EDI Newsletter – January 2024

What does “Representation in research" mean?

Over the past few years there has been a renewed focus on representation within research projects. Many organisations are looking to improve their practices in this area, with a growing number of client brands making it a priority in their briefs. In early 2023 there were changes to MRS code of conduct around transparency when running Nationally Representative (Nat Rep) research projects and the release of supporting guidance on assessing whether a research project is truly representative, meaning that now is the time for those conducting research to review their practices on this subject.

The lofty goal of making sure all research projects are truly representative of the voices they seek to represent is a demanding one – and it’s rare if not impossible for any research project to be perfect in this regard. The issue of representation impacts all research practitioners, but the challenges that need to be overcome, and therefore the questions that a practitioner might have, will vary depending on a multitude of methodological, objective-focussed or historic influences and needs:

  • Is the research project qualitative or quantitative?
  • Is the research looking to specifically improve representation of those from certain groups such as LGBTQ+ communities, those from ethnic minority backgrounds or those with physical disabilities?
  • Is the project a tracker and therefore sensitive to any changes to sampling which need to be treated with care?
  • What markets are included?

It can feel like a mountain to climb, and often practitioners may not know where to start. Questions could range from the extremely broad, to the very technical or niche. To support our industry efforts on this, the MRS Representation in Research Steering Group have developed some FAQs, which will hopefully answer some of your questions. Whatever your question or challenge is, it is highly likely that you are not alone in facing it.

Answering the “big” questions

If you are thinking about this for the first time, you might be looking to start by brushing up on some fundamental questions such as “What are the key principles of inclusive research?” and “What does representation in research mean and why is it important?”. As an organisation you might need to demonstrate a commercial benefit (PDF) or find out what sort of demand there is for more representative research. Or you might simply be trying to find out where in the research chain the responsibility lies for defining the sampling characteristics of “Nat Rep” projects.

The practical implications

Representative research does not simply mean setting quotas and sourcing sample. Language evolves and as practitioners we need to reflect a shared understanding and sensitivity. Nobody wants to cause offence – which can lead to practitioners being reluctant to ask potentially sensitive questions. You can find support on what wording and response options to use, as well as how to frame those questions in a sensitive way. Considerations around inclusion continue even after the data is collected. You need to think about how the data from minority and majority populations are analysed and interpreted to ensure that differences are treated sensitively and reported accurately. And of course, we need to make sure that we are fulfilling all responsibilities when it comes to data privacy and GDPR.

What next?

Whilst initially the Representation in Research group are focussed on the UK, we recognise that most UK research practitioners are likely to be conducting research globally. Advice on how to approach other markets can be found here with further resources around this being released in 2024.

A lot of the focus has been on Nat Rep projects, but this is only one type of research. The Representation in Research Steering Group is trying to promote more inclusive research practices in general, by providing advice on considerations for specific under-represented groups, such as how to make your research more accessible to people with physical disabilities such as visual impairments. You can also read about the role technology can play in improving representation and removing barriers to inclusion in research.

We aim to cover as much as possible in these FAQs, but just like research projects they will never be perfect, and we’re always looking to improve. If you can’t find the answer you’re looking for, please contact rebecca@cobalt-sky.com to suggest additional questions that we can add. Alternatively, if you have any further information or advice that you think could be useful for this FAQ section, please do share it with us.

Representation in Research – FAQs

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