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What is the current situation in the professional standards arena?

Privacy and data protection issues dominate as never before. Their influence is widespread – I recently saw a TV mobile phone ad which focussed on privacy as a key feature of the phone.

Market and social researchers are well-placed in this environment, because we have always had the care of participants’ personal information in mind. The General Data Protection Regulation (the GDPR) says that organisations must ‘implement technical and organisational measures to show that they have considered and integrated data protection into their processing activities. This is referred to as ‘data protection by design and by default’.

This is a phrase for all researchers to embrace, whether or not the GDPR applies to you specifically. It is vital to embed data protection in all elements of your business, not just an afterthought but as a fundamental building block.

The Notifiable Data breaches (NDB) Scheme, introduced by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) last year, reveals that every third reported data breach is caused by human error – simple things like sending the information to the wrong recipient, not using BCC when sending email, or losing a data storage device. Embedding privacy practices within the organisation and making them second nature can minimise this type of data breach.

An analysis of recent queries to the EthicsLine queries reveals the continuing importance of of issues relating to participant/customer anonymity and the movement of customers’ personal information between researcher and client. This results from the widespread use of the customers or client lists for research purposes and the desire among clients to add the information back into their database or use it to solve specific customer problems. This leads to potential conflict between research and non-research activities and I recommend the AMSRS Guideline on Research and Non-research Activities to help clarify the distinction between them. At the heart of the Code is the direction that no individual will be contacted for any non-research activity as a result of participation in a market or social research project.

Finally, I was drawn to a quote from Australian ANZ Bank Chief Shayne Elliott, reproduced in an article by Gerry McGovern headed ‘Digital dehumanised work’.

‘Less than 20 percent of (workers in the Bank) ever see a customer… So, we kind of dehumanize the work, and we’ve compartmentalized it, so it’s very unclear to me, the impact of what I do’ *

The increase in the use of technology in market and social research runs the same risk of ever reducing a researcher’s direct contact with the participant; of detaching researchers so completely from the people who provide the information that they become dehumanised.

There are many different ways of collecting information from people – direct and indirect – but collecting that information is vital to the continued success of our industry. Always remember that participants are people with their own vulnerabilities, needs and distractions; short on time and impatient of things that do not cater to them or are not immediately accessible and easy to understand.

A market or social research project provides a touchpoint with the participant for the researcher, their client and the research industry -always do your best to make sure that it is a positive experience.

Author: Jane Gregory, AMSRS Professional Standards Officer


This article also appears in the May-July 2019 edition of AMSRS publication, Research News – State of play. Check out the rest of the articles in this edition.

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

About Jane Gregory 2 Articles
Jane Gregory is AMSRS Professional Standards Officer. A dedicated toll free 1300 number has now been set up for AMSRS members with ethical dilemmas. The AMSRS Ethics Line is dedicated to answering members’ questions about our Code of Professional Behaviour and associated guidelines. To read more go to