Two years ago, I was a PhD graduate working as a key worker in a supermarket during the pandemic. At the time, I struggled with the dissonance of feeling like I didn’t fit people’s expectations of who and where I should be. It was only when I began my career in market research that I fully realised the benefit and potential of my varied experiences.
Since working in the market research industry, I’ve come to realise that what I experienced wasn’t unique to me, most of my peers fell into this profession too and have come to really value their hard-wrought skills from their unique background within their new role and industry. In fact, these skills have been used to design humanised research experiences, ones that don’t have to work hard to engage research participants and gain stakeholders the insights they truly need.
At the heart of market research is the generation of insights about people. Humanising research means approaching design, fieldwork, and analysis with empathy to produce meaningful insights generated from an appreciation for the diversity of experiences that consumers have. From my personal experience, here’s how to make the most out of this opportunity to create the best multi-skilled insight team.
Celebrating your Diverse Skill Set
The research skills and knowledge that I gained from my PhD are an obvious asset in market research, but also the experiences of teaching and delivering presentations, and the experience of researching sensitive topics and being mindful of the nuances of diversity and inclusivity in research projects are all beneficial skills to have gained as well. But also, from working in a supermarket during a global pandemic, I developed a lot of vital soft skills, such as effective teamwork, problem-solving, communication, and adaptability, all of which can be taken for granted but are actually important skills needed to relate to and interact with others involved in the research experience, from stakeholders to participants. Rather than feeling self-conscious about having a background outside of what might be considered the professional industries, celebrating the diversity of my experiences enables me to be a much better researcher.
It’s not only good to embrace the diversity of your own experiences, but it’s also good to be open about them and get to know your team members’ experiences too. The teams I work with have benefited greatly from sharing and celebrating our diverse backgrounds and skill sets — we can draw on each other’s specialisms when working on different research projects. For example, chatting with colleagues who have previous experience in the health and social work sectors was incredibly useful when approaching a health industry-related research topic earlier this year. Drawing on their first-hand experiences and familiarity with the language of the sector helped me to create research tasks that will engage participants — communicating in the language they use helped to capture and keep their attention, and then finding out how much time they actually have to complete the research task allowed me to make the task fit easily into their daily lives.
Whilst drawing on colleagues’ experiences isn’t and should never be a substitute for effective desk research, it can certainly help complement any desk research you do and can offer avenues for a more empathetic and humanised perspective on a research subject.
Human Experiences Lead to Humanised Research
It’s not just the “professional” skills and experiences that can be an asset to working in market research. Extra-curricular skills and experiences, those ‘outside-of-work’ interests that we all have can also be a source of useful knowledge and skills for any market research team. Some obvious skills might include aptitude with a variety of languages or time spent living in different cultures, which can be an asset to approaching international research projects — not only from understanding the best approach to framing language in the research but also how an appreciation for cultural nuance and understanding different audiences can help shape effective research design and analysis.
I’ve worked in teams where my colleagues’ interest in sports has been an asset in helping me to shape an understanding of a sector I have little interest or experience with, providing me with a better understanding of key terms when approaching the design for a specific research task. Experience with roleplaying games, both as a player and also when designing narratives for such games, can help equip you with skills for telling impactful research stories for stakeholders .
Having a diverse skill set and range of interests within a team can ultimately help to provide interesting ways of humanising the insight that your team produces. Whilst there is an interest within market research for using new technologies, including artificial intelligence, to help scale and speed up research and data production, humanising insight remains important , drawing meaningful insight from researcher experience.
Having a range of experiences in a team helps provide new ways of looking at data, and drawing out insights in interesting ways. Even when we don’t have direct experience with a subject or interest, we can use our skills to search for details of such experiences, adopting an empathetic approach to research that allows us to find and tell impactful stories to help drive meaningful insight from data. Numbers and quotations are plot points in a story that is woven together by an inquiring and empathetic approach to analysis — drawing on our empathy and experiences helps us to understand data in a deeper and more nuanced way, producing relevant, meaningful, and humanised insights for our clients.
Humanising Research Through Our Own Experiences Comes With Risk
While we need to celebrate the experiences and interests that we and our co-workers have, we also need to take into account the biases that come with those unique experiences. In tandem with drawing on our own experiences, we need to be mindful of the experiences of others, appreciating that our bias is not the only way to understand an issue.
This is where working within a team and appreciating the diversity of experience can be a benefit to humanising research, broadening our understanding and appreciation of the research subject, and ensuring more meaningful and actionable insights are reached.
Empathy is a key skill here, to look beyond our own experiences and the experiences of those close to us towards new perspectives and ways of thinking. Humanising research adds value to insight generation, but for a humanising approach to producing meaningful insight, it must be continually driven by empathy.
This article was originally published on the FlexMR Insights Blog and can be accessed here.