by Thania Farrar
When I think about the number of tools we have today to learn about what people think and do, I am amazed.
I started my research career in the days when there were a limited number of methodologies available such as face-to-face, mail, and telephone. We honed our skills to leverage those methods, and we worked around the limitations each presented. Then online research burst onto the scene and our research capability grew and evolved rapidly. We developed new best practices for online panel sampling, designing quality online research and analyzing data.
This evolution – some might even say “revolution” – continues today. We have access to more tools to help us learn about people’s behavior and decision-making than ever before. We have neuro and biometric tools to track people’s responses to stimuli, eye-tracking and facial coding that can now be collected through the respondent’s PC, mobile phones and geolocation capabilities to help us ask questions “in the moment,” and ways to finally scale implicit association techniques that have been around since the 90s. All of these have the potential to vastly expand our toolkit and further evolve the way we learn.
Not only do we have many new tools, we also have a lot more data available from all sorts of secondary sources and sensor technology, such as wearable devices. You’re probably tired of hearing about Big Data. What about the “Internet of Things”? The cloud has opened the door to an unprecedented amount of information being generated by an increasing number of devices that are connected to the Internet. All that behavioral data is a researcher’s wish come true. Yet, despite all that’s available, adoption of some of these new tools and data sources is still low. Part of it is access and scalability. And there’s also a healthy skepticism about the degree to which they add value and create better insights. We need to remember that tools are just tools-a means to an end which hasn’t changed: we seek to learn, gain the best insight and apply that knowledge to take actions that will benefit our client’s business.
I believe we need to learn more about the way each tool contributes a different or better learning angle to answering a question. We should continue to evaluate them, assess their strengths and limitations, and develop best practices so we can apply them with confidence. At Burke, we are cautiously optimistic about this new landscape of research tools. We are excited about the new opportunities these new tools and data sources offer, and we are discussing the implications of managing these tools and leveraging them in the best possible way to add value to the research we do for our clients.
As Vice President of Research Innovation at Burke, Inc., Thania Farrar is constantly challenging the ways researchers gain insight into what people do and why to give our clients a competitive advantage.