Episode 06

For the sixth episode of Perspectives, we talk about how market research maintains trust and authority in an era of fake news and misinformation.

Written Commentary

Annie Pettit – Market Research Methodologist, AnniePettit@gmail.com, read more on her blog.

There are a few things we can do.

First, despite how expertise is being discredited more and more these days, let’s be more open and transparent about our credentials. More than simply degrees and experience, let’s talk about our membership in recognized industry associations such as Insights Association, MRIA, MRS, AMSRS, and Esomar, as well as ISO certifications. Let’s do more than simply mention we’re members, and instead start our conversations with that fact. Let’s describe what it means to be a member in good standing in terms of the code of standards and ethics we abide by. Let’s put those logos on the first page of our reports, and even include with them some of the ethics and standards statements that are most relevant to the specific project. Let’s use these as reminders for our clients that we always act in their best interest, and in the best interest of the research project, even if the results don’t work out the way we had hoped.

Second, let’s be more transparent with clients. Let’s tell clients about all of the strengths and weaknesses of our research processes, about the things that changed unexpectedly along the way, even if it means disappointing them. When we can’t achieve the response rate, sample size, or cost per complete that they require, let’s tell them right from the beginning and be clear about why it can’t be done. When the results we generate are completely unexpected and don’t line up with our hypotheses or norms, let’s be open and honest about what might have happened and whether there might be a problem. Let’s worry less about not winning a job, and more about demonstrating our commitment to the integrity of results. The secondary bonus of this transparency is that we can educate less experienced buyers on how research can be positively and negatively impacted by a variety of known and unknown variables so that they will be more informed buyers in the future.

Third, let’s be better public advocates. When we see our research in the media, let’s ensure the results, conclusions, and recommendations are clearly properly represented. And when they aren’t, let’s get in touch with the media to help them understand what the issue is, including telling them why margin of error or making a certain generalization isn’t appropriate. And if they refuse to correct the misinterpretation, let’s make a public statement to right the wrong, perhaps with a note on your website sharing details about how the information should be properly interpreted. And along the way, if we learn that certain media channels regularly misinterpret results, let’s reconsider working with those channels and even the clients that work with those channels. Every one of us has a part to play in helping to ensure our research results are properly portrayed.

Johnny Caldwell – Managing Director of Netquest UK, jcaldwell@netquest.com, read more on his blog.

A recent trip to Africa meant that I missed taking part in this episode, however personally, I believe it’s all down to Data Quality.

The trouble with fake news/misinformation / bad data, whatever you prefer to call it is that it is difficult to establish the actual origins and sources from where these distortions derive. Though it’s not exactly new, propaganda has existed in order to influence everything from wars through politics to social behaviour for millennia and when published via “official” channels these kinds of half-truths/disinformation become extremely difficult for the populous to question to any great degree.

Currently, the proliferation we are now witnessing is more to do with the democratisation of publication which has meant that just about anyone – as I am doing here – can broadcast their own content in terms of thought, opinion even news completely without due diligence. Those creating intentionally misleading content tend to do so in order to influence public opinion for short-term gain politically or as a way of defaming the opposition.

However, in Market Research the stakes are just as high (even higher for the people’s livelihoods client-side) – our output plays the major part in business decision making and thereby it’s consequential success or failure. Though obviously, unlike fake news, the intention here is not to specifically mislead our clients through poor data quality we have now arrived at a crossroads where we really do need to uphold stringent standards in respondent qualification and response.

Economic pressure and the commodification of the public that the industry now sees apart, our data output should be traceable right back to the very individual respondent who provided it.

For our industry to maintain both respect and trust we really do need to be able to exhibit complete transparency in data sourcing. It’s not just a question of discarding flat-liners and people that answer questionnaires too quickly – it is about the ability to be able to Back-Check every respondent if needs are, as we can and do in Face to Face research.

Excerpts from the vlog

In this era of fake news I believe sometimes as market researchers we unintentionally contribute to that fake news within organisations by asking consumers opinion or about recall, about past things instead of looking at behavioural and transactions data. – @reneemmurphy

I don’t really trust any media these days. They’re very time-poor journalists. They often seek the conclusion, to seek to justify the conclusion, they are already looking for and they all cite groups and institutions without really doing due diligence. – @maninultimo

The other challenge that I see is the DIY research and again I think this is where people are seeking certainty, they are using the fantastic online tools that are now available to do concise research, they’re trying to do focus groups without realising that actually there are some core skills required to do this effectively – Liz Harrison

If you take opinions polls for example which are designed to forecast election results, these now have to consider the influence of fake information, of propaganda that is being pushed out through social media and these can have a very, very direct impact on election results. And it can happen almost in real time, but the problem is if the polls get it wrong, very often it’s the research agencies who are criticised for this. – Mike Jeanes

The role of the associations is critical in the check function and the defence function that they play. – @Finn01

I think people should be learning about how they should read data or numbers and in addition I think it’s really important that journalists should be taught this, because I think lots of what we’re seeing is misinformation via the media, simply because journalists don’t understand what they are talking about. – @keenasmustard

As an industry we’re dealing with facts, we’re dealing with evidence, we’re dealing with truth, we’ve got nothing to worry about fake news, we never had and we never will. – @winifredatwell

I think, as an industry every individual that works in it, we’ve all got a responsibility that every time we have an interaction with the general public, we’ve got an opportunity to make people feel differently about our industry. – @andybuckers

Fake news is a challenge to authority. It’s a backlash to expert’s opinion. Provides alternative interpretation of the facts, and for us, this causes a direct challenge to our work, to market research, because ours is an industry about interpretation, and about expert’s opinion. – @pd_hudson

Mark Twain said “There are three types of lies, there are lies, damn lies, and then there are statistics”. And we as market researchers know that there is a single fact, or a single piece of data, or a single anecdote doesn’t necessarily constitute the truth. – Paul Griffiths

We are in the era now where everything is suspect – @dbrowell

I think if you’re trying to maintain researcher’s trust in authority among the kind of individuals who quote the Illuminati and Icke at you, I think you’re banging your head against a brick wall. But having said that, what I would like see is some of the grander and more spurious claims made by some of these people subjected to research themselves. – Mark Ratcliff

Submit a question to Perspectives
By | 2018-04-28T08:45:13+00:00 December 19th, 2017|Full Episodes|