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ESOMAR at 70 – The future of research and insights associations

ESOMAR celebrates their 70th anniversary and reflects on how the market research industry has changed over the years, and where it is heading in the future.

When I joined ESOMAR 8 years ago the world of research and insights was in the throes of major changes: The financial crisis was in full swing, changing the market research landscape wholesale; the “comfort” with which many research associations and societies had operated in previous years was being stripped away. But this stripping away forced ESOMAR, as well as many other industry associations, to refocus on what was important, redefine our key services and ensure our relevancy to the industry.  

While it may not have felt like it at the time, it can be considered a blessing in disguise. Since that time, further changes and challenges to the industry have presented themselves but we find ourselves in a better position to tackle them, and even get ahead of them in some instances, thanks to that earlier refocusing exercise. Most pertinently, those challenges aren’t going to go away – indeed they will probably grow and multiply; as our profession evolves so to will the threats and the opportunities we will face, and we will need to continually refocus and improve – KAI ZEN.

As ESOMAR celebrates its 70th birthday this year it feels to me that insights associations across the world are more important than ever before. Now, many will say “well, you would say that, wouldn’t you!”…. but as a practitioner of research, I am always impressed by the associations ability to harness diverse opinions and perspectives, and focus them into practical, industry-wide solutions and guidance.

Challenges, of course as the old adage goes, are just opportunities in disguise. But framing those challenges to see the opportunity can sometimes be a difficult task. The most important element of that process is the understanding that no-one person, researcher, company or association, is an island. Furthermore, no one is unique in the problems they face as researchers. In that same vein, I will also say that it is very unusual for ESOMAR, or any of the other global and local research associations, to uniquely have the answers to these challenges, or to be able to convert them into opportunities in isolation.

Community is key, and herein lies the strength (and in some cases the challenge) in each and every research association across the globe. As a self-regulating industry, community and collaboration is where we can find the answers and where we can convert those challenges into opportunities. At its heart ESOMAR facilitates a world-wide discussion amongst practitioners, buyers, providers, associations and legislators around the changes in the industry. It also allows the members of the market research community to work together to move the industry forward and celebrate the value of insights and data in driving societal improvement and business growth. The events, papers, publications, and platforms provided by all our associations allow those with the means to innovate technologically and methodologically to share that knowledge and experience with those that aren’t able to do so. This provision for the sharing of ideas, for collaboratively pushing the boundary of what research can do and achieve for businesses and the public sector, has been the key to our profession’s success for seven decades, and an aspect that will continue to be vital for the health of the industry for (I hope) many decades more.   

Associations, of course, do much more than simply facilitate dialogue! Many associations work extensively with national and regional governments in promoting research to law-makers to ensure that research and data collection can continue to be a self-regulated industry. The core of this work is achieved through updated and relevant codes of ethical practice, along with championing compliance of initiatives such as the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). In a landscape where consumer data is being produced on scales never before seen, such association activity is vital in ensuring the continued existence of market and opinion research as we know it.

Many reading this may already be a member of a research association, and I hope that support continues in the future. For those that aren’t yet members, supporting an insights association, at a national or global level will provide you with the resources to allow you to see challenges as opportunities – as well as the means to deploy them – irrespective of whether you are a client-side or agency researcher.

To find out how data, research and insights is innovating, and how you can ensure success in the coming years, please join ESOMAR as we celebrate our 70th anniversary, at ESOMAR Congress in Amsterdam from the 10th – 13th September. www.ESOMAR/congress

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