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Merging thinking with doing – does insights activation need a rethink?

In a world characterised more by ‘doing’ and less pure ‘thinking’, researchers must pay as much attention to execution as they do analysis, argues Edward Appleton. 

The world of global qualitative research descended on Valencia last week for the ninth bi-annual two-day conference hosted jointly by the QRCA and the AQR. Co-chaired by Susan Sweet and Jigsaw’s Peter Totman, the conference motto was ‘Staying Curious’.

One recurring theme was ‘insights activation’, with InsitesConsulting’s Tom de Ruyck suggesting the need for a re-focus on this area: not just generating insights but finding new ways of engaging client stakeholders to get involved with the findings and take immediate action.

Happy Thinking People’s Claudia Antoni went one stage further in her talk, with the provocative title: Insights are Dead. Long Live Insights, suggesting that research agencies need to turn insights into actions themselves rather than passing on to a design or communication agency.

Companies are under increasing pressure to shorten cycle times and innovate more effectively at pace – research can help. Specifically, by “combining the sexiness of thinking with the sexiness of doing,” as Antoni said.

The broader environment research is working in is changing – characterised more by doing and less pure “thinking”. The experience economy.

We see a shift to the tangible in many areas: how our children are learning at schools, the iterative principles underpinning the way startups operate, in the way workshops and conferences are run – participants are given tasks, often in groups, and asked to solve problems.

Speed in turn creates a sense of urgency and excitement and encourages us to be more playful and hands-on.

The research opportunity Antoni identified was in agencies becoming physically involved in the follow-through of insights: bringing results to life, giving them tangible form in the form of scribbles, drawings or prototypes – using 3D printers, for example.

It’s an approach partly inspired by design thinking and partly visible in the principles of agile development – researchers have the added advantage of a depth of people understanding that comes through social science training.

She offered three examples:

  • An innovation workshop involving five sequential steps: insights downloads, role-playing, tangible ideation, 3D printing and a first-stage validation via quant
  • Work with an NGO – Pulse of Europe – split into two stages. The traditional insights phase identified key drivers and barriers, fears, hopes, misconceptions, beliefs, while the second stage involved a poetry slam: younger participants expressing their hopes and wishes for a more integrated Europe, performed live to audiences in the centre of Berlin and Frankfurt
  • The execution of a communications campaign for a tyre company. Happy Thinking People developed an understanding of key pain points, and then brought the thinking to life in the form of a through-the-line campaign.

One central conclusion from the talk was that researchers need to be part of the team that moves insights on and take them one stage further.

Antoni’s take-outs for researchers involved a repositioning of research:

  • Ditch the separation of analysis from execution. The advantages of a joined-up executional approach outweigh potential concerns over lack of objectivity. This is a paradigm shift, but a necessary one in a world of do-think rather than think-do
  • Adopt a more insights-activation approach to projects, echoing Tom de Ruyck’s plea for budget allocation to this section of a project
  • Build on our researcher skills of listening, understanding – as we gather insights, think automatically about the potential execution meaning.

Research agencies often have myriad creative skills and roles that we don’t broadly exploit – community managers, visualisers, bloggers for example. It’s time to change that, so that we fully exploit our potential in a doing-world.

Edward Appleton is global marketing director at Happy Thinking People

The Australian Market and Social Research Society is linked globally to 45 associations through its partnership with the Global Research Business Network (GRBN) and the Asia Pacific Research Committee (APRC). Click here to read about the AMSRS global network. This article is originally sourced from GRBN website.

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