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Posts from November 2010

Ode to the New MR

Courtesy of John Henry Saxe (1816-1887).

It was six men of Indostan
 To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
 (Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
 Might satisfy his mind.

                 II. Blind-men-and-elephant
The First approached the Elephant,
 And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
 At once began to bawl:
"God bless me!-but the Elephant
 Is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
 Cried: "Ho!-what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
 To me't is mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
 Is very like a spear!"

The Third approached the animal,
 And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
 Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
 Is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out his eager hand, AnitaKunz400
 And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like  
 Is mighty plain," quoth he;
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
 Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
 Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
 Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
 Is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun
 About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
 That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
 Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Indostan Elephant
 Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
 Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
 And all were in the wrong!

So, oft in theologic wars
 The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
 Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

FTC vs. MR: A Fight to the Death?

That's at least what Quirk's email newsletter is telling me today. So what's the fuss? Something called the Best Practices Act (HR 5777), also known simply as "The Rush Bill." MRA has been sounding the alarm about this bill for some months now, and while I'm not a regular reader of Quirk's I gather that they've thrown in with the MRA. Their vision of the consequences of this bill passing are nothing short of apocalyptic, hence (I guess) the challenge to fight the FTC to the death!

Now I'm not a lawyer and I confess that I've not even read the whole bill. But I've talked to lawyers who have and they generally don't share this vision. What they tell me is that the privacy regulations it would put in place simply harmonize US privacy policy with that of the EU, a good thing for those of us doing global research. The main impact on research firms would to require a privacy policy that is akin to what firms who qualify for the US Safe Harbor program (and other certifications increasingly required by clients such as SAS-70) already have in place. In other words, it is just what it claims to be, a "best practices" law for privacy protection.

One forceful counter argument to what MRA and Quirk's are saying is the opinion offered by CASRO's legal counsel. Here I will quote just the conclusion:

While the market research industry can and should strive to improve the Bill, the Bill is a solid step forward to providing a needed comprehensive, federal privacy regime. The Bill will likely be deemed adequate by the European Union, thereby eliminating the need for the US Department of Commerce's Safe Harbor program and allowing US market research companies to more readily do business internationally. The Bill will also preempt and eliminate the confusing, expanding web of state privacy laws. Even in its current form, the obligations imposed should be not be unduly difficult for market research companies to comply with.

So the viewpoint here is that it's a good thing and will make life a lot easier, unless, of course, your privacy policy is in shambles.

As I said at the outset, I'm not a lawyer but others who are or who simply get a kick out of plowing through legislation like this generally agree with the CASRO viewpoint. And I also am not a regular Quirk's reader but I wonder if they are doing as good a job as they might reporting on both sides of this issue.

Is “Good Enough” really good enough?

Earlier in the week I was fortunate to attend and speak at the International Journal of Market Research Methods Forum. It was one of those one-track, everybody in the same room conferences with lots of time to interact. Myself excepted, the speakers and presentations were of uniformly high quality and centered around the theme of "Fit for Purpose." The conference site was the headquarters of The Royal Society, a group founded in 1640 by a handful of "natural philosophers" including Christopher Wren. Newton   Robert Hooke, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Alfred Einstein, and Stephen Hawking have all been fellows. In 1687 they published Newton's Principia Mathematica, a copy of which is prominently displayed in the lobby. Not a bad setting.

Simply put the major question we all struggled with was how to maintain the scientific fundamentals of research in a world of shrinking budgets and declining professionalism. Over the course of eight presentations and two panels we got the public sector view from Sr. Michael Scholar (Chair of the UK Statistics Authority), the research agency view from Ben Page (CEO of Ipsos MORI), and the client view from Richard Ellwood (Senior Manager, Brand and Marketing Research at Walt Disney). We talked about the place for new methods in a presentation by Mike Hall (Development Partner at Verve) on MROCs and data integration by Julian Dobinson (Research Director at BSkyB). And, of course, yours truly on panels.

I wish I could say that we came up with a single compelling answer, but we didn't. There were calls for stronger professional standards by the industry and professional organizations, better training of young researchers, more effective education of clients about good and bad methods, and more research to systematically evaluate and validate new methods before adopting and selling them. It's a battle with many fronts.

But it was a great pleasure to be among so many like-minded and thoughtful people.