not take part in future surveys or generally feel uncomfortable about what they are doing.

Compensation for research participants has always been a contentious issue. Rewards are driven down by tighter budgets and, in the race to the bottom, people have to take an enormous amount of surveys to store up any type of valuable payoff.  Alongside this, the surveys themselves are often time-consuming, repetitive, and let’s be honest, boring.

We need to make sure people are benefiting fairly from their input, with minimum rates being imposed depending on the length of survey. Not only is this a better way to do research, but it means more people would be willing to take part – thus reducing the overall cost in the long run.

Additionally, according to our privacy study, nearly three-quarters of participants would be willing to share more in-depth data if they were paid fairly for it. Pay fairly equals better quality data which equals more in-depth insight.

As researchers, we have a responsibility to ensure that we are treating our respondents respectfully, making tangible progress toward data control, data privacy and fair rewards. It’s time to give voice to those who have traditionally been silenced. Only then can we provide the best insight to our stakeholders.

Sabrina Trinquetel is UK sales director at Measure Protocol