What do mayors and market research have in common?

Political theorist Benjamin Barber’s talk at TEDGlobal 2013,“Why Mayors Should Rule the World” holds a lesson about our political institutions but is also surprisingly relevant for the effective use of market research. Barber contends that mayors have an extremely influential role in shaping the world because they are much more effective at actually getting things done than other parts of government (e.g., Congress, Executive Office, etc.). Mayors can’t stay mired in ideological debate; if potholes don’t get filled the mayor loses her job.

Barber’s point about getting things done is relevant to those of us who produce or rely on market research. No matter how insightful and valuable the findings may be, data needs to translate into action in order to have been a worthwhile investment of budget and time.

Some teams and organizations are adept at making the connection between data and action – they understand data, they have a culture of making data driven decisions, or the implications of the research are relatively straightforward to implement.  In other situations, translating data into action is more challenging—perhaps because the implications are complex or far-reaching or because market research isn’t a typical process step.

Isurus has a protocol for guiding organizations to make decisions and take action based on the results of a research study.

The protocol is based on accepted principles of human behavior, including:

  • Most people process information more fully when they take an active part in interpreting the information rather than passively absorbing it.  For example, students achieve a better command of information when they help teach it to someone else.
  • Most people are more open to change and even criticism if they are a part of the evaluation process. For example, employees are more accepting of annual performance evaluations when the process includes a two-way flow of information.
  • Most people require time to reflect and absorb information and ideas – especially if the new information and ideas conflict with their existing beliefs.
  • A standard and systematic process raises the visibility and accountability of activity.
  • Even with the best intentions, the inertia associated with day-to-day activities and extinguishing fires makes it easy to push off taking any action that requires more meetings, more work and change.

The specific details of the approach are customized for each client with the major components consisting of:

  • Identify at project kick-off the people who will be responsible for taking actions based on the results and build their buy-in for the research purpose and structure, integrating them into the research team as needed.
  • When the research is complete, provide opportunities for stakeholders to review and digest the research results separately from activities that require them to generate ideas for action.  For example, circulate a debrief document in advance of a meeting or plan two meetings (one for sharing results, one for planning action).  A one-time presentation doesn’t provide the stakeholders with the opportunity to both understand the findings and generate meaningful ideas for implementing them.
  • Use a structured working session to develop a concrete set of strategic and tactical actions that the organization should consider based on the research results.
  • Assign accountability and milestones for reviewing and implementing the resulting ideas.  The structure of this step varies significantly based on the initiative, the team, the organization, etc.

This process provides a path for implementing the research findings and achieving a return on the research investment.  Just like mayors, at the end of the day market research has to fill the potholes, plow the snow, build the new bike lanes, etc. or it will be replaced.