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Join the Making a Difference Competition!

The centrepiece of the ‘Making a Difference’ programme is an annual competition to highlight and promote how research has made a real difference to Not-for-Profits.

Send your entry by 13 April!

There will be three prizes; one for the best international NFP case study, one for the best local/domestic NFP case study and one for the most innovative case study.

This competition aims at raising awareness of the impact of great research on Not-For-Profits. Currently, many Not-For-Profits see research only in terms of population-level facts and figures on poverty, sanitation, medicine, education etc. They are mostly unaware of the immense value that great qualitative, ethnographic and new research methodologies can have on improving the effectiveness of their work. Our hope is through this initiative – which will highlight ‘Make a Difference’ case studies – to encourage the use of more insightful and inventive research and massively increase the overall impact of market research in building a better world!

Join the competition: all non-profit cases are welcome whether they are international, national or local!

More info on: http://www.esomarfoundation.org/making-a-difference-competition/

John Kearon

‘Making a Difference’ to Not-for-Profits


A message from John Kearon, President of the ESOMAR Foundation

Researchers are a wonderful lot.

We’re not particularly loud, extrovert or nakedly ambitious.

But we are generally curious, knowledgeable and keen to make a difference.

And a world in turmoil needs inventive solutions from researchers at their best, more than ever.

Which is exactly why the ESOMAR Foundation was set up, to build a better world using the know-how and resources of the Market Research community.

The Foundation is still small and run almost exclusively on a volunteer basis. So to maximise its impact with limited resources, we’ve decided to focus the Foundation on ‘Making a Difference’ to Not-for-Profits.  To this end, we’ve created an annual ‘Making a Difference’ programme, culminating each year at the ESOMAR Congress, with a celebration of the ways in which our community of the research willing has helped make the world a better place.

‘Making a Difference’ Competition [Entries by 13 April 2018]


The competition is the centre-piece of the Foundation’s ‘Making a Difference’ programme. It highlights and promotes how the best of research has made a significant difference to Not-For-Profits (NFP). If you think you have a case study that shows how research has really helped a Not-for-Profit, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE enter it to the competition before 13 April. You find all details on how to enter the competition on the ‘Making a Difference’ Annual Competition page on the ESOMAR Foundation website. All submissions will be added to the Foundation’s ‘Making a Difference’ online library and made freely available, to inspire and promote the use of market research in helping to build a better world.

There will be three ‘Making a Difference’ prizes; one for the best international NFP case study, one for the best local/domestic NFP case study and one for the most innovative case study. The winners will be announced at ESOMAR’s Asia Pacific Conference on 15 May. Each of the three winners win a donation for their featured Not-for-Profit and invited to present their work at a special ‘Making a Difference’ session at the 2018 ESOMAR Congress in Berlin on 25 September.

To help promote the impact of great research on NFPs, the Foundation is looking for speaking opportunities for the three winners, at Not-For-Profit conferences. In addition, ESOMAR have generously offered a ‘Making a Difference’ slot at every one of their conferences. The Foundation will invite presentations from those who submitted a ‘Commended’ case study and are located in the country where the ESOMAR conference is being held.

Raise awareness of the impact of great research on Not-For-Profits

Currently, many Not-For-Profits see research only in terms of population level facts and figures on poverty, sanitation, medicine, education etc. They are mostly unaware of the immense value that great qualitative, ethnographic and new research methodologies can have on improving the effectiveness of their work. Our hope is through the ever-increasing database and promotion of ‘Making a Difference’ case studies, we can encourage usage of more insightful and inventive research and massively increase the overall impact of market research in building a better world.

My hope for the coming years, is by securing the Foundation’s funding, focussing on helping Not-for-Profits and creating a large ‘community of the research willing’, that together we can build and extend the impact of the Foundation’s tremendous work to date, in building a better world.

So, join the ‘Making a Difference’ Annual Competition, help us celebrate the ways in which our community of the research willing has helped make the world a better place.


Research can help us understand the human condition

Can it go further, and help us to better it? We look at an advertising campaign run by the ESOMAR Foundation using research insight to improve people’s lives. Armed with a generous gift of online banner advertising space from AOL’s own Foundation Oath for Good, here is what happened.

