Communities in 2017

I have just submitted a synopsis for the MRS Conference (get yours in quick if you want a chance to be selected). In the synopsis I suggest that research communities are going to change and I would love to hear your thoughts.

Below is a copy of my synopsis.


Communities seem to be the most commercially successful of all new tools that have entered the research arena. From short-term ad-hoc MROCs which focus on qual, through to the large-scale, ongoing community panels that can offer quant and qual, communities have dominated conferences agendas and have been the subject of key company purchases (e.g. Communispace, GlobalPark, and Vovic). Most major brands have at least one community for research and many have multiple communities. It is fair to say that communities have become a mainstream research technique.

However, nothing stands still in the world of online research and I predict that by 2017 the landscape will be very different.

The drivers of change, in ascending order of importance will be:

  1. The need to be cheaper and faster.
  2. The need for clients to be able to ‘DIY’ more of the process, which will mean non-researchers on the client-side being able to run projects.
  3. The need to integrate communities (and other forms of research) with Big Data.

If we look at Big Data from the client’s view, we see CRM data, loyalty card data, web analytics, account information, social media activity, and much more. The community of the future (perhaps the near future) will be the entire customer base.

The future research community will not be based on a group of customers all doing some similar task. The future community will be an extension of the community panel model, where different sub-groups of customers participate in very different tasks, including auto-ethnography, ideation, online qual, face-to-face qual, quant surveys, and even MROCs. The difference is that, subject to appropriate permissions, all the interactions and information are fed back into the system and the learnings generalised to the wider customer base.

Although communities have become mainstream; my prediction is that they will become the dominant form of research, or rather the dominant environment for research. Before online research there was not a truly dominant method, there was a mixture of telephone, door-to-door, and central location, all supported by a myth of representivity. Online access panels changed all of that, the research industry moved over to ‘non-rep’ convenience samples. Online access panels are a sort of community, but they are not brand or client focused, so they will find it hard to integrate with Big Data. The extended community panel model, where the entire customer base is seen as the community, delivers the opportunity for Big Data integration and a better reason for respondents to participate, they are making their brand better, better for them.

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