By Jackie Lorch
Last night I got a research call at home on my landline. (Of course the fact that I even have a landline puts me in a certain demographic and makes me an increasingly rare target for research.) The caller asked if I’d be willing to answer “just a few questions” about my phone service. Hmm – I bet it’s more than a few questions I thought, but still I said yes.
The interviewer sounded surprised and even happy. But as soon as she began her first question I knew I wasn’t going to be a “complete” for her. “Do you or does anyone in your household work for…?” she began. I wanted to stop her right there – but I know you can’t do that with a phone interviewer – they have to stick to the script. So I listened to her long list of types of phone company employees – then, finally, she came to “research”. Working for SSI I have a pass here – we’re not a research company so depending how the question is phrased I may legitimately qualify. But this was a broad screener so that was it: screened out immediately. The interviewer sounded a bit discouraged.
Which got me thinking about this again. Why do we exclude researchers from research? Do we think researchers will answer the questions in some weird, nerdy way instead of like a normal person? Or start arguing with the question construction or demand to know where the sample came from? That can’t be it. And even if it were there aren’t enough of us to impact the data or cause trouble for interviewers.
The reason then must be fear of industrial espionage. We will immediately figure out who the sponsoring company is and call them to tell them we can do their research better, faster, cheaper than their current provider. Or we’ll share details of their research topics with competitors we’re doing research for.
This doesn’t make sense either. If that’s the concern, why not exclude anyone who might do business with competitors of the company sponsoring the research?
Is the real reason that that’s just the way we’ve always done it?
Obviously this isn’t the biggest challenge facing research today and reading this, you may say: “So what, does it really matter either way?” I think it does. Because the more researchers are walled off from the reality of research on the ground – belonging to panels and taking online surveys, taking a survey on the phone, being invited to focus groups – the more we wall ourselves off from research participants themselves and lose our understanding of and empathy with them.
We will be better researchers if we’re also research participants ourselves – we’ll be more conscious of writing good questions, making reasonable demands and not wasting participants’ time.
Excluding researchers from research looks more and more like an antiquated custom that doesn’t do anything positive for the industry and could in fact be doing damage. It’s time for a re-think.