Archive for April, 2012

Megachange? Megamistake!

Ian Christie and Andrew Curry write:

Reading the Economist’s book Megachange:The World in 2050, edited by Dan Franklin and John Andrews, brings an increasingly heavy heart. If you’ve missed it, it is a collection of twenty essays by assorted contributors, and I suppose one can’t fault them for their ambition, since the Franklin-Andrews duo, as editors of the Economist’s annual World In … prognosis series, normally look just the one year ahead. But the lens they turn on 2050 is a surprisingly narrow one.

In case you’re wondering if you need to spend the thirteen pounds ($20) on the hardback, here’s a quick ten-point guide:

  1. Capitalism is supremely innovative, efficient, adaptive, empowering and enriching.
  2. It always has been and therefore always will be.
  3. Inequalities are good, or at least inevitable.
  4. Liberated wealth creators will always generate new value and everyone will benefit as it trickles down.
  5. Global environmental risks don’t exist.
  6. Or if they do, they are exaggerated.
  7. Or if they aren’t, we can adapt anyway.
  8. At any rate, we can be confident that they don’t matter to the upward sweep of capitalism and technical ingenuity.
  9. More tax cuts, privatisation and de-regulation are essential.
  10. I teach you the Super-Man (Nietzsche).

It’s not just us. Will Self was unimpressed too. .

But it’s one of the sad facts about futures work that there’s always a ready market, not to mention lucrative speaking opportunities, for those who say that everything’s going to turn out fine: think of Peter Schwartz’s ill-advised ‘Long Boom’ scenarios in 1999, or George Friedman’s more recent Next 100 Years. And think, in sharp contrast, of the way in which The Limits to Growth scenarios were pilloried for being pessimistic and unrealistic when they were published in 1972. Look again with the benefit of 30 years hindsight (opens pdf) and their model turns out to have been almost completely on the money in terms of industrial production and environmental harm since then. And that should make us afraid, because their particular ‘business as usual model leads to industrial collapse sometime in the 2020s.

Of course, this view of the possible future is notable for its absence in the pages of Megachange. But by discounting the alternatives, such mega-myopia reduces our chances of preparing for some of the more dismal futures which could lie ahead – or even taking action now to try to avert them.

If you feel your book collection needs a work on futures with the term ‘Mega’ in the title, you’d be a lot better off with Stephen Schnaars’s Megamistakes, a thoughtful, provocative and sobering analysis of all the ways we can get long range socio-economic forecasting badly wrong. Schnaars has plenