Monday, 11 September 2017

The Best of Impact 2017?

For the second year running I went along to The MRS Best of Impact at The Lowry, Manchester last week and I’ve been reflecting on what it delivered.

Firstly, I have to say that the idea of bringing the best papers from the MRS conference to the north-west is one which I fully support. I have written in the past on how London-centric the MRS can appear to be, so it’s great when events like this take place in the regions and are fully supported by key members of staff from the MRS itself.

Secondly, I would also like to say that this was a most enjoyable event, thanks partly to the sponsorship of Join the Dots and to the facilities and support provided by The Lowry, which were excellent.

My main reflections, however, focus on that very word, impact. I had thought the idea behind naming the conference in this way is to help try and promote how much impact market research can have on different industries and on society as a whole. But whilst the papers presented did have impact in themselves, it was difficult to see how and whether any or all the papers have had a real impact on the issues and industries on which the projects were focussed. Certainly not yet anyhow.

There were four papers in total and all were aptly described as quite ‘worthy’ by the conference chairman. One was based around the fashion industry, one centred on financial services, another on recycling and the final one on driving whilst using a mobile phone.

All papers were very well presented and all had impact. We had video footage of Londoners saying why they don’t and may well never recycle; we saw drivers seemingly unable to resist using their phones whilst at the wheel; and we witnessed a moving filmed interview with a participant turned collaborator who has dementia, talking of difficulties when dealing with banks and other financial institutions.

Whilst the papers themselves were all full of impact, the crux for me came when we heard or when we asked about the outcomes from the research. It turned out that we don’t know whether the gamification research has had any impact on the fashion client’s sales. The ‘selfless’ drivers, it was acknowledged, would probably not be affected by the campaign which was designed on the back of the ‘driving whilst using a mobile phone’ research.

On recycling, well, there again, it was unclear as to whether a follow-up campaign to this research was having an impact or would ever have an impact on the types of people who took part in the research.

And finally, admittedly it was early days, but the result of the dementia research seemed to be a series of papers, which may or may not have a long-term impact on financial institutions and how they deal with those people who have dementia.

Here were four ‘worthy’ papers, then, which did indeed have an impact on us as an audience, as they must have had at the main conference earlier in the year.

But as to whether the results from these excellent pieces of work will have real impact on the serious issues they raise, well I for one, would be interested to find out.

In all, then, great event but how are we defining the impact word? Are we saying the papers had impact and that’s enough? Or are we looking towards papers in the future, which don’t just have impact when presented, but can also demonstrate that they have had an impact on the issues and the industries on which they have been focussed?   

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