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R-Net Blog

R Net Blog

Research heroes: Mark Speed

Mark Speed joined what was then MORI in 1988 as a graduate trainee. He ended up specialising in brand and communications research within the public sector and health and lifestyle studies, often researching hard to reach audiences, including young people, drug users, the vulnerable and the homeless. Within six years he was a Partner at MORI and by 2001 he had moved on to IFF Research to develop their ‘branding, marketing and communications’ and ‘health and wellbeing’ sectors. Mark became Joint Managing Director in 2007 but has recently left IFF to start his own independent consultancy, xSpeediency. He is an MRS Fellow and has served for many years as a judge for the Annual Conference Awards and been involved with the Operations Awards. He was the Director for the IFF Dementia Pilot Evaluation study that won the 2015 MRS Healthcare Research Award.

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career how low down the organisational food chain research and researchers often are. Whilst not wanting to brown nose the MRS too much, it has in recent years been rectifying this!

I most admire those who conduct research in war zones and regions of conflict. We may moan about doing groups on a wet November in a nice provincial English town – imagine doing groups in a war torn Afghanistan or Iraq with the fear of assassination always at the back of your mind. Face-to-face interviewers working in such areas get particular respect.

The best research project I have worked on during my career is the ongoing creative development and evaluation project among at risk groups for the seven-year Department of Health (DH) Hepatitis C Awareness Campaign. From the start it was questioned whether we could find and survey some of the at risk groups especially ex-intravenous drug users who had not injected since 2000 and not accessed any drug services. We worked closely with an ad agency and DH, and over the years helped develop some striking messages while avoiding issues such as having images that made ex-users want to go back to injecting (some found the needle images on some executions quite appealing). At the same time we had to monitor attitudes towards the campaign among the general public to check any outrage of ‘wasting money on junkies‘.

I need to keep this very vague (to protect the guilty), but I learnt a valuable lesson in the mid-90s not to get involved in a health behaviour panel tracking survey where you take on someone else’s research mess from the baseline study and then try and make it better from wave 2 onwards. It was clear the interviewing (a face-to-face sample size in the thousands) had been somewhat erratic and elderly respondents were suddenly turning from lifelong non-smokers and non-drinkers into taking up such vices within the last 6 months. The data contained more fiction than one of Trump’s speeches and a study that was in excess of half-a-million pounds in 1990s money had so many oddities and biases than no one ever really trusted the data. It was the only time I have considered fainting in a meeting to avoid the shouting and rancour (needless to say I braved it out)!

The most memorable research experience I’ve had was advising the Uruguay police on how to conduct customer satisfaction surveys in a large meeting of senior security staff in Montevideo, through an interpreter... at the other extreme conducting focus groups in a luxury state room on Cunard’s finest for Richmond Events during the boom was fun too.

A research project I wish I had done was a major evaluation of the state of motorcycle training in the UK – we had a great team including one of the most senior Police instructors (and a Nurburgring instructor to boot) and Andy Ibbot of the California Superbike School to conduct practical evaluations of riders on the road and track, as well as a strong team of other observers (with survey research skills) including myself to develop a mix of practical and survey data. In the end the client went for a theoretical academic evaluation which, to this day, I think was a mistake.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be far less knowledgeable of life, the universe and everything.

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years is the current and future new working generation thinking all data should be free to all.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is don’t get pigeon holed as an XX researcher too soon – you may never know what you really enjoy researching and to specialise in a methodology or sector too early on may be a grave mistake.

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