Category Archives: Musings

Back in the Hiking Groove

Cromford to Hathersage Runkeeper Map Aug 2015As I type this I am sitting in my room in the George Hotel in Hathersage, tired but happy. The hike from Cromford to Hathersage was 41.7 kilometres, which is almost exactly 25 miles.

It was not a fast walk, with heat, a rucksack, plenty of hills and a stop for food, indeed the walk took me just over 11 hours. But, the key thing is that I feel that I am back in the groove.

There were many highlights during the day but a few of them were:

The millpond in Cromford, where I started today.Cromford 3 Aug 2015

A fountain and nearby a cross and well dressing in Bonsall.



Wild flowers and beautiful cottage gardens.
Wildflower Derbyhire Aug 2015Derbyshire Cottage Garden








The bridge at Darley DaleDarley Dale Bridge Aug 2015




In Chatsworth park I had a great vew from the top of the waterfall that used to power the fountain (maybe it still does?) and of the Hunting Tower.


Derbyshire has many impressive rocks, here are two that could look sinister with the right lighting and music.


The Eagle Stone is my favourite rock in Derbyshire and I have been coming back to look at it and sometimes to try and climb it for about years, so far.

A large part of my walk today was on the edges, a series of cliffs overlooking the valley below. Once you climb up to them the walking is quite flat and view stupendous.

And finally I reached the George Hotel in Hathersage, just in time for dinner.

Walking for 11 hours gives one plenty of time for thinking, and sometimes for coming up with definite plans for the future. One plan I have is never to go hiking with a map that is 20 years old! I had several problems when a route I was planning to take, which existed on the map, was now a road, or a street, sometimes with houses. Social researchers are fond of saying the ‘map is not the territory’, but I want my map to at least be up-to-date in the future.

Not all of my photos have uploaded, so I will upload them later in the week.

Getting back to hiking, a trip to the Peak District

I have just come back from four months in Japan and one of the things I did whilst I was there was a couple of nice hikes near Mt Takao. This reminded me that a) I really like hiking and b) I have not done much hiking for years, especially point-to-point hiking with my kit on my back.

So, this weekend I have set out to rediscover hiking and to revisit the area where my love of hiking was honed as a teenager, in the Derbyshire Peak District.

After work today I packed 2 days of clothes, maps, wet weather gear and some essentials such as a computer in my rucksack and set off, helped by a lift from my brother Ian to Nottingham station. In just under an hour the train deposited me at Cromford, on the edge of the Peak District National Park.



Cromford has many links to the early days of the industrial revolution. For example, Richard Arkwright built his water-powered mill here in 1771, followed by many others, which led to rail and canal links.



On the walk from the station I was treated to wonderful views of the River Derwent and the terminus of the Cromford Canal.




A short walk, between 1 and 2 kilometres, took me to my stay for the night, the Greyhound Hotel in Cromford. I might also get back to camping, but I decided to break myself back in gently. The Greyhound Hotel was built in 1778 by Richard Arkwright for visitors to his mills.


The road sign in the picture was taken on my walk to Cromford and is in feet and inches and warns of the height of a low bridge. However, this sign is not only confusing because it uses feet and inches, but it also uses an old notation for them. The ‘ symbol means feet, and the “ symbol means inches.


At the Greyhound hotel I treated myself to a proper Northern dinner of meat and potato pie, followed by apple crumble.

The walk proper starts tomorrow morning. However, since this is not a business hotel, breakfast is served (on Saturdays) from 9 till 10, so it won’t be an early start.


Conecta Create Great Event at ESOMAR 3D in Miami

Conecta, a company providing access panels in Latin America and USA created what was probably the best conference event of the year last night. Conecta provided a three-hour cruise in Miami, allowing the conference attendees to spend the evening mixing, drinking, eating, plus music and dancing.

Everyone who chose to go on the cruise, which seemed to me most of conference attendees, had a wonderful evening, mixing business and pleasure, with lots of new contacts being made.

Was it a savvy sponsorship move? I am not sure. Conecta were at the event and very pleasant, but the branding was weak and there was not a lot of brand specific information or associations. But, Conecta deserve a massive thank you for creating such a wonderful evening, and personally I would hope that people would at least visit their website to find out more about them.

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.

Where does social media fit in the research mix?

One of the questions I am often asked is where does social media fit in the research mix and over the last couple of years I have developed the following four point response:

  1. What is market research? It is what you do when you can’t get customer/user information in a cheaper better way. This means that over time MR changes, some new things become possible, but some new alternatives are developed, making some aspects of MR redundant.
  2. Social Media gives us the chance to listen to real conversations, and sometimes that will replace market research, on other occasions it will add something. Listening to social media is now a necessary action for brands.
  3. However, people are not always talking about you, so the answers to your current questions may not exist in social media, so social media is necessary but not sufficient.
  4. If people are not talking about you, then you need to ask questions or create discussions. In the old days this meant surveys and focus groups, but now it includes creating ongoing discussion via communities (and I think it will also include creating conversations in social media).

