Unsurprisingly, the skills of researchers have transitioned over time. Ten years ago, we hired ‘all-rounders’ whose skills we could dial up and down to suit all scenarios, from face-to-face qual interviews and focus groups to complex quant surveys. Today, these researchers are still the core of our business, managing powerful online communities and ad hoc projects. However, having witnessed first-hand the evolution of research methodologies and the insight industry itself across the world, we’ve had to develop and expand our skills to match.
Businesses today face new challenges, consumers have new distractions, and research has new barriers. Now, more than ever, our online communities must offer both agile and immersive methodologies to deliver faster, more in-depth insights for clients. Consequently, the research skills required to use these methodologies have also changed. However, as the rate of change accelerates, new research methods have come to the fore beyond the realms of online communities and traditional qual/quant studies. The rise of big data requires us to be data scientists, storytellers, and strategists all in one. Our response? To build the tools we need to process big data for ourselves, and empower our researchers to do what they do best: understand the story in the numbers and provide actionable recommendations from it.
Similarly, a resurgence in ethnography, facilitated through mobile technology, has demanded that we become filmmakers and journalists, learning the technical skills to film and edit footage, as well as developing the ability to look at emotions and body language to see beyond spoken words. We could shy away from this demand, but with clients now requiring a wider qualitative package, we chose to step up to the challenge and enlist the help of an expert in this field, Siamack Salari, as well as internal experts, to help us better understand video ethnography.
It’s safe to say that technology, and the changing insight landscape, has forced us to constantly learn new skills, acquire new knowledge, and create new roles in our business, to stay at the forefront of the industry and offer the latest methodologies to clients. As a full-service agency, our collective skill set is broad and diverse. Within our insight ecosystem, we can flex methodologies to ask better questions, listen to organic conversations online, and observe human behaviour in context. Our internal training structure is designed to equip our researchers with the skills necessary to implement all elements of this ecosystem. We still have traditional quallies and statisticians, but we also have designers and strategists, all trained to adapt to the needs of our clients. Underpinning all of this, of course, is a collective desire to understand people, which motivates us all to pursue learning and development opportunities, however they may present themselves.
Upskilling ‘traditional’ research teams in this way is fairly straightforward, but more niche (and often emerging) research methods require a different approach. Our culture and trends team, for example, is a mix of highly trained consultants and practitioners, including semioticians, anthropologists, project managers, and writers. They bring a wealth of knowledge to the table and educate others through cross-team learning. Our rapidly growing social intelligence team, on the other hand, has required targeted recruitment for previous experience in social scraping, and specific skills like analysing and interpreting social data.
In an industry that’s hugely impacted by the macro environment, it’s naïve to focus solely on research skills, critical as they are for business success. We feel it’s important that whatever the academic or professional make-up of our teams, understanding the intricacies of business strategy and marketing is key to interacting with clients on a commercial level. In addition to formal training on this, a sector-focused structure affords greater opportunities to gain in-depth commercial understanding and peer-to-peer learning in smaller groups. Communication is a constant on our training calendar and we definitely think it’s worth the investment for our clients who are time poor and impact focused.
By understanding our clients and their pressures, we can adapt how we work and learn how to better support their needs. Retooling teams with the skills, understanding, and experience to adapt in a rapidly changing industry is key, which, as a combined approach of upskilling and looking to recruit specific skills, offers the most effective route to business success. •
By Lauren Baxendale, Senior Research Manager, Join the Dots