Liz Nelson, Chairman of AMSR Board of Trustees, and Sir Robert Worcester, Founder Patron, presented important papers at the WAPOR Conference in Marrakesh last June. We highlight some of the salient points in their papers. Their powerful messages to an international audience of social and opinion researchers stressed the importance of trust and the relevance of archival collections.
Liz Nelson’s paper ‘Harness the past and present to help predict the future’ was particularly apposite. She pointed out that WAPOR’s choice of change as the subject for this year’s Annual Conference allowed her to write about the need many researchers have for longitudinal data and archives of attitude and behavioural data.
Social and market researchers’ expertise in predicting change in behaviour and/or attitudes has been very mixed. She argued that predictions could be improved by taking a longer, historical view, and by proving to decision-makers and researchers that it is essential to harness the past and present to improve predictions.
Commercial researchers often have neither time nor inclination to refer to past data. Furthermore, to make matters worse, in the digital age, companies are increasingly destroying their historical data.
Her paper stressed the value of using historical data; to help those who are without archives to set one up; and to encourage owners of historical data to publicise that data and to overcome researchers’ desire or inclination to ‘reinvent the wheel’.
Exploring Social Change became a major issue in the 1960s: The Monitor by Yankelovich in the States; the International Institute of Social Change, (RISC) followed in the ’70s ; then Eurobarometer and many others. The professional organisation in the UK, the Market Research Society, celebrated its 70th anniversary last year. There was, however, no national archive of either social or market research in the UK.
Liz traced the development of the Archive and Liz traced the development of the Archive and used data from Ipsos MORI sexual harassment surveys to show that was not a new issue. Indeed, sexual harassment is a very old one, clouded in the past by prevailing social norms – norms that are now changing dramatically.
Liz also used Archival data to show where prediction has proved correct and very powerful. There is strong evidence that predictions about generational differences in attitudes and behaviour would lead to huge differences in how to communicate to and how to market to them. And those predictions have been successfully incorporated into corporate, political party and public service organisation thinking. She cited the successful understanding of differences in millennials (today’s 20s to 35s) and among baby boomers (today’s 55s to 70s). Past data predicted the present and will predict the future with these generational differences.
Perhaps two of the biggest changes we have seen in recent years relate to decreasing trust in establishments and to increasing dependence on new technology.
All institutions – political parties, governments, local councils, charities, NHS, can build trust by meeting new expectations, of security above all, but also transparency, dependability, and fulfilment. She cited a recent optimistic Delphi Report to illustrate the ability of technology to increase public trust: ‘Technology can provide security and protection’.
If technology can make it possible for brands to be open and vulnerable, by sharing more information with customers, surely the same applies to public organisations and government institutions
Whether we are citizens or chief executives, we regularly feel out of control, unable to keep up, or vulnerable to fake news. But we need data; we need to preserve materials from the past to help us become better at predicting the direction and nature of change. And technology can increase trust. And above all, researchers should realise that successful predictions from trend data must be publicised, must be acknowledged by business and marketing teachers and by all decision makers,
Liz Nelson concluded by stating what she has learned from the Archive. No change over time is as important to decision makers as significant change; researchers need reminders of the past data; populism entails a diminution of trust in established systems – advertisers have the savvy to keep levels of trust high; and crucially, if your office is moving, don’t allow anyone to destroy old records.
As brands become open and allow themselves to be vulnerable by sharing more information, public bodies, media and governments should learn the strength of transparency, Over time data collected 10, 20, 30, 60s years can become more valuable. Free access to past data is vital along with preserving present data for the future.
Her concluding anecdote pointed to the human value of archival collections. Recently there was a most wonderful find in the Bodleian Library. The earliest-known book dust wrapper was found in its Bodleian collections. Dating from 1829, it protected a finely-bound gift book entitled Friendship’s Offering.
Click here to download a copy of Liz Nelson’s paper.
Who trusts the pollsters?
The paper by Sir Robert Worcester, co-presented with Roger Mortimore and Mark Gill, underlined the issue of trust, focusing particularly on polls.
In examining how much the public trusts pollsters, they questioned whether trust in pollsters was linked to trust in other groups, and examined the evidence of declining trust, presenting data after poor election predictions and interrogating the nature of distrust.
They tested the following hypotheses:
- Pollsters are less trusted than they used to be
- Pollsters are less trusted relative to other professions than they used to be
- Pollster are less trusted when ‘failed’ election predictions are fresh in the memory
- Distrust in pollsters is associated with political leanings
- Distrust in pollsters is associated with readership of particular newspapers (perhaps with an anti-polling editorial slant).
Detailed findings from survey data showed that pollsters are still more widely trusted than distrusted in Britain. Trust is highest among the groups who are the most knowledgeable or take an interest in politics.
There is currently slightly more distrust of pollsters than usual in Great Britain, but this is not a weakening of existing trust, more an increase of distrust among those who had no opinion. The results indicated that newspaper coverage is probably not an important direct cause and suggest that any political aspect is probably populist vs establishment rather than right vs left.
Click here to download a copy of Sir Robert Worcester, Roger Mortimore and Mark Gill’s paper.