This has been a remarkable year in the history of the Society for many reasons. 2016 is our 70th anniversary. We chose to celebrate the curiosity and intelligence that drives us as a sector resulting in the change that great insight can initiate.
We deliberately selected the term ‘helping people talk to power’ to reflect the voice that research provides to people, whether as citizens or consumers. As I write this, the UK’s new Prime Minister Theresa May has acknowledged that the EU referendum results show that the Government needs to listen more.
But just being 70 isn’t worthy of note if we’re not relevant to the sector we support. One way of gauging relevance is the quality and engagement of our cornerstone events, MRS Awards and Annual Conference. On both fronts I’m pleased to report this has been a record year in terms of attendance, notably among client side researchers. The conference delegate survey that we have been running for ten years showed the highest satisfaction levels yet.
But with every peak climbed appears a new horizon. It’s exciting to see new possibilities, to aspire for more. But it’s daunting too. How do we follow these record attendances? How do we beat this year’s stunning lineup of keynote speakers at Impact 2016 – Bill Bryson, Rabbi Baroness Judith Neuberger DBE, Gavin Patersen, Richard Osman, Stan Sthanunathan, the list goes on?
The research sector, including MRS, has been feeling the pinch over the last few years – along with the rest of the economy – so it was particularly heartening to see the Society’s finances in the black for the second successive year.
A similarly positive message came from the joint MRS/PwC report ‘The Business of Evidence 2016’which found that the UK research market has grown by 62% to £4.8 billion since 2012. These numbers surpassed even our own expectations. While the headline was the 350% growth in data analytics, it’s the parallel growth in qualitative research that I’m particularly interested in. Qualitative research gives decision makers the context and insight to formulate hypotheses and ask the right questions of ginormous data sets. It’s what makes the research so valuable to businesses and PwC’s findings confirm this. For more on the report see mrs.org.uk/boe.
This year, we faced the challenge presented by the performance of the polls in the 2015 General Election, and the attention this focused on parts of our sector. In March 2016, an independent panel commissioned by MRS and the British Polling Council published their report. MRS has already completed the actions to which it committed as an outcome of this review and will continue to do everything we canto support our members in implementing the panel’s recommendations.
We have identified two future challenges. The first is to bridge the gap between data and qualitative to create an integrated evidence and insight base. The second is to develop the skills of employees to meet the demands of a market driven by data intelligence. A flexible early adopter mind set, business acumen, good communications and sound data analysis skills – these are the characteristics of the researcher of the future.
MRS is determined to demonstrate best practice in these respects, and to support our members as they respond to wider business and society changes. Fair Data becomes more important; regulation is on the increase, whether it’s around nuisance calls or data handling. If you’re not accredited by MRS, you’re not on the Ofcom list of approved researchers.
MRS is committed to ensuring that our members and Company Partners enjoy the new horizons and fresh opportunities that scaling these peaks afford.
I would like to thank our members, both individual and corporate; the many people sitting on a range of boards supporting various MRS functions like standards and professional development; the MRS Delphi Group for leading our high impact thought leadership initiatives; as well as our professional staff who manage backstage so expertly without enjoying the limelight.