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Online Unplugged, Four Industry Figures Weigh In On The Issues

As online research comes of age, have we faced up to questions about representivity? Research brought together four industry figures to thrash out the issues.

Indeed they do! This is a great dialogue between several industry thought leaders on the issue of online representativeness. The folks engaged in the discussion were Adrian Sanger: VP of Research at Nielsen, Tim Britton: UK chief executive of online research and polling firm YouGov, Jeffrey Henning: founder of US survey software maker Vovici and a prolific research blogger, and Terry Sweeney: operations VP for Europe at panel provider Research Now.

The conversation touches on topics of online sample quality, respondent engagement, statistical validity of panel samples, and the changing role of research in client organizations. It’s chock full of interesting points, but what stood out is the agreement by all parties that achieving a true random probability sample is virtually impossible, and that all methods now have significant drawbacks. This reality is NOT lost on clients, and as researchers our job is to educate them that although we may not be able to achieve the rigor of classical probability sampling, that is not necessary in order to achieve relevant data and strategic insights.

Tim Britton makes the point very well: “…When a piece of research is commissioned, clients don’t really want to know is it 89% of people that prefer one particular type of toothpaste over 82% that prefer another, it’s about why is this happening. Why are they behaving this way? What is it that people are thinking? The whole point is about understanding what that data is saying to you…”

That is the message we’re all getting: the numbers are important, the method and science are important, but if we don’t ask the right questions and deliver a cohesive narrative on what we learned in the asking, then we have not done our job as an industry.

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