The key point is that there is no single and permanent answer to the question about where social media fits in the research picture. In some ways it is as odd a question as where do pens fit in the research process, or words, or pictures. Sometimes, social media is the message (to misquote Marshall McLuhan) but for researchers social media is usually just the medium.

Is the MRS courting doom with its privacy proposals?

The MRS has been consulting on new guidelines for online privacy, particularly with a focus on the issues arising out of social media. Some of the ideas being floated by the MRS have caused a shocked and angry response from market researchers, some of which were reported by Research-Live.

Earlier this week I met a wide range of UK researchers at the ESOMAR Congress in Amsterdam and was amazed by the anger that many researchers expressed about the some of the ideas that the MRS appeared to be promoting. Indeed, several researchers said that if the ‘worst’ of the ideas in the consultation ended up in the code they would leave the MRS and they would encourage their employers to stop funding MRS membership.

If this convenience sample turns out to be representative (and there is no statistical reason why it should) the MRS could be in real trouble if it continues with its current direction.

My position is more nuanced. I think the ideas in the consultation are crazy in places and harmful to our industry without being good for anybody. However, I will still be in the MRS, even if they are adopted. But, I will be describing most of what I do as “not market research”, which is a shame.

What can the trial of Italian Scientists teach market researchers?

The Economist has an interesting report about seven scientists in Italy who are on trial on charges of manslaughter. The prosecution follows their recommendation, on 31 March 2009, that the tremors felt around the Italian city of L’Aquila posed ‘no danger’. Six days later there was a series of geological events that resulted in 308 deaths.

The scientists say that when they said there was no danger, they meant that the danger was at its normal level for a city in an earthquake zone, not that there was NO danger. They are suggesting that the prosecution is invalid because people who live in an earthquake zone understand risk.

A second point that is being made is that the scientists were probably (or is that possibly) wrong in their comments. The Economist reports that other scientists have suggested that the background risk of a major earthquake in L’Aquila is about 1-in-200,000, but that after the minor tremors the risk had increased to 1-in-1000. Which raises the question whether a city should be evacuated every time it has a 1-in-1000 risk? If yes, then there will be losses, wasted time, and road deaths. If no, then 1-in-1000 times there will be a disaster.

Although this affair is more important and more tragic than market research, there are, nevertheless, two useful lessons for market researchers that arise from it.

1) People tend not to understand statistics. When I say people, I mean both experts and the public. Do not assume that your client has grasped the statistical interferences in your findings, make them tangible and test whether you have communicated the important knowledge (not just the facts).

2) Don’t appear more certain than you are. Clients do not want debriefs that just regurgitate statistics, they want insight and they want recommendations. But they do not want to be told they are safe when they are not! Rather than say “the data show”, tell the truth, such as “I believe this means …”, “We think it is likely that ….”, or “The most likely explanation is …”

This is not a new problem for market researchers. Back in 1987, Yankelovich Clancy was sued by Beecham because it forecast sales growth that did not materialise. Market research needs to convey its findings in a way that allows the client to make a better decisions, the research should not seek to replace the client’s responsibility for the decision. Without resorting to statistical devices, such as error margins and distributions, researchers need to ensure clients understand the degree of trust that they should put in the information they are being presented with.

How many young people did not riot in the UK this week?

As anybody who has seen the news will be aware, there have been a series of public disorder events in the UK this week. Some of these could be called riots, one of them seemed to be a protest, but most were about looting.

As is always the case, the media and politicians are looking for easy answers and remedies and one of the themes that seems to be emerging is to either a) blame young people or b) blame the alienation of young people. Both of these may have some truth, but the quant researcher in me was also drawn to the question of how many young people were involved in the disorder, as a proportion of young people – or to put it the other way round, how many young people were not involved in the problems?

From the news it was easy to see that a large part of the rioters (to use a simple term) were young, let’s say aged 14 to 21. But pulling all the news together, I would suspect that about 2000 young people were involved, perhaps more, so let’s consider the chance that maybe, across the whole country, across several nights the number was 10,000.
According to the Office of National Statistics there are about 6.25 million young people in the UK, i.e. aged 14 to 21. These numbers suggest that either 99.97% of young people were not involved in the disorders or 99.84% of young people were not involved. So, it would be a bit unfair to describe the problem as about ‘young people’.

What the riots in the UK do show is that a country that polices by consent (e.g. employing a small number of police force and where almost all police are unarmed) can be thrown off course by a very small number of people who choose to challenge the consensus.