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Charging Backwards

The views expressed on the GreenBook Blog are not endorsed by GreenBook. That said, as an experienced business owner and executive in the market research space, I do have an opinion on the push for the incorporation of ISO standards for U.S. Market Research firms.

The views expressed by the bloggers on the GreenBook blog are not endorsed by the GreenBook or the New York AMA. The GreenBook has given us a platform to share news and views on issues related to the global MR industry, but in no way takes a formal position on any of those items unless expressly stated.

Why the disclaimer? Well, it seems that it’s important right now for those of us who are affiliated with trade organizations and/or entities that serve the needs of the industry to be clear about when we’re speaking as private “citizens” of the MR world, or as formal representatives of an organization. There seems to be some movement in certain organizations right now to ensure that if you are a representative of their group, you’d better stick to their talking points at all time and in all ways or face censure and even blackballing. That type of “loyalty oath” seems regressive, short-sighted, and just plain wrong to me; thank goodness I am aligned with organizations that know the value of a good debate and can separate the message from the messenger when they hear something they don’t like.

All of this leads me to the true topic at hand; the push for the incorporation of ISO standards for U.S. Market Research firms. The debate has been ongoing across many online forums since this was announced earlier this year, and much has been written by wiser people than me about the pros and cons of this initiative.

As an experienced business owner and executive in the MR space, I do have an opinion about this: I think it’s the wrong move at the wrong time.

Market Research is at a critical juncture in it’s development, and we need to be looking forward, pioneering new creative techniques for meeting the needs of our clients, not codifying standards on processes that may not even be relevant in 2-5 years time. We need to be charging forward, not backwards. ISO certification for MR is an expensive distraction that will ultimately be irrelevant to all but a handful of firms who specialize in specific process driven aspects of data collection. I agree wholeheartedly that quality control is a major issue for our industry, especially when it comes to sampling and data processing, but I believe our industry can develop it’s own standards to address those issues more efficiently.

Think about this folks; when was the last time a client asked if any element of a proposed research initiative was in compliance with ISO standards? It probably doesn’t happen often, at least for most of us. What we are asked is “Is this your best thinking and most creative solution to our business issue?”. Clients want to try new things and trust us as strategic advisers to help them explore new ways of gaining critical insights. When we can’t give that to them they go elsewhere for solutions; that is why clients are flocking to new providers of insight through social media, crowdsourcing, mobile engagement, neuromonitoring, MROCs, etc, and you can be darn sure those providers are not seeking ISO certification.

Embracing an industry wide standard like ISO will just move us further down the path of MR being a commodity, stifle our ability to innovate and implement creative solutions to our client’s issues, and ensure our industry continues to be marginalized. That certainly doesn’t seem like a goal our trade associations should have, but it sure seems to be the path they are headed down.

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3 responses to “Charging Backwards

  1. Strange post. The stuff about the loyalty oath is odd. If one agrees to represent a organisation one should agree with with its principles. Frankly it would be a strang thing to agree if you didn’t.

    If, in representing that organisation, you discover the people/businesses you represent it to dont agree with the principles of the organisation, then you aim to bring about change as an insider represetative.

    If the organisation is unyielding and irrelevant the respresentative should resign, and if he’s interpreted the views of the membership correctly they will follow.

    On the issue of ISO. Challenge yourself to think about how ISO might help your business. Yes, it might require CHANGE (that dreaded beast), but there are some upsides.

    A lot of what we do in research has underlying processes – ensuring these are well documented and running well is a key benefit of ISO, and is actually helpful to the researcher.

  2. I beg to defer. Whilst the MR industry in the US is different to that in the UK and Australia, ISO standards give research, data, admin and field staff, the opportunity to rely on a structure that provide comfort and extra thinking capacity.

    In Australia, at Your Source and Colmar Brunton, we are ISO 20252 accredited and innovative in our approach to new methodologies – if not leaders – especially when it comes to Research 2.0 and MROCs.

    Embracing the ‘discipline’ of ISO procedures actually free the mind from those mundane tasks (when they become second nature) and leave time/brain capacity to become more creative.

    Whilst speaking from a fieldwork project management point of view, far too often, researchers seem to be working in their own sphere; oblivious to the other stakeholders involved with their project, be it sampling, data collection, data processing and data analysis.
    A systematic and consistent approach eliminates most minor mistakes such as file naming conventions, RFQs, questionnaire design, etc, which result in a significant loss of time for other departments that could be used more effectively to serve the client better.

    In addition, most of the researchers I come across, whether internally or externally, seem to be recommending methodologies they feel most comfortable with anyway.

    I really fail to see why ISO standards are prohibitive to creative problem solving.
    It seems to be a case of not being aware enough of the benefits.
    Don’t expect clients to ask if an agency is ISO accredited. They take high quality work as granted and in this day and age, everyone has a claim to quality work,
    The ability to deliver high quality work is another story. Being able to measure if a company achieves ‘minimum’ quality standards seems to be relevant to any industry.
    In my experience, the undestanding of quality procedures and its benefits vary greatly between those accredited and those that aren’t, with a few exceptions of course. I can understand obtaining ISO accreditation is costly and time consuming for small agencies but I wouldn’t be aurprised to see erronous data and recommendations in those projects from some non-accredited agencies.
    To me, it looks like a case of not trying hard enough.

  3. ISO is an outstanding certification if one has a commoditized, “cookie-cutter,” mass-produced research product that is highly repeatable.

    It’s not very useful for qualitative research or research that lacks a cookie-cutter mass-production orientation.

    For lower-value-added research, such as systematic tracking surveys, it may have some (small) benefit — though the payback for the investment required to attain the certification and maintain it is uncertain.

    Forcing a mass-production paradigm on bespoke research simply doesn’t work. Those of us who have had that view for a while have become a bit frustrated with the refusal of ESOMAR and similar organizations to listen and understand.

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