Transparency in Marketing Research

Two efforts dealing with transparency caught my eye recently – one from AAPOR (the American Association for Public Opinion Research) and the other from Don Bruzzone (of Bruzzone Research) and Jack Bookbinder (at Kaiser Permanente).  In just the last few weeks AAPOR announced its Transparency Initiative program which is intended to “place the value of openness at the center of our profession, and to encourage and make it as easy as possible for survey firms to be transparent about their research methods.”  Peter Miller, president of AAPOR, emphasizes that this program is a “work in progress” and encourages researchers to voice their comments on the initiative at the online journal Survey Practice.

And in the November issue of Quirk’s Bruzzone and Bookbinder (“How many are too many?”) discuss their attempt to uncover the details of survey-invitation practices among top panel providers.  It is interesting reading and highlights the reluctance of some firms to reveal if and how they limit invitations to their panelists, and the importance for all users of panels to demand this level of transparency from their panel providers.

The issue of transparency in marketing research is an important one.  If to be transparent means to be “free from pretense or deceit” and “readily understood” (see Merriam-Webster Online) then it is easy to see why this is an essential ingredient in our overarching goal to produce quality research.  Transparency is a good thing because it:

  • Provides clarity and understanding for the research user.  This not only facilitates the user’s ability to evaluate research findings but also helps the user judge the quality of research both within and across research suppliers.  You might say that transparency instills some degree of confidence in the research, and surely that is a very good thing.
  • Facilitates collaboration among researchers.  Accessibility to researchers’ methods encourages ongoing collaboration and communication within the industry and furthers the development of research design.
  • Ultimately leads to quality research.  This is true for at least two reasons: 1) collaboration on research methods serves to hone designs and design skills; and, 2) the move towards transparency should motivate researchers to consciously and consistently utilize sound procedures and techniques.

Both AAPOR and Bruzzone/Bookbinder focused their attention on survey research.  But what about qualitative research?  Does the concept of transparency hold up in the qualitative arena where some researchers profess (some quite forcefully I might add) that “the entire world of qual research is predicated on an extreme set of biases” and that “most qual researchers are seldom confident about what they report.”  I certainly understand the thinking behind these statements (after all, a clear advantage of qualitative research is its unstructured approach) but I am not convinced that this means qualitative researchers are disinterested in bringing clarity to their research designs and in providing their clients with some confidence that the research findings are worthy of the resources invested.

Transparency in marketing research – quantitative and qualitative – is something I hope to see more of in the future.  By this I mean more proactive communication on methods and analysis from research providers, as well as greater interest in and demands for transparency among research users.  Forthcoming posts will touch on this concept again as the principles that underlie research design are more fully explored.

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