Three years ago ESOMAR created the Foundation to use the knowledge, skills, creativity, interest and resources of researchers to help charities improve people’s lives.

To raise awareness, funds and engagement from the research industry, the Foundation decided to run its first advertising campaign, armed with a generous gift of online banner advertising space from AOL’s own Foundation Oath for Good. The challenge was the same as researchers and their commercial clients are always facing – how do you articulate your purpose into marketing that drives profitable growth? The goals of a non-profit may be broader than for a commercial brand but the skills are the same. This is the story of one such challenge – how to turn the purpose of the Foundation into a campaign that can use research insight to improve people’s lives.

We decided early on to focus the campaign on last year’s ‘Best Paper’ from Congress: an inspiring case study from My Choices Foundation, on how a better understanding of the causes of sex-trafficking in India could help tackle the issue.

Research at its best

The My Choices Foundation (an anti-trafficking charity) and their research agency Final Mile, explored the causes of sex trafficking. The research spanned interviews with NGOs, campaigners, but also individuals directly involved, such as villagers whose daughters had been trafficked.

It was powerful, complex, and hard work – inevitably given the difficulty and raw emotion surrounding the issue.

Their work represented research at its best – and we decided to translate its nuanced and complex findings into a campaign that would grab people emotionally and raise both awareness and money. We were delighted to donate our time and skills to help.

We knew that emotional impact would be absolutely critical to the campaign’s success. As the work of Les Binet and Peter Field has demonstrated, the best route to short-term response and long-term effectiveness for a campaign is emotion. That applies to non-profits too.

Sex trafficking is obviously a highly emotive subject. But because it’s so harrowing, the sad truth is it’s an all too human response to switch off, block out the unpleasant information, and ignore it. That was our first challenge. Our second was the media space generously donated by AOL for the campaign required a banner ad approach. Banner ads have a bad reputation for emotional advertising – too many years of bland or intrusive campaigns mean people tune them out. To do justice to My Choice Foundation’s research we needed an emotional approach that would generate an immediate response, as well as build the ESOMAR Foundation’s long-term fundraising and mission to improve people’s lives.

John Kearon is CEO of System 1 Group PLC and President of the ESOMAR Foundation.

I am one in a million

How Street Invest  and Big Sofa created a remarkable video : ‘I am One in a Million’ from qualitative research findings – with the objective of changing the public perception of Street Children – to humanise them.

Street children’s stories: “I am one in a million”    

Street children are young people who live and / or work on the streets and they can be found in every country of the world. The global population of street children is contested, however UNICEF state that the figure almost certainly runs into tens of millions and have put this figure as high as 150 million.

The need for accurate and disaggregated data is vital in providing support to this ‘missing’ population and qualitative and quantitative data have roles to play. To quote ODI’s The Data Revolution: “even the most willing governments cannot efficiently deliver services if they do not know who those people are.”

Positive change starts with informed perceptions

Quantitative data is needed to demonstrate the scale of the issue – the number of children living on the streets of a given country and the demographic of that population. But it is qualitative data that paints a true picture of street children’s realities and the complexity of the challenges they face day to day. Without such data, stakeholders, from NGOs to governments, cannot be properly equipped to intervene in street children’s lives.

Misinformed perceptions can lead to highly damaging actions. For example, if street children are seen as criminals, it can lead to incarceration and violence. If they are seen as passive victims with no rights, they may be removed from the streets at all costs, even if it is against their will or not in their best interest.

StreetInvest, a global charity that provides support to street children, approached video analytics company Big Sofa, to conduct a qualitative research study into street children, to try and challenge these perceptions as a starting point to drive change. 

Ethnography on the streets

The research methodology was developed based on exploratory and ethnographic qualitative methods and was conducted in four countries: Guatemala, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and India.

Street children are often highly mistrustful of adults, who they may associate with abuse, which made access a barrier. It was agreed that the most effective and ethical* way to conduct the interviews was to utilise existing relationships between the street children and the ‘street workers’ in StreetInvest’s network. Street workers are trained adult social workers, who operate in street environments to build strong, trusting relationships with street children, to help them develop and grow in a positive way.

