Musings from ESOMAR 3D: Regulation; self-defence or self-harm?

For the last in my 3 part blog from the recent ESOMAR 3D conference I wanted to touch on the subject of self-regulation by the market research industry.

This issue relates very strongly to the topics of my last 2 posts; mobile and social media.  Both are relatively new areas for our business that involve new people, using new skills to develop new tools and engaging with consumers in new ways.  Throw in the prickly subject that is privacy and data protection and you have yourself a veritable minefield.

So sensibly, the research industry has been busy reviewing our existing codes-of-conduct and industry regulations to make sure that what we are doing and the way we are doing it fits within our current standards, as well protects both ourselves and the consumers we are researching in this brave new world.

The MRS, ESOMAR, MMRA, & CASRO have all been actively engaged in this debate for over a year now and producing their own versions of guidelines or codes of conduct to help protect our industry.  In fact ESOMAR launched their new Guidelines for Conducting Mobile Market Research at the conference last week, in partnership with the MMRA.

Whilst I wholeheartedly support the intention to protect our industry and the need and  desire to distance and differentiate ourselves from non-research activities that blur the borders with our industry, I do also have some concerns.

The first is our mindset of designing regulations around methodologies rather than technologies and media.  As I have said countless times before, mobile is not a methodology it is a technology.  To set up a whole new set of regulations around ‘mobile research’ feels short sighted.  The ways that we connect to the internet and the devices we use to do this are changing faster than we could ever have imagined.  What we call ‘mobile research’ will almost certainly be something very different in a couple of years time.

When you then think about social media research, what we are actually talking about is a completely new online world that is battling with its own conscience on these same privacy and protection issues.  Do we really need to overlay another dimension of rules when governments are putting legislation in place and we already have professional standards that can be applied?

Furthermore, we are not living in a world of black and white where there are just honourable market research professionals and underhand salespeople that lurk under the pretence of our profession.  With the advent of community-based research, DIY surveys and passive monitoring the collection and delivery of customer insights are no longer some sort of holy land that we have a divine right to.  If these new players are not slowing down their development and restricting their trade with rules and regulations, then why should we?  I am worried that we are tying one hand behind our back unnecessarily.

So yes I strongly believe that we should discuss and debate the issues to make sure we stay this side of what is right and proper, but these discussions should be open to the wider world and not kept within our own inner circles.

But no, I do not believe that we need a separate set of regulations for mobile research, social media research & communities.  Instead I would like to see a central constitution where we can all sign-up and commit to a way of interacting with people and protecting their identity and interests and then abide by this in everything we do.

To my shame I have not to date been actively involved in this process, so take my hat off to those that have and managed to move the debate forward.  Maybe it’s time I stepped off the sidelines?

But I would love to hear you own views; whichever side of the fence you stand on.

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Ian Ralph
01962 842211
Article date - 15/11/2012
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