OPINION4 February 2015

Training for the future


Everyone says that Africa is the next big opportunity for business growth, and it seems obvious that it must be. It has huge natural resources, a large and growing population, plus there has been significant investment in the infrastructure, and in education, in recent years.

And, probably most importantly, modern technology is allowing the continent to leapfrog whole stages of development, and catch up with the rest of the world quickly and economically. So, yes, all of that must result in growing consumer demand.

And growing consumer demand must mean a huge growth in the demand for market research, mustn’t it?

And yet…

And yet the market for MR in Africa, although growing fast, is still tiny in relative terms. There still seems to be a real reluctance to commission research in Africa.

Why is this? I think mainly because the market research infrastructure is not in place:

  • The official national statistics are often out-of-date, sparse, and frequently discredited, due to corruption at various kinds
  • There aren’t the major ‘gold standard’ studies, like our NRS, that are widely published and can be used (reliably) to define target populations  and set accurate quotas
  • Hence sample design is very difficult – so-called ‘nationally representative’ samples are mainly done in a few major cities among relatively rich people, and so only actually represent a handful of the total population in percentage terms
  • There just aren’t the trained and experienced researchers and field-workers around that you need to do quality MR
  • There’s no history of developing and checking MR techniques – particularly whether they actually work within the local culture – in fact there’s more of a history of assuming that western methods will work perfectly well there, and cutting corners, in order to be ‘pragmatic’

You hear clients saying openly that they know that the market data they have is just not good, that they can’t rely on it, and sometimes they don’t (daren’t?! ) show it to their management. So naturally this makes clients reluctant to buy more research. Hence the market is not the size that you would expect.

What can be done about it?

I believe that the key issue is all about raising quality levels before MR is discredited. Investment in MR training is what is required, and this represents an opportunity for the MRS.

You may have read an article on the site in June last year about an initiative in Rwanda between Girl Hub, 2CV and the MRS, detailing how six Rwandan women had become the first MRS Certified qualitative researchers in Rwanda. This is a real achievement by everyone concerned – qualitative research in particular is so important in all emerging markets, and there simply aren’t enough good people to meet the demand, so poor quality work is often what the client gets. Girl Hub and 2CV are really to be congratulated on their initiative and commitment to making it happen. But we should be doing more.

There has also been a recent GfK Verein/ DEG initiative to improve the quality of data collection by the introduction of Accredited Interviewer Training schemes. The local associations and training companies wanted international accreditation of their programmes, and the MRS have accredited the training programmes in Ghana and South Africa, and I hope that Kenya will soon follow.

The majority of data collection is still done face-to-face in Africa, and it seems that the local agencies frequently feel that it’s cheaper to redo interviews than to invest in training the interviewers to get them right first time. All the old arguments are trotted out – it’s a part-time, transient workforce – why should I invest in training people when it might benefit my competitors? There isn’t a history of cooperation through a local association like there is here. However – it’s easy to criticise – we’ve been fortunate in the UK to have had the time (decades, in fact) to build up our quality systems and training. It’s not easy to ‘leapfrog’ that process.

Important first steps, but what next?

These MRS Accredited Training programmes are relatively small first steps towards supporting the MR industry in Africa to raise standards and build capacity – however they are important first steps – the MRS is highly respected globally – particularly for its training programmes – which are continuously updated and developed to meet current industry needs. Personally, I’d like to see the MRS become a global training provider – not just through formal accreditation of local training, but via the spread of the MRS Certificate and Diploma – and the new CPD programme – which is a real first in the Industry.

The other thing we could do is provide more online support. Time and time again, when I’m in Africa, I’m asked about global networks that young researchers in developing markets should join, and there really aren’t any. Perhaps our young researchers could initiate a global knowledge sharing/support network?

After all, it’s actually in our interests

Any feeling that market research is not delivering what it should must be addressed, for the sake of the overall reputation of the industry. More and more of us do international research – we need to be confident that we’re getting quality data from whatever country we buy from. After all, it’s our personal reputation that’s at stake, if we deliver poor quality work.

I know we’re all busy, but if we don’t support the industry in general and help our colleagues, we won’t have a global industry to be proud of. And that would be a great pity.

Phyllis Macfarlane is programme manager, Global Training at GfK.