What does inclusive research look like, and why should we care?

Research is a critical tool in finding out what’s going on in the world around us, but how can we ensure that our research is inclusive? Sandy Downs, Head of DE&I, thinks it means two things: asking the right questions, and telling the right stories. In this practical guide, she offers food for thought on industry best practice.

By Sandy Downs on Wednesday, 14 February 2024

Research – especially quantitative surveys – is a huge part of our work in PR and communications. It’s a critical tool in finding out what’s going on in the world around us, and then building a dialogue with our audience about their views, behaviours, and realities. Yet our experience shows how surveys can be even more meaningful and valuable when DE&I factors are included. That’s why we’ve created a practical guide for marketers on inclusive research.

What do we mean when we talk about inclusive research?

Many surveys, especially in the consumer space, are ‘nationally representative’ or ‘natrep’; representative of UK adults in terms of age, gender, class, and education.

You could say that a ‘natrep’ approach makes research as diverse and inclusive as it needs to be, as it reflects the make-up of the community we’re talking to. But is it? Genuinely?

We need to ensure that we’re asking the right questions about demographics, and that we’re also telling the right stories with those answers.

A key question to ask ourselves is if demographics alone will reveal the real story. The fact 50% of people have a cat isn’t particularly interesting. But if 80% are women and 20% men, your research becomes an insight which informs your marketing strategy. Similarly, if only 10% of employees think they’re discriminated against at work, is that good news? What if it’s 85% of disabled employees, and 3% of non-disabled? That’s a crisis.

We, and our clients, need to be brave enough to tell these stories, and be authentic in our attempts to solve the problems we unearth.

What risks happening when we get it wrong?

If we fail to ask the right questions - and create research which has exclusionary and alienating language or concepts, key individuals drop out of the survey. And as a result, we risk a biased sample and,, either missing the real story - or telling a story that isn’t representative of the whole truth.

In telling the wrong stories, we open ourselves – and our clients – to reputational risk. Clients might make the wrong marketing decisions, we end up in hot water with the media, or we just downright offend. All of this can be easily avoided by thinking fully about the demographic questions we ask

What’s the inclusive research guide?

As a PR and communications agency we’ve worked hard to build out our robust research proposition, working closely with research partners like Censuswide and Opinium to hold each other to account.

That’s why we wanted to create a practical guide that helps everyone in the industry who’s trying to do better. It’s all too easy when approaching a research project to copy and paste the previous survey’s demographic questions and jump straight into the ‘fun stuff’ that you think will generate headlines - but by spending a bit more time thinking about diversity demographics, you’ll often find a more holistic and interesting story waiting for you at the end.

You can find the guide here.

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