A New Organizational Model for Highly Effective Insights Organizations: Part 1 1

By the ESOMAR Professional Standards team 

While the dust of GDPR is still settling, we can already see new privacy and data protection laws popping up everywhere. California has enacted a new far-reaching privacy law and the EU is moving ahead with new legislation that will determine whether you can continue using cookies for audience measurement. Countries like Brazil, Kenya and India are enacting GDPR-inspired privacy laws and data protection fines are breaking new records. Apart from data protection laws, ESOMAR also monitors regulations on publishing opinion polls around the world.

ESOMAR’s Public Affairs team monitors these developments to make sure that the needs, values and principles of the data, research and insights community are heard among legislators and regulators around the world. This article gives you a behind the scenes view on the on the work we do to promote and defend our sector.

In March two members of ESOMAR’s Professional Standards Committee travelled to Uruguay, where the national association organised a session with researchers, academics, journalists and members of the Uruguayan government. In October, the Public Affairs team took ESOMAR’s Legal Affairs Committee to Brussels where they met several key players in the European data protection debate. And, later in the year Kim Smouter, our Head of Public Affairs, met with Andrea Jelinek, the chair of the European Data Protection Board, at the Future of Privacy Forum Roundtable in Silicon Valley. In our meetings with them we were able to highlight some of our concerns and get some valuable feedback in return on our ongoing projects that help guide our members through privacy compliance.

Defending polls in Uruguay

In Uruguay there had been talk of the government regulating opinion and election polling. The national association for market researchers, CEISMU, asked ESOMAR to support their case against polling embargoes. ESOMAR sent two members of the Professional Standards Committee (PSC). Uruguay currently has a four-day blackout period for reporting polls before elections. This is one of the shortest in Latin America, where most and some of the longest pre-election blackout periods are. That is why it was so important for ESOMAR to support the national association in advocating against black-out periods.

Our PSC members were able to explain the Uruguayan government officials and journalists present that pre-election polls – when taken in the last week of an election campaign — have a high degree of accuracy. And that long embargoes leave decision-makers and the public overall with flawed information about the status of an election, depriving them of information they could use to cast an informed vote. Furthermore, they spoke about the importance of having pre-election information about candidate and public support, and the value of self-regulation, which ESOMAR endorses.

ESOMAR meets Brussels

Delegation visits to the EU institutions have become somewhat of a yearly tradition, see for example this recap movie. They prove to be an excellent way for a better mutual understanding. This year we had the pleasure to meet – among others – Olivier Micol, who’s head of Data Protection Unit at the European Commission, Kimmo Rossi, Head of Sector, Research and Innovation and Christiane Kirketerp de Viron, Member of Cabinet of Carlos Moedas, the EU Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation.

Through these meetings we were able to present our track record of ethical data handling and our concerns around the implementation of the GDPR, in particular the question of how to assign the roles of controller and processor. We also presented them with our work developing a GDPR Code of Conduct. This GDPR Code for the data, research and insights sector, will be a one of the means to show compliance with the GDPR. Our initiative was welcomed with great interest and our meeting partners were keen to learn more about it.

At the same time, the regulators informed us about the initiatives the EU is undertaking to stimulate research and innovation. For example, a new research cloud is developed which will be linked to all scientific databases in the EU. This cloud forms part of the effort of harmonisation across the EU and the idea is that as time goes on, the cloud will store increasing amounts of information and in 2 years should cover all databases.

Meeting the regulator in Silicon Valley

Thanks to our good relationship, the leading privacy think-tank Future of Privacy Forum invited ESOMAR to join a roundtable with Andrea Jelinek, Chair of the European Data Protection Board in San Francisco. Among the other ±20 attendees in the room were representatives from all the tech giants ranging from Salesforce to Uber, from Facebook to Google, and other players in this space.

Thanks to the small group and the fact the event was invitation-only, it gave us the opportunity to build links with one of the most important data protection regulators in the world. It also provided us with an opening to collaborate with them more directly on the topic of Codes of Conducts, they were particularly interested in our idea of using a Code of Conduct for data transfers outside of the EU, and in our idea of developing a self-regulation engine, SERENE, for handling complaints transparently, as well!


As for any sector it important for ESOMAR to have its voice heard by those drafting laws. It is the best way for them to understand what a sector (or company) is doing, and as such ensuring that laws are fit for purpose and don’t have unforeseen consequences. At the same time, it provides ESOMAR with the insight of what the laws are meant to regulate, and what not, and how they should be interpreted. By having people out in the field, ESOMAR is the global voice of the sector. As an ESOMAR member you are represented without the need to be present! So, you can focus on delivering even better insights, whilst we make sure you will still be able to do so in the future.