The discussion guide covered seven key areas: 1. relationship with family; 2. context around leaving home; 3. everyday lives, especially experiences around food and shelter; 4. experiences with “others” including non-street connected adults and children, other street children and institutions such as police, government officials; 5. work and money; 6. their knowledge of their rights; 7. future aspirations.

Fieldwork commenced over a six-week period and during this time, the street workers recorded 21 interviews and additional observational footage, with footage ranging in length between 2 minutes and 56 minutes.

The power of video analytics

The data was uploaded to Big Sofa’s platform after being translated and transcribed. The videos were analysed within the platform, its technology allowing analysts to code and tag specific speech patterns and phrases, based on the transcript, as well as behaviors, based on the visuals. Codes were drawn from the discussion guide, for example “Rights” and additional themes emerged during the analysis process, such as “Playtime” and “Religion”.

After analysing the raw footage and identifying key insights, a three minute long output film was created. The film used direct quotes from the children, organised thematically to share powerful insights into their lives. StreetInvest also have access to the extensive, searchable online video library of street child interviews, stored securely on Big Sofa’s platform.

Impactful, shareable output

Big Sofa’s technology can draw quantitative data from qualitative inputs, but the relatively small scale of the study meant the dataset could not be used for quantification. No matter: the power of this study lies in the shareable and impactful output film.

The film is a versatile asset which StreetInvest will use to support numerous streams of its strategy, including awareness raising and advocacy. One such example is its inclusion in StreetInvest’s ‘Values and Attitudes’ workshop. These workshops have been delivered to high-level stakeholders, including the Department of Social Welfare in Ghana and the film will help build deeper empathy and understanding among participants. Through this research, street children have been able to share their own stories, using in their own voice, in a manner which can be shared with those who have the power to change their lives.

* All the street workers involved were trained in Child Protection and informed consent was gained from the young people who participated in the filming.

About the Authors:

Georgina Day, Charity Impact and Communications at StreetInvest, UK

Flora Somogyi, Consultant at Big Sofa, UK

Transforming LGBT Opponents into Allies

How Research Guided Program Strategy and the Behavior and Attitudinal Shift that Resulted from It


In 2015 the only LGBT non-profit organization in Cambodia, Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK), commissioned Kantar TNS Cambodia to conduct a large-scope baseline study to objectively verify and understand the situation of the LGBT population in Cambodia especially from the straight community’s perspective. The Opinions, Attitudes and Behavior toward the LGBT Population in Cambodia study employed both qualitative and quantitative methods. The 1,085 sample was among straight people and 478 among LGBT respondents in 10 provinces and Phnom Penh capital. The study was representative of the Cambodian target population with respect to gender, income, and urban/rural populations. Focus group discussions were also used to unearth personal narratives and experiences to better understand the trends we learned through survey research.

Key findings from the research have been used by RoCK for the organization’s strategic planning and program implementations. One of the programs is a training on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) and LGBT human rights providing to the straight community with a particular focus on local authorities in order to make LGBT issues and people more visible, ordinary, normal and natural as part of everyday life in Cambodia.

To understand how our 2015 study has been used to create impact, we further explored RoCK’s program implementation, specifically among straight people. The effect of the program, which is a result of the research, is demonstrated through case studies and through the 2017 survey results (was comprised of 1,683 straight people across 11 provinces and the capital city in both urban and rural areas).

LGBT rejection and acceptance levels among straight people

Evidence from a follow-up study in 2017 with straight people, who had not participated in RoCK’s workshop, indicates that the living environment for LGBT in Cambodia has not improved. Hence, Cambodia needs an intervention to improve the living conditions for LGBT people by transforming LGBT opponents, especially extreme opponents, into allies.

We classified LGBT opponents and supporters into four categories (graph below). The LGBT rejection and support spectrum shows that while no less than three in ten Cambodians completely reject LGBT in the last two years, the number drops to only one in ten for those who completely support LGBT in the same periods. Although about half of Cambodians support LGBT, they tend to moderately support them (nearly four in ten) rather than completely support them (one in ten).

