Regular readers of this blog (assuming they exist) may have noticed that since retiring almost three years ago posts here are few and far between. That does not mean lack of interest. Much to my surprise I have discovered that my fascination with market, opinion, and social research remains strong, even when I no longer face the day-to-day challenges of actually doing research that clients find useful and actionable. Retirement has allowed me to become more “methodology agnostic,” to use a phrase coined by Joan Lewis, as I no longer have to pick winners and losers, decide which methodologies are going to be adopted on a broad scale and which are niches or flashes in the pan. In short, I have become more of a spectator at the circus that is contemporary MR than a participant in it.
Of course, the challenges that we face go beyond methodology. The public seems less willing than ever before to cooperate with research requests, partly because they don't see the value of what we do but also because they simply don’t trust us to do the right thing with information they share. I like to think that this is not a problem we created but a spillover from less scrupulous behavior on the part of direct marketers and data brokers. Regardless, complying with evolving regulatory requirements and engaging with the public in ways that respect their privacy and protect their confidentiality is more important than ever before.
My buddy Lenny Murphy over at GreenBook worries about whether our businesses will survive in the face of new methods, technologies, and players. I worry less about research as a business and more about research as a profession.
I spend the bulk of my time these days on two major assignments, one as Executive Director of the Marketing Research Institute International, the non-profit that develops content for the online Principles courses offered by the University of Georgia, and the other as a consultant to the ESOMAR Professional Standards Committee. These organizations share the goal of promoting the longstanding and still relevant values of the research profession in the context of rapidly evolving and emerging research methods. This is interesting and worthwhile work.
In the abstract, what we do as researchers and our responsibilities to both clients and people—research participants and the public at large—have not changed. What is changing is how we do it. Put another way, there is a tension between principles and practice. The future of our profession rests on how well we reconcile the two.
That's what I think about these days. I hope you do, too.