“Nothing will change in the short term, and in the long term any changes will be those that we as an association — and our members — are comfortable with” So says Fiona Jack, AQR chair, on the subject of the much-mooted industry Federation.

The thorny issue was first raised earlier this year, in the context of an article in Research magazine that interviewed the heads of the MRS, BMRA and AURA. The thinking behind it is that the sector is too small to support so many different trade bodies, and that like other professions such as accountancy, market research would be better served through the creation of an umbrella organisation.

In recent months this has resulted in the setting up of The Way Ahead Group, comprising AURA’s Leslie Sopp, the MRS’s Jennie Beck and BMRA’s Peter Jackling to examine the structure of the industry and how resources could be used more effectively. AQR, along with the Business Intelligence Group (BIG), and the Independent Consultants Group (ICG) were invited to put forward their views at the recent BMRA’s Research Directions Conference. It is not going to be an easy circle to square which is why, in the first instance, an independent consultant will be appointed to move the issue forward, consulting widely and presenting recommendations in March 2005. For qualitative research, perhaps the issue is even trickier than for other areas given AQR’s strong branding and the fact that work in this area defies attempts to pigeonhole it.

Jack is pleased that AQR is, at long last, being asked for its views on the subject and, she says, “we’re keen on the idea in principle. How a Federation will work in practice, though, is the key point.”

There is no doubt that a single voice would find favour with legislators — in the UK and internationally — and maybe client-side, too. Sopp, in particular sees it has helping to move market research further up the influence chain, and giving it a better-defined presence in the public arena. Beck, meanwhile, views it as vital given the need for the industry to deliver the quality of research and thinking behind the changing skills that are necessary in today’s world.

The risks of joining? Possible territorial infighting; costs; voting structures — not to mention whether to create a new body or build on an old one. The old Groucho Marx maxim, that he wouldn’t want to join any club that wanted him as a member, does not hold water on this occasion. AQR considers that being asked to input is a step in the right direction, but any forthcoming membership has to be make commercial sense to its members.