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5 reasons why researchers are not as bad as you think

March 11, 2011
People sitting on steps

I often hear people bemoaning the research industry for being a PR-hungry monster whose sole aim is to try to sell you double glazing when you are trying to eat your dinner.

In fact this could not be further from the truth, as those professionally involved with the research industry are heavily regulated in terms of quality and ethics, and are required to do all sorts of things to protect your rights as a respondent and to make sure that a good impression of the industry is conveyed to the public.

The majority of professional researchers or research agencies in the UK are members of the Market Research Society (MRS).  All Members of the MRS have to comply with the code of conduct which is designed to support all those engaged in market, social or opinion research in maintaining professional standards. The code of conduct is also intended to reassure the general public and other interested parties that research is carried out in a professional and ethical manner.  MRS standards are taken very seriously within the industry, and cover everything from project management to methodology to fieldwork to reporting. 

Did you know that as MRS-regulated researchers …?

 … we tell you what we are doing, and why

MRS B.21 Members must ensure that all of the following are clearly communicated to the Respondent:

  • the name of the interviewer (an Interviewer’s Identity Card must be shown if face-to-face);
  • an assurance that the interview will be carried out according to the MRS Code of Conduct;
  • the general subject of the interview;
  • the purpose of the interview;
  • if asked, the likely length of the interview;
  • any costs likely to be incurred by the Respondent.

If you are asked to take part in an MRS-regulated research project, you will be told a range of information in advance of participation about the nature of the project.  This will take the form of a couple of paragraphs of introductory information. This allows you to make a genuine informed decision about whether to participate or not.

Some ‘research’ projects don’t have this – be wary!

… we write questionnaires to suit you

MRS B.14 Members must take reasonable steps to ensure all of the following:

  • that Respondents are able to provide information in a way that reflects the view they want to express, including don’t know/prefer not to say where appropriate;
  • that Respondents are not led towards a particular point of view;
  • that responses are capable of being interpreted in an unambiguous way;  
  • that personal data collected are relevant and not excessive.

Questionnaire design is a fine art, and is a skill that you need to learn over a period of years.  Researchers have various techniques that they employ for collecting a wide range of behaviours, feelings and emotions in a questionnaire format.  The intention is that at the end of the questionnaire the respondent understood what we wanted to ask, and was able to give the answers they wanted to give.  We are not allowed to write leading questions, we are not allowed to write overly complicated questions, and we are not allowed to ask you things ‘just for the sake of it’.

Some ‘questionnaires’ are not like this – be wary!

… we protect your anonymity

MRS B.8 The anonymity of Respondents must be preserved unless they have given their informed consent for their details to be revealed or for attributable comments to be passed on.

MRS B.13 Respondent details must not be passed on to another third party for research or any other purposes without the prior consent of the Respondent.

If you take part in research we make sure that your answers remain confidential.  This means that if you give us your name or other identifying details we don’t link them to your survey answers, we don’t attribute any quotes to you in our reports, and we don’t let the client know that you have taken part.  In most cases the separation of contact details from survey responses is done at the data collection or processing stage, meaning that even the researcher will never even see your name.

Research is not about selling you something, and equally we never ‘sell’ your personal details to a third party.  There are certain circumstances in which we might ask to pass your details on, for example if we ask you at the end of a survey if you would like to take part in a prize draw or wish to join a mailing list.  Even so, it is highly unlikely that there would be any need to link your contact details to your survey responses.  Either way, you would be explicitly told what we intend to do with your contact details, we would only be allowed to do the things we told you we’d do, and you would have every right to ‘opt out’ of this.

Some ‘researchers’ don’t do this or explain it explicitly to respondents – be wary!

… we make sure the ‘true story’ is reported in the media

MRS B.60 Members must take reasonable steps to ensure that findings from a project, published by themselves or in their employer’s name, are not incorrectly or misleadingly presented.

If we or our client intends to publish findings from our research, we are required to ensure that anything that enters the public domain is accurate and is a true representation of the findings.  Most often, this means making sure that positive findings are not reported out of context and that supporting information and limitations are clearly explained in the article.

In practice, the requirement to do this is outlined in our terms and conditions, agreed verbally with the client, and followed up at the close of the project.  Press releases are checked and signed off by researchers in advance of a client making them public to ensure that research findings are not misrepresented in the media.  If inaccurate findings are reported in the press, we issue a correction.

Some ‘researchers’ don’t do this, and some ‘research’ articles are lacking in detail – be wary!

… we make sure everyone knows the rules

MRS A.7 Members must take reasonable steps to ensure that others do not breach or cause a breach of this Code.

We also look after your rights as a respondent outwith our own organisations.  We do what we can to make sure that everyone involved in the research project keeps to these rules.  That means clients, partners, interviewers, admin staff, data processing staff, analysts, journalists, and even respondents.  Everything is done in an ethical and transparent manner.

Some ‘researchers’ don’t do this – be wary!

So what?

The kind of ‘researchers’ that try to get you to buy things, ask you leading questions, or sell your data to other organisations are not genuine researchers.  You can make a realistic informed decision to take part in a research project by insisting that the ‘researcher’ abides by the rules outlined above.  If they don’t, be wary that they may not be professional researchers.

The kind of ‘research’ that you read about in the newspaper that appears to be a PR opportunity for selling baked beans may or may not be true.  Look for details of a research agency, MRS membership and methodology to judge whether the research was legitimate.  If you see these things, the baked bean seller probably has legitimate data behind the claims they are making!  

 If you are commissioning research, consider appointing an MRS member so that you can be sure that professional ethics are upheld.

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