Figure 1: LGBT rejection and support spectrum


RoCK intervention program results

Post-test of the workshops conducted by RoCK among 149 participants shows that after the training all of them agree same-sex love is human rights; the majority (97%) come to an understanding that there should be laws or policies supporting LGBT couples and recognizing their relationship; and almost all of them (97%) believe people are LGBT because of “their nature” not “their choice”.

Our case studies with four straight participants in two provinces, Kompong Speu and Battambang, reaffirm the knowledge gained mentioned above. The knowledge shift that ultimately leads to attitudinal and behavioral change among straight people across LGBT rejection and support spectrum is illustrated in our paper http://www.tnsglobal.com/press-release/transforming-lgbt-opponents-allies.

An added value for RoCK and other NGOs

It is evident that the LGBT problems will not improve without a program intervention given that SOGI and LGBT rights are a relatively new – or still nonexistent – topic in public discourse. Being in an infant stage can also offer advantages in mainstreaming straight people in Cambodia since it is easier to raise awareness among those who have no knowledge than to teach them to “unlearn” in order to “relearn”.

RoCK workshops that have been conducted since 2016 positively impact participants we interviewed, especially the opposed ones. Since RoCK has not had concrete way to measure long-term impact of the program, it would be good for RoCK to conduct rigorous evaluation in order to closely monitor the perceptions, attitudes and behavior change of their participants. We are very pleased that RoCK contacted us after we finished our paper for input on workshop evaluation to track the impact of the program.

In addition, we have been invited to be guest speakers to share our findings. For instance, WaterAid Cambodia recently contacted us to present our findings to their staff in order to raise their awareness, and to integrate LGBT topic into their Equity and Inclusion Program. Moreover, we are probably invited to give our speech to LGBTIQ activists, experts and scholars working on SOGIESC issues and all other allies who will attend ILGA Asia Regional Conference happening in Cambodia from December 04-08, 2017. We hope that the learning will be informative and relevant to other countries facing with these same struggles.

Lastly, one of the recommendations, tracking the program impact, has already been implemented by RoCK. We do hope that other recommendations in the paper will be taken into consideration by other NGOs, especially by RoCK in order to improve the lives of LGBT people in Cambodia 


Vinh Dany, Menh Vuthisokunna and Rebecca Norris (2015). Opinion, Attitude and Behavior toward LGBT population in Cambodia

CCHR. (2015) ‘LGBT Bullying in Cambodia’s Schools’

About the authors

Dany Vinh is a Senior Research Manager at KANTAR TNS Cambodia.

Layhour Sao is a Senior Research Executive at KANTAR TNS Cambodia.

Turning a corner on negative perceptions of refugees in Europe

The world is currently facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II. There are 22.5 million refugees in the world. And the largest group, 5 million, are refugees from Syria. At the same time, refugees have negative connotations, with the European public’s propensity to help being on shaky ground.

We investigated whether increasing public education of the refugee crisis by tackling the most prevalent barriers to support with targeted communication, can positively influence a change in public attitudes and behaviours. To achieve our goal our study consisted of four main objectives:

  • Add to current literature on public understanding and sentiment towards refugees
  • Identify the most prevalent barriers to the European (UK and Germany) public supporting refugees taking refuge in Europe
  • Identify the most prevalent barriers to the European (UK and Germany) public taking action in support of refugees
  • Identify the most effective communication strategies to address these challenges (UK).

We hypothesised that by increasing public awareness and education, revealing the personal stories behind the “refugee” label, and using a targeted communication strategy, it is possible to positively influence public perceptions. However, we also aimed to drive behavioural support and were not convinced this was a realistic goal among those who currently oppose refugees in Europe. Thus, to achieve our objective we targeted two different segments:

  • Attitudinal target: those who oppose refugees coming to their country but are open to learning more about the crisis
  • Behavioural target: those who do not oppose refugees coming to their country but do not currently take action in offering their support (e.g. donating, volunteering).

