Research and engagement, as we know it, faces a number of challenges over coming years. Big changes are being created by a combination of the impact of ‘big data’, the rising use of passive monitoring, DIY research tools and waning respondent attention spans. We’re taking a look into our crystal ball at what all this might mean over the coming year and beyond.

There has been a recent explosion of data – according to a recent estimate from Google, we’ve generated 90% of all data in the entire history of the world in just the past two years. 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day! Traditional researchers are used to dealing with small datasets that they control. In the future, data will come from technology companies, internal company systems and the ‘Internet of Things’ (the network of physical objects or “things” embedded with electronics, software, sensors and network connectivity which enables these objects to collect and exchange data.) Survey data will be just one amongst a plethora of data sources. And even this survey data may be collected by clients directly given the availability of easy to use computer assisted research tools. Furthermore, we have become accustomed the fact that behaviours are often more effectively captured and understood by passive monitoring (e.g. observation or ethnography) rather than asking people questions about their behaviours. ‘Nudge’ theory is becoming more central to all of our thinking.

Added to this, there seems to be a consensus that respondent attention spans are continuing to fall and that ever more creative approaches are needed to cut-through and to engage. Some suggest that micro surveys and intercepts will, in time, replace longer surveys and tracking questionnaires.

The researcher of the future will, therefore, need to be able to understand the wide range of data that comes from various sources and help to make sense of it. They will need to be able to apply a wider range of research techniques – such as ethnography and social media analysis; in addition to traditions surveys and group discussions.

Researchers will need to be aware of the shift to more ‘agile’ research perhaps focusing on short studies and experiments, frequent feedback, and the ability to react to changing conditions. We see this already in terms of growing interest in co-production and co-design techniques as well as the rising use of online panels and communities. We, at Community Research, are already working in this way, but we are ever aware of the requirement to continue to adapt and innovate to keep pace with changing technology, our client’s and their communities’ needs.

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