Insight to Foresight — A Review of ESOMAR Congress 2022

It’s hard to summarise a conference that condensed so much into three days. ESOMAR Congress touched on everything from the ethical challenges facing the research industry to methodology best practices, inspiring visions for the future to bold explorations of the past. Perhaps the best representation of the event was the opening keynote delivered by Jeremy Gutsche, author of Create the Future. In thirty minutes, Jeremy presented a view of the world as a deeply interconnected organism that evolves at a frenetic pace.

Over the course of the conference, three themes eventually emerged. Not just in the papers and presentations but in the energy of the attendees. After many lockdowns, connecting in person again felt familiar — but different. Here’s what I took from the experience.

Innovation Is Everywhere

When researchers discuss innovation, its often in a technological sense. The impact of the metaverse, new internet enabled interactions, artificial intelligence and other ideas that are making the transition from science fiction to reality. But Congress was a firm reminder that innovation isn’t just that.

Sure, there was plenty of inspiring new technology on display — from wearables to fraud busting algorithms. But there were also explanations of new legal frameworks, best practices for maintaining participant welfare, fresh takes on established methodologies and much more. The qualitative space in particular is bursting with ideas on how to grow empathetic businesses, achieve a robust understanding of diverse consumers and tell compelling stories.

Innovation is everywhere and #ESOMAR75 was an important reminder that the future is built on new frameworks, best practices & ideas — not just technology.

Research Bears Responsibility

In many ways, data is power. Without it we struggle to make a commercial impact. We struggle to make a relevant social impact. And we are led by our own biases. But with that power comes a responsibility too. A responsibility to do the right thing.

It was refreshing to hear from speakers and panels who were embracing that responsibility — not just in ethical dilemmas but in ways that are actively changing the world for the better. Scilla Alecci’s keynote on the inside story of the Pandora Papers, a massive feat in data collection, analysis and storytelling, was a particular highlight. And it was similarly encouraging to see the topics of carbon neutrality, equality, financial security and other areas of global policy broached with enthusiasm.

A Diverse, Global Community

When I published my review of INBOUND 2022, I highlighted the theme of community. It was no small secret. In fact, many of the presentations directly pointed to community as the future of marketing. A future in which having a place to belong matters — and those that facilitate it are the real winners. Well, ESOMAR75 was living proof of this theory in action.

More than simply a meeting of minds, I found myself consistently impressed by the range of individuals and companies given a voice. Brands, agencies, industry bodies, policy makers, futurists and entrepreneurs mingled freely throughout the event — exchanging ideas and bouncing off one another. This was aided, of course, by a plethora of social events and excursions that made the most of all the venue — and the vibrant city of Toronto — had to offer.

Big Questions and Fresh Thinking

The call to arms for ESOMAR75 was to think big. To ask the question, “What if?” It’s one that, to fully and truthfully answer, requires a reset. To reflect on the past, learn and move forward. In many ways, that’s exactly what the conference felt like. It opened with the official passing of the ESOMAR leadership baton, celebrated hard work throughout, then closed with back-to-back presentations on the future of the industry and the past years.

To know what the future might look like, we must reflect on the past and have bold imaginations in equal measure. That’s how #ESOMAR75 answered the pivotal question, what if…?.

At various points throughout the conference, attentions turned specifically to young researchers, to clients, to industry bodies and to individual specialisms. These spotlights served as an important reminder that the insights industry is not one big monolith. We each have a part to play and our own unique perceptions. Some of the greatest lessons I learnt were from outside of my wheelhouse; the impacts of social commerce, the uses of geospatial analysis, plus the intersections between big data and anthropology.

This was an agenda that wasn’t afraid to ask complex questions. They don’t all have an answer today. But I’m sure many will have left Toronto inspired to learn more, or to actively work on the challenges facing our industry. As Daniel Quinn from The Forge asked — what would the future look like if we were serious about disrupting ourselves?

This article was originally published on the FlexMR Insights Blog and can be accessed here.

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