The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Excellence

Energising world of insight

If the qualitative research industry is feeling a bit flat, then maybe it's time to look outside its borders for ways to revitalise it. Liz Norman offers a few suggested routes.

Look for a definition of "energy", and the Encyclopaedia Britannica is a worthy first stop. It suggests that "energy in physics is the capacity for doing work".

This fascinates me because it can be translated to the world of human resources. New hires, for instance, increase the capacity of the workplace, they also add to the energy of a business with new thinking and perspectives.

Energy exists in many shapes and sizes, the same Britannica definition adds "it may exist in potential, kinetic, thermal, electrical, chemical, nuclear, or other various forms".

The market research industry, to rocket fuel the growth of insight, should draw from as wide a variety of energy sources and employees as possible. Diverse workforces bring different energies, skills, experiences, competencies, and personalities and these, in turn, increase their capacity to work in different ways.

From experience, graduates and trainees bring the energy of "potential" and a wide variety of life experiences and competencies depending on their individual backgrounds. The wider the variety the greater the range of energy, literally fuelling company growth.

As a profession we already reach out to universities. In addition, the MRS has combined with SWARM, a specialist apprenticeship scheme for school leavers. But is there anything else that can be done to increase the diversity of energy within our industry at entry level?

One idea that is doing the rounds is degree apprenticeships. These allow those who wouldn't otherwise have had the option to go to university to be sponsored through their degree while working for an organisation, partly paid for with a government grant.

It's the latest twist on an old concept, and one that may be worth the insight profession considering investing in. Not only would it help with socio economic diversity, working with universities offering degrees in areas like behavioural psychology, artificial intelligence, and data science, but it would also bring in new ideas and thinking.

Another way of bringing in new thinking and energies from the academic profession would be to collaborate with universities, and sponsor PhD students, to conduct research into one of the many new areas within insight. Universities would welcome this approach, not only is there always a shortage of funding, but they are also keen to demonstrate how academic research is applicable to the commercial sector.

In addition, universities are now being graded on how they are improving social mobility, this means not only taking in greater numbers of students from more disadvantaged backgrounds but also tying up with employers who will offer them career opportunities at the end. As a result, working with universities could bring in new research and ways of thinking, while helping with social diversity within the profession.

Internships enable organisations and individuals to "try each other out" and learn from one another. They provide a safe environment for exploration, enabling employers to test out how best to use the energy of groups of employees they haven't worked with in the past and are sometimes more nervous of due to lack of knowledge.

Employers often struggle to support people with a disability in the workplace. This can lead to organisations missing out on the powerful skillsets and resilience these potential employees have often developed in order to thrive in spite of their disability. Opening the research sector to broader routes for new employees could increase the opportunity to learn how to support more people with disabilities into the industry.

The neurodiverse bring in different energies and perspectives. I was surprised to learn that, as a dyslexic, I come under this heading, as I consider my way of thinking a gift. Yes, I lose (everything) and I can't tell my right from left, but there are many traits that add to the energy at ENI.

Dyslexics are normally imaginative, good at thinking outside the box, are empathetic, and are great at solving problems. According to the Autism Society those with autism have high levels of concentration, are reliable and persistent, are accurate, have strong technical skills in areas like IT, and possess an excellent memory for details and facts. Taking on someone who is neurodiverse could be a way of introducing a different but highly useful energy.

When I first started in recruitment a client recruited her trainee qualitative trainees from the teaching profession, because of their story telling and group facilitating skills. Different professions have different energies to offer, the list is endless: actors, accountants, pub landlords, social workers, those within market research operations. Would looking beyond the profession bring in vital new energies and thinking?

In the West, we associate energy with youth, whereas in Asia they appreciate far better the important contribution to work made by the more experienced. This appreciation creates a different mindset where, because they are more valued, experienced employees retain a more positive energy. Experienced employees bring not only years of wisdom and knowledge, they are also shown to take fewer days off, are more resilient, change jobs less often, and have strong networks to call on.

We have started 2022 with a huge skills shortage, and there is no sign it is going away. Being creative about how to fuel your organisations growth with the talent and energy needed may well be the solution.


Liz Norman
CEO, Elizabeth Norman International

This article was first published in InBrief magazine, January 2022
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