By Jacqui Greeff

Design thinking has found a fair measure of favour in the business arena in recent years, with positive reportable outcomes. The associated integration of divergent models to create new solutions has been pursued in multiple fields, from engineering to software. I have found research to be a notable exception. With innovation being achieved across such a spectrum why should contemporary market research not benefit from applying these principles of knowledge development?

Insight delivery from market research can vary, as judged by a sample of its senior users in the South African market (Barnes, 2015). In addition, our industry’s product is competing with an increasing range of insight sources, including business consultants and trend analysts. In the face of this strong and diversifying competition, innovating the research model becomes necessary rather than optional.

Adding insight equates to adding value for market researchers, marketers and agencies. However insight is hardly an automatic result of research. It is a hard-won and often elusive victory.

The research industry has admittedly risen to the challenge of generating insight admirably in many respects. However, this has historically been addressed more at the design end of the production line than in analysis.

The use of design thinking to address this need introduces concepts which may at first glance seem to run counter to the core of market research:

  • Balancing reliability with validity, overlaying empiricism with creativity
  • Allowance for conclusions or theories based on abductive reasoning, beyond deduction

“In the future, the most successful businesses will balance analytical mastery and intuitive originality in a dynamic interplay that I call ‘design thinking’.” Roger Martin in Design Thinking: Achieving insights via the ‘knowledge funnel’ (Martin, 2010)

However, recent research to this end suggests otherwise. My exploration on this subject has sought to better understand the dynamics of insight generation in competing models and to explore an alternative market research model of knowledge development for improved marketing impact. An action research approach was taken with deference to grounded theory principles. Model development followed an integrative thinking process, based on the work of Roger Martin (Martin, 2009).

A new emerging model is proposed which draws on studies conducted with agency strategic planners and owners of competing insight generation models. Using an integrative thinking approach the tension between research reliability and validity of actionable outcomes was explored. Theorists in this new discipline tell us that this can be the most fertile zone for innovation.

The emerging model is one of extended market research. Key elements relate to the roles that multiple perspectives and value networks can potentially play in research analysis. This work has produced guidelines on applying the model in generating true value-adding insight more consistently from applicable quantitative studies.

Findings essentially support innovation in knowledge processing of quantitative results.

The model sees creation of a human filter of multiple interpretations of the researcher’s analysis of a data set. The multiple perspectives of the qualified project network is then crafted into a cohesive insights report by the researcher/research team. This involves construction of a project network of relevant multi-disciplinary professionals for each research project. Developmental research has guided partial ‘rules of engagement’ as well as processes and permutations for further testing.

For instance:

  • Select and screen a multi-disciplinary team as insight co-creators and collaborators
  • This micro network should be chosen on the grounds of their diversity, being well qualified in their respective professional fields, each being relevant to the subject in their own way.
  • They should be fully briefed on the project objectives.
  • Define roles clearly as part of the project establishment phase, positioning the researcher as mediator and arbiter of empirical correctness.

    Network members are encouraged to:
    #state when existing understanding is confirmed but mainly to seek new understanding
    #feel empowered to create
    #think experimentally, don’t be afraid to conjecture. If an interpretation is empirically unsound the researcher will be the ‘safety net’ that excludes it.

This prototype embodies the design thinking pursuit of seeking innovation through balancing reliability and validity. Reliability is the pillar of the market research offering, involving as it does the due process and source quality considered non-negotiable. My contention is that interpretation and synthesis of multiple sources, multiple perspectives and multiple data points have the potential to extend the current usual market research format into more innovative territory, while remaining rooted in empiricism.

The integrative thinking applied alongside action research, identified shared variables present in positively performing competing models of insight resourcing: -multiplicity, interpretation and narrative. These are clear features of the models in use by successful consulting firms, research institutes and strategic commentators.   Examples studied to this end included Monitor Deloitte and The UCT Unilever Institute of Strategic Marketing.

The extended research model in testing provides a focused means of building insight into delivery of research output.  

The goal is to continue exploring its application in order to refine it to algorithm stage. The intention of standardising is to make its application more workable in more research situations and more accessible to research practitioners industry-wide.

It is development such as this that has the potential to support our industry’s quest to remain relevant and competitive as a business service.

Following this process of research and development I feel confident in proposing that the validation of multiple perspectives on a data set shared through a value network and synthesised into an insights narrative, will enhance the shared value sought from research.

Jacqui Greeff is Managing Director at Answered, a Publicis Worldwide company in Johannesburg, South Africa. Jacqui brings over 25 years of research experience to the Answered team. She has had active research involvement across industries as diverse as automotive, entertainment, leisure, retail, education and fmcg. Jacqui is a SAMRA Accredited Researcher and holds an MBA from UCT’s Graduate School of Business, specialising in Executive Management. Her emphasis is on forward-looking research management, with the particular aim of understanding and applying research outcomes. You can reach her onjacqui.greeff@answeredinsight.co.za or her LinkedIn profile.   

References

Allee, V. (2002). A Value Network Approach for Modelling and Measuring Intangibles

Barnes, J (2015). Towards a Model of Improved Insight Development in Market Research. UCT GSB 2015

Bizshifts-trends. (2013). Design Thinking -Strategic Framework for Innovation. Retrieved December 1, 2014, from http://bizshifts-trends.com/2013/01/14/design-thinking-strategic-framework-for-innovation-and-growth-or-regurgitation-of-old-concepts/

Brown, T. (2008). Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review

Gray, S. (2010). Insights-What are they really? Quirk. Retrieved from http://www.quirk.biz/resources/article/4878/insights

Hasso-Plattner-Institut. (2014). HPI Stanford Design Thinking Research Program. Publications overview. Retrieved April 20, 2011, from https://hpi.de/en/dtrp/publications/overview.html

Martin, R. (2009). The Design of Business: Why design thinking is the next competitive advantage.

Stein, J., & Stren, R. (2001). Networks of knowledge. In Knowledge networks in global society (pp. 3–29).

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