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Researchers criticise election interviews by media

Researchers criticise election interviews by media

The research community is “up in arms” about broadcast and social media platforms running fast and loose with the term “research”.  I read about their disquiet in the forums for researchers which I belong to.

We’ve had well-intentioned but occasionally spurious tactical voting sites.  The majority are good.  Some are not.  We’ve had our fill of news media Vox Pops and live broadcast “focus groups”.  What none of these activities do is follow the normal standards of governance and codes of conduct applied to analytics and research, in order to secure impartial and meaningful insights for the viewing audience.

They all start from the same premise that a debate must be won, not left unresolved and that a newsworthy headline must be found, and if not found, then invented.  There is no time in a fast news world to run behavioural, econometric or psychometric modelling.  There is no time to reflect on the interrelationships between different segments of the population other than along the lines of tribal (or Brexit) politics.  

Don’t think less of the research profession based on what you see during an election period.  What you see in media, right now, is sensationalist journalism, not research.  Research is a more thoughtful, inquisitive, objective, holistic, evaluative and impartial profession.  The insights which are derived from research well done are actionable and they consider the implications of that action for their end user.

Credible research, conducted by experienced, professional practitioners, explores the spontaneous reactions of its participants, communicated both via verbal and non-verbal cues (articulated answers, facial expression, body language, eye tracking, actual behaviours).  It seeks to distinguish between system 1 and system 2.

Credible researchers take care not to “seek simplistic answers” or complete an interview schedule by leading or priming participants in to closed binary choices.  I’ve coached and mentored a few researchers to detox from that tendency to prime.

Credible research reveals and tests our hierarchy of needs, the trade-offs that people make when they are in full flow of decision making, replicating circumstances where participants switch between system 1 and system 2 behaviour, between the dominance of the left side or the right side of their brain.

Credible research provides context and evaluates the influence of that context on participants’ answers.  Context includes anything and everything from age, life-stage, culture, education, income, social circumstances to personality traits, real life experiences, media touchpoints and influences.  The list is not exhaustive, by any means!

Most researchers I know who are still deciding which way they will vote at the impending election are doing what comes naturally to them – on instinct they’re doing their own independent research! 

Like them, I’m doing my own research too.  I’m reading each manifesto, even of parties I would not normally consider voting for.  I’m critiquing media interviews, fact checking at the statistical source point but also critiquing the impartiality of fact checking sites.  I’m talking to my contacts in both the private and public sector about what each manifesto policy will mean to them, but additionally cross-referencing information back to the economists and behavioural economists, to the industry thought leaders and subject matter experts. 

I’m questioning my own confirmation bias (none of us are immune) and heuristics (and how they were formed), my own values and, of course, the world I hope future generations will enjoy.  I know these factors will shape my views, from two parents who worked in the NHS, to witnessing the palliative care of the NHS for one of them.  One child with a tuition fee loan, another still in school.  And my own passion for commercial success, both for me and my clients. I know, even at the end of all that, I won’t be impartial.  I will have let confirmation bias kick in.  But in a “post-truth” world, I can only hope that I’m not as susceptible to manipulative messaging… which probably means that I very much am!!