We were promised ideas that would shape us, our business and society. Did this year's conference deliver? Probably fairer to say it was a voyage of discovery.
This was a good year to attend the MRS Conference. I wasnt the person deciding which sessions to go to and complaining bitterly when I chose the wrong one. My kind managing editor had given me more than a few pointers, which is why I was looking forward to my first workshop: Future-proof insights will be powered by magic and tarot.
Was it to do with black magic, asked some of those gathering outside the room? No, answered Lida Hujic, so they went elsewhere. The rest of us were split into small groups, and tasked with responding to specific client demands for futuristic innovation. Ours proposed a ghoulish chocolate range which could be distributed on the Silk Road. Fun, yes, educational, no, magic and tarot: little more than a whisper.
Ah well, on to Professor David Canter who led the lunchtime session. As a seasoned crime reader, it was fascinating to hear about his early work helping the police to nail a murderer and rapist, and how this developed into making offender profiling less a myth and more a reality. His early — and pretty basic — paper charts showing how they narrowed down the search struck home with the audience, and revealed just how far this specialism has come. And later, tucked up in bed reading, one of the characters mentioned hed just read a stonkingly good paper by Prof Canter. Serendipity or what?
Post lunch I wandered into Painting the Tune Red: again a session which promised much but, even for one with an interest in big data, seemed to pass me by. Yes, it was lively, fun, and we all joined in. But big idea? Sadly, no. Trotting down for a cuppa afterwards I considered my options, and trusted Caroline Hayters Adventure into the unknown to deliver.
This was a session where, unlike many others, the audience was not spoon fed. Indeed, it did not claim to have any overt links to research. Yet some of the principles espoused echoed those of other presentations over the two days: the striving for quality, open mindedness, spontaneity. Three cheers for each of the presenters here, as we covered trust, trauma and storytelling.
Day two, and I arrived just after Will Self had begun his keynote, Acacia Avenues Martin Lee bravely managing to interject a question every now and then. My notes tell of a constant stream of consciousness from the author, ranging from a tall tale about urinating in a Dyson air blade dryer, to the impact of video games on narrative. Have marketers missed the boat, he asked? Are consumers not making up their own narrative?
The rest of the day merged into a succession of presentations which had the timeless quality that is not,to be honest, a compliment. But there were some stand-outs. Spinachs Martin Gent and Lucy Morris attempted to throw us off balance in a series of activities designed to make us more sensitive to other people and ideas. Meanwhile Andy Hobsbawm, founder of Evrythng, asked us reassess our connection to everyday objects, society and social media. He described objects talking to objects, humans being taken out of the equation: smart dust, chairs, fridges, toothbrushes that tell you when to brush your teeth. Nothing like being made redundant.
To close day two, I joined Professor Charles Spence and The Behavioural Architects Sarah Davies and Rachel Abbott. This session, by working each of our senses and asking us to respond via an app, made for an hour that offered insights, was fast paced, and challenging. Above all it was relevant to research without the use of force feeding. More please.
This article was first published in InBrief magazine, June 2014
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2014