In 2016, ‘Post-Truth’ was the Oxford Dictionaries’ international word. The definition of post-truth is: “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
This definition implies that post-truths are created from people’s perceptions of the world and what they believe to be true is derived from personal beliefs (perhaps influenced by others) and emotional instincts rather than facts. Drawing conclusions this way and creating ‘alternative facts’ means that almost anything can become true — whether it is correct or not.
Alternative facts are not a new concept, they have been part of journalism and politics for centuries. However, in this age of digital advance and social media, the enhancement of readily available information and round the clock accessibility fuels the blurred lines between what’s true and what isn’t, also the influx and volume of information available makes it harder to distinguish between ‘facts’ and ‘alternative facts’.
In the post-truth era perception of information is just as important, if not more important than if the information is true or false (can be proved or dis-proved).
What is Insight?
When investing in research, all businesses expect to achieve insight from their findings. Insight provides direction to action — in a business context; what the business can improve/review or areas they should look to investigate further.
There are many words associated with ‘insight’ but ultimately it’s a deeper understanding, far beyond the facts. What defines insight from data is that it incorporates the journey and empathy included in the overall research process. It tells the story objectively — essential for determining the areas that require attention and creating relevant action.
The Post-Truth Participant
As discussed above, the post-truth era is one where people’s opinions are more important than facts and that facts are actually based on opinions and interpretations (alternative facts). When gathering feedback in a research setting, we often rely on participants’ emotional and perceptual responses to provide the findings which we then use to prove or disprove a hypothesis.
This would suggest that the concept of post-truth is part of data collection and is incorporated into all participant research. When we consider the insight derived from a piece of research involving participants then, it is highly likely to incorporate alternative facts.
The Post-Truth Researcher
Miss-interpretation of results may also be an effect of the post-truth era. If a client (be they internal or external) interprets an insight using their beliefs and emotional response — perhaps not the way the insight was intended to be understood — the actions resulting become the result of their post-truth or alternative facts.
This comes back to the blurred lines presented by alternative facts. If the objective insights are not clearly explained by the researcher delivering them, there is room for subjective client re-interpretation and in this circumstance, a potentially detrimental change in meaning.
To protect ‘participant facts’ when conducting research, researchers must be mindful of bias and other aspects that could lead or influence respondents. To produce strong and meaningful insights the researcher must be transparent about their creation (sample size, research methods used, etc.). They must ensure the feedback acquired is authentic whilst maintaining a full understanding of the clients’ objectives to ensure relevancy. And they must report and/or present with unequivocal clarity.
Post-truth in a media context can often be seen as a way to influence or wrongfully educate people with ‘fake news’. Whilst I have presented ways in which post-truth does have a presence in market research, in this context it does not attempt to present or use alternative facts intentionally or wrongfully but inevitably they play a part in both participant feedback and insight creation.
The original version of this article appeared on the FlexMR Insight Blog and can be accessed here.