Our research was designed based on five underlying principles:

  1. Qual-Quant Integration: Using traditional open-ends and video responses valuably enriched our understanding of public sentiment and the ways in which key barriers need to be tackled. Our integrated approach provided a holistic, nuanced and accurate understanding of public perceptions, whilst achieving the speed, scale and validity delivered by a quantitative survey.
  2. Timed responses: to capture immediate, non-rationalised associations with the term ‘refugee’ respondents were given 20 seconds to provide a one-word answer.
  3. Behavioural measurement: At the end of the survey participants were given the opportunity to take action in support of refugees by clicking on a website link to sign a petition, donate money, volunteer, or any other action. This behavioural measurement provides an added layer of insight into the effectiveness of communication tested and the validity of respondents’ attitudinal conversion.
  4. Actionable Insights: We used annotated heat maps, in combination with our qualitative analysis to gain a precise understanding of what information resonates most strongly and why.
  5. Iterative Process: to successfully target the right communication to the right people we deployed an iterative, two-phase process, in which the learnings from Phase 1 informed the design and focus of Phase 2.

Phase 1

The purpose of our first phase was to be exploratory, our objective being three-fold:

  • To gain a holistic picture of public sentiment towards refugees
  • To identify the three most prevalent barriers to attitudinally and actively supporting refugees in Europe
  • To understand the underlying drivers of these barriers to create targeted communication to test in Phase 2.

We evaluated 14 barriers for our attitudinal target group and 12 for our behavioural target group, using a Maximum Differential scaling trade-off methodology based on Bayes Theorem to rank their importance. To select the three most important barriers to tackle in Phase 2 we used TURF analysis. With this methodology we were able to identify the combination of barriers that would have the biggest penetration rate within the population.

Phase 2

Phase 2 aimed to identify the type of communication that is most effective at tackling our selected barriers, by triggering a change in perception or willingness to actively help refugees.For each barrier we tested three types of communication. For our attitudinal target group we tested a personal story and factual information, both related to a specific concern, and a general personal story that incorporated multiple non-specific elements relating to the refugee crisis.

Figure 1. Statistics stimuli for barrier “Refugees increase the risk of terrorism”

In contrast, our behavioural target group were presented with information on different opportunities to actively support refugees. Our study reveals there is opportunity to turn a corner on negative perceptions through a targeted communication strategy. We find the biggest barrier to attitudinal support is the easiest to tackle and almost 90% of our behavioural target positively impacted by the communication tested chose to take action at the end of the survey. However, interestingly, we uncover that some barriers are easier to overcome than others, the most effective form of communication depends on the barrier being tackled and outcomes differ in terms of the type of support triggered. Our key finding were the following:

  • The first and most important finding is that it is possible to positively change peoples’ perception of refugees and drive supportive action.
  • One message doesn’t fit all. Personalized messages have the biggest impact on peoples’ perceptions, compared to more generic stories.- Whether statistics or an individual refugees’ personal story is most effective at countering public concerns depends on the barrier being tackled- There is a need for communication to more clearly differentiate between refugees and economic migrants as they are often grouped together, being perceived to have an equally negative impact on society
  • There is an opportunity to increase positive action by educating people on the different ways they can contribute to helping refugees (e.g. donating clothes, volunteering etc.)

Our project therefore consults on the biggest opportunities available for stakeholders, in terms of which segment to target depending on their objective and provides actionable guidelines on how best to communicate to trigger positive change.

Going forwards, we feel there is opportunity for further research to uncover the extent to which UK findings are similar in other European markets and countries where refugees are a concern, in order to continue consulting on how to turn a corner on negative perceptions and increase public support for refugees.

Nijat Mammadbayli, Research Analyst, SKIM, Netherlands

Patricia Dominguez, Senior Research Analyst, SKIM, UK

Samantha Bond, Research Manager, SKIM, Netherlands


Phyllis Macfarlane

ESOMAR Foundation run a session at ESOMAR Congress 2017


A review by Phyllis Macfarlane

The session titled ‘Making the World a Better Place’ aimed at debating some ways forward to help tackle societal issues.



“This is the people’s agenda, a plan of action for ending poverty in all its dimensions, irreversibly, everywhere, and leaving no one behind,” said Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, at the launch of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s)

This session at the ESOMAR 2017 Congress was focussed on ESOMAR Foundation’s objective to help the Development Aid Sector use research more, and more effectively, to achieve ‘better results’, and the Paragon Partnerships’ objective to help the UN to ‘ leave no-one behind’.

To us market researchers it’s obvious that if you try and change behaviour without really understanding people’s thinking and culture, then you are doomed to failure. You might do something that seems perfectly logical to the western mind, but fail to take account of the recipients’ real feelings and emotions, and it just won’t have the effect you expected. So, without the use of good market research, most aid initiatives are likely to fail. And yet this is exactly what happens  – a lot of the time!

The objective of this session was to showcase the work we have done so far, as ESOMAR Foundation and Paragon, to demonstrate the real difference that good market research can make to aid programmes, in the hope that other NGO’s can learn from these examples.

And here are some remarkable facts:

The value of the Development Aid Sector is $142.6B  (http://www.oecd.org/dac/development-aid-rises-again-in-2016-but-flows-to-poorest-countries-dip.htm). If only 1% of this money were spent on market research it would represent a $1.4B opportunity for the MR Industry. So, as Steve Kretschmer, of the Surgo Foundation,  expressed so eloquently in the Panel Session, this is a real opportunity for the Industry, as well as a way to make the world better.  He said that he knows of many, many examples  where much of the aid money spent was invested poorly or completely  wasted because little or no real ‘why?’ insights were identified to guide the design of interventions and solutions.

As the first presenter, Hannah Surabhi, of My Choices Foundation, India, showed – research had informed the actions they took all the way through their programme to prevent sex-trafficking in India  – had they done what they originally intended they would not have achieved anything. In fact, had they not had Final Mile’s insights they would have run with a campaign that likely would have done more harm than good.

Georgina Day, of Street Invest, and Flora Somogyi, of Big Sofa, told how they collaborated to create a remarkable video : ‘I am One in a Million’ from qualitative research findings – with the objective of changing the public perception of Street Children – to humanise them.

Too many people dismiss Street Children as criminals and a threat to society. Or they just see them as passive victims  – who need rescuing. Whereas what is really required is to respect Street Children’s realities. Children live on the streets for many reasons, but they often face similar issues: including violent abuse, stigma, political discrimination and rights violations.

In a recent consultation with street youth, hosted by the United Nations, one child said: “People don’t see street children as human beings. When the police clear us off the street they boast that they are removing the rubbish from town.”  Georgina also told us about Street Invest’s unique quantitative method of counting street children – qual and quant working together, to leave no-one behind.  

Sonia Whitehead of BBC Media Action collaborates with media partners to reach more than 200 million people – they work large-scale, mainly in fragile states, to achieve governance, health and resilience outcomes.

In the last 5 years BBC Media Action have carried out a lot of quantitative research. For example,  in 2016 they surveyed over 20,000 people from across their projects.   However, they have also increasingly realised the need for qualitative research to contextualise it, to understand people more deeply, and to explain the impact that they are having.  Also, frequently project budgets don’t enable them to do quantitative surveys – so more and more they need to construct strong qualitative research that will provide donors with the evidence they need. Just as for commercial research, Qualitative research is used to understand difficult-to-reach populations, explore sensitive subjects, and unpick and understand quantitative data. And it’s just as necessary for the Aid sector to do this as it is for any commercial ‘customer-centric’ company.

Alexis Le Nestour described the journey that Save the Children and ESOMAR Foundation/Paragon are on to find ways to research complex issues like Adolescent Girls’ Diet, and Child Marriage, and Attitudes to Beast-Milk Substitute. He identified that the ways in which NGO’s look at research questions can be quite different from how commercial organisations look at their issues. NGO’s are interested in tackling big, complex questions that are sometimes hard to decompose.  Save the Children works with the most marginalised populations which are not often covered by standard market research: there may not be agencies in the poorest countries in the world or in fragile countries; survey techniques may not be appropriate; some of the issues are extremely sensitive , for example trauma, sexual violence etc,. We do need to work at communication and education if we are to achieve our objective of getting research used more.

In summary, we showed several excellent examples of how Qualitative research had made the difference between success and failure. How  research can change perceptions.

So why isn’t more qual and quant research done by the sector?

  • Because Qual research is not seen as rigorous enough by donors
  • Because it’s difficult to measure change – you have to take a longer term view than most Aid project timetables allow
  • Because we can’t communicate properly – yet!

So, what we’ve learnt in the last year is that it’s difficult to break down the barriers, even when everyone is trying hard.

Acceptance of Qualitative research is low – we just have to work harder to demonstrate how necessary Qual is to solving problems – and we have to improve the quality of qual research practice and reporting.

And the Quant requirement is complex – the data is difficult to collect and the audience can be difficult to find – new, robust, methodologies are required.

Also, NGO’s are conflicted – they hope that new tech approaches will help – but they know that unless the research is properly ‘scientific’ then it won’t be accepted.

But just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean that should give up – au contraire! – we just have to work harder to find the right way to communicate our value – to understand the issues , break them down and find the insights to resolve them.

It sometimes feels like we’re banging our heads against a brick wall – but, as we learnt from both Keynote speakers on the following day at Congress, actually nothing worthwhile is achieved without a great deal of effort. And whilst the Client Panel, also on the following day, showed that the commercial sector has the imperative of wanting research to be done more frequently, faster and cheaper, in the Development Aid sector they need more long term thinking, rigour, and real human understanding. Exactly what we can deliver – if only we can learn the language.

The Market Research Industry  can make the world a better place by helping the UN monitor progress on the 2030 SDG’s and by helping the Development Aid sector do the right things to change lives.

As ESOMAR Foundation and Paragon we are working together for this – we look for your support!

(Originally posted in RWConnect)

Look beyond numbers: we need to know why change happens

Sonia Whitehead, Head of Research Programmes at BBC Media Action gave an insightful presentation at an ESOMAR Foundation session recently held in Amsterdam during the ESOMAR Congress. The session aimed at debating some ways forward to help tackle societal issues.

Working in the development sector I am aware that, particularly over the last few years, donors and others expect project results to be quantifiable. Numbers talk.

This was apparent at the UN World Data Forum in Cape Town in January when we looked at how the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) will be measured, and it was discussed again at the Esomar World Research Congress in Amsterdam this week. Donors want statistics to demonstrate impact and show a project is value for money, but aren’t as confident using insights from qualitative research.

In my team we crunch a lot of numbers. In 2016, for example, we surveyed more than 20,000 people, which yielded strong results. For example, a statistical analysis of governance data across seven countries (which controlled for confounders such as people’s age, education levels and existing interests) shows that people who listened to or watched our programmes know more about politics and get more involved in civic life. In our health work, we used quantitative data to understand how change happens.

But we have increasingly come to appreciate the need for qualitative research to contextualise our data and explain why we are having an impact. We’re not alone.

At the Esomar conference I took part in a panel with colleagues from My Choices Foundation, StreetInvest, and Save the Children to showcase how qualitative research can provide greater value to the development sector. I summarised what we had learned from our recent projects.

Story behind the numbers

Qualitative research helps us to explain the story behind quantitative data.

Our radio health shows in Ethiopia, Jember (Maternal Light) and Biiftuu Jireenya (Dawn of Life) aim to help women have safer pregnancies and deliveries, and improve the health of newborn babies. Our surveys showed they were reaching a huge audience – around 21 million people across three states – more than a third of the adult population.

However, analysis of our data showed it was difficult to isolate the impact of our programmes. The health sector in Ethiopia was changing fast the government and donor investment leading to local health workers being trained across the country. This investment was reaping benefits; data from the Demographic and Health Survey showed the percentage of women going for antenatal care had jumped from 27 % to 62 % between 2011 and 2016. But what impact were we having?

To understand, we designed qualitative research, whereby we spoke to women and those they felt influenced their decisions (such as their local health extension worker, their husbands and close family members).

Women told us how health services and social norms had changed since they had given birth to their older children. Things that had been unthinkable, such as giving birth at a health facility, were now possible. They were also able to identify storylines and items in the shows that made them think differently about what was “normal” during pregnancy and birth. The shows were reinforcing the advice that health workers were giving – and health workers also felt women trusted them more because they were saying the same information that they had heard on the radio.

Reaching vulnerable people

A limitation of quantitative research is that it’s hard to reach vulnerable groups such as refugees or survivors of gender-based violence. They are less likely to agree to a face-to-face survey or might not have a fixed address. In this situation, it helps to use qualitative research techniques that put respondents at ease.

Last year, we spoke to Syrian refugees travelling from Greece to Germany to understand how humanitarian agencies could best communicate with them. We employed Arabic-speaking researchers and trained them to use a narrative approach, where they sat with a refugee for at least an hour, hearing about their journey and the part communication had played in it. Being listened to, rather than asked a series of fixed questions, helped the respondents feel comfortable and more likely to share information.

Qualitative research can also help us understand sensitive issues. In Syria, we assessed our radio drama Hay el Matar. To understand issues around the conflict we asked a trusted, local NGO to use projective techniques. This involved asking respondents to discuss the feelings of others – either people in their community or an “extremist” character in the drama. People felt more comfortable talking about how others view violence, or explaining the motives of a fictional character, than talking about themselves.

We discovered that Syrians interpreted people’s accents as a strong signal for which side of the conflict they were on. We relayed this to our radio producers who took greater care with the accents of the actors. We could not have grasped these nuances with quantitative data alone.

Insights on a budget

There’s another cold, hard fact to take into account. Conducting quantitative research, on the scale needed to measure media interventions, is expensive. Project budgets often don’t stretch to this so we need to gain qualitative insights in the absence of large-scale, representative surveys.

At the end of the panel discussion in Amsterdam this week, the Esomar Foundation’s Phyllis MacFarlane asked a crucial question: “What does the development sector need to do for qualitative research to be taken more seriously? Steve Kretschmer from Surgo Foundation summed it up nicely. Quantitative data needs to be used to explain the “what” he said, but when it comes to the “why”, well-designed qualitative research is invaluable. He added that the development sector could work with the commercial sector to adopt practices such as using video to capture emotions (rather than relying on what people say) to make the most of audience insight and – most importantly – to make a difference.

More on that another time …

Sonia Whitehead is Head of Research at BBC Media Action.

(Originally posted in BBC Media Action Insight Blog)


Join the ‘Research for Good’ Competition

Give a chance to the most inspiring example of research for social good in action to be of help to NGOs, their causes and the world!

Submit by 16 December 2017!



Do you do Social research? Does your research contribute to understanding the human condition to better the human condition? Are you keen to showcase your unique insights to the world through an advertising campaign in 2018? The best, most inspiring and surprising example will form the basis of the 2018 advertising campaign supported by System1 advertising agency and Oath (charity arm of AOL).

Inspired by the Meena’ story and willing to portray similar stories where research helped bettering the human condition, the ESOMAR Foundation is running the Research for Good Competition.


How to enter?

Fill in the entry form and send your submission by 16 December 2017!


Understanding the human condition, to better the human condition.

 In collaboration with:



Sex trafficking, poverty, street children, child marriage…research can help finding solutions

 My Choices Foundation, BBC Media Action, StreetInvest, Save the Children and Surgo Foundation have worked hard together with the market research industry in looking at the insights that help finding the most appropriate solutions to these societal problems affecting millions of people around the world!

On 12 September these organisations will present their findings at an ESOMAR Foundation event and will debate some ways forward to help tackle these societal issues. The session will be part of the ESOMAR Annual Congress to be held in Amsterdam on 11-13 September.

Meena’s story about sex trafficking in India is just one the stories we feature at this event….

Read more about Meena’s story

Not able to attend in person? No problem, you can follow this session and other parts of the event for free by registering to ESOMAR TV

For more information contact us at: info@esomarfoundation.org