OPINION1 December 2008

Speed is of the essence

Marc Brenner’s editorial

When the British National Party’s membership list was leaked onto the web last month, your first thought may not have been, “I wonder if the research business can capitalise on this news.”

However, others did. Ipsos Mori’s managing director of public affairs, Ben Page, did some neat slicing and dicing of demographic and socio-economic data taken from the membership list and later that same day gave some succinct findings on BBC’s Newsnight. Alongside all the other pundits queuing up to comment on this emotive subject, it was good to see one person give a cool and incisive evaluation of the data. He offered that Holy Grail of the research business – perspective.

At the same time Twitter, that chirping social media community, lit up with other research practitioners offering their view of the membership list. Within hours of the list being made public, insights were generated and researchers had been key in driving that to public attention.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink showcased our ability to make prettty sound judgements and take effective action within seconds. It was clear after the BNP news broke that the research business carved itself a pretty valuable niche by reacting in such a swift manner.

This breakneck speed did the profession no harm at all. No deep methodological process was necessary, no intense briefing period – just a researcher bringing the tools of his trade, his experience and his skills set to bear on a story of national importance. This is not research that requires a batallion of backroom staff.

In the never-ending quest to raise the profile of research a valuable lesson could be learnt here. The due process of research can sometimes be a little slow for a media hungry for speedy input. Pacy and digestible analysis is called for. It’s all about the ability to identify a news story where research can add value. That’s where Page positioned himself and that is a good position to be in.

Of course, we need to guard against slapdash conclusions and flighty reckonings – but there is equal danger in a cautious, plodding approach that reaps little reward in raising profile.

Speed of response really is of the essence for grabbing column inches or TV minutes. It need not require vast resource. You already have the arsenal to deploy.

Having espoused the virtues of a snappy approach to the research process, it only leaves me to wish all our readers a luxuriously slow and leisurely Christmas break. Conserve your energies, because one gets the impression that 2009 will require all the staying power you can muster.

Marc Brenner, editorial

December | 2008