Tim is a world-renowned specialist in the application of technology in the field of market and opinion research and is probably the most widely-published writer in the field. His roots are in data analysis, programming, training and technical writing. These days, as principal at meaning he works with researchers, users of research data and technology providers around the globe, as an independent advisor. He is quite passionate about improving the research process and empowering people through better use of technology.

The combative format of Question Time was the vehicle chosen for the March meeting of the ASC/MRS technology group, and your technology correspondent found himself in the hot seat, among the panel of pundits. The divide in MR-tech does not conform to party political lines, though it was possible to detect a ministerial air about Rowland Lloyd, from Ipsos MORI, representing the MR Agency party. There was possibly a touch of the government-in-waiting from the meticulously prepared Pat Molloy from the software provider Pulse Train. Gary Nelson, from DP supplier Cobalt Sky, but previously SPSS, was perhaps the LibDem who had defected from the Tories, which left me in the token free spirit role often taken by a representative of the fourth estate. Presiding, was AJ Johnson, representing ASC, but in his day-job also Ipsos MORI. The only lack on the panel was of the research consumer. The first question asked if software manufacturers wasting their time creating mixed mode interviewing systems that the industry does not need. It revealed several divisions among panel and audience. It is happening, but not very fast, and in a limited way Lloyd and others opined. But Molloy, whose own software has been pummelled into a state of mixed-mode fitness, sees it as inevitable, in order to overcome falling response rates and sampling inadequacies. I pointed out that mixed-mode is actually a basket of three different approaches – common authoring, different modes in parallel in different countries, and then different modes within one sample or one interview, and who could object to the first? Overall, a picture emerged that the technologists had been wise to anticipate what would soon become prevalent. As the question moved to the floor, the MR industry came across as not only staid, but illogical, like some religious fundamentalist, banging on about one carefully selected text applied to a period in the past, unwilling to reinterpret it in changing times. Technology stuck in the past was the subtext of the next question, deploring the lack of development in new analytical tools to replace Quantum and others. There was particular criticism of SPSS whose huge efforts to replace Quantum with something fit for a new era had only resulted in a new widget, but still based on a premise of a bygone age. Quantum looked here to stay for a while, though Johnson forced a show of hands to see who predicted it would still be in use ten years hence – there were only six hands among an audience of more than 50. But as all researchers know, expressed intention can be a fickle measure. The panel was on a roll with the next question on Web 2.0. Like the next version of anything, it can be all things to all people. It was how revealing many items that came up as being in need of a fix, alongside an alarming lack of consensus on what Web 2.0 was. For some it was a great new technology adventure about to start. My own rather isolated view was that the user-generated content aspect of Web 2.0 had the potential to subvert MR as we know it. Putting the respondent in control is not what agencies do; here it was a pity there was no-one to speak up for those that buy the research.

First published in Research, the magazine of MRS (The Market Research Society), August 2006 , Issue 483. Reproduced with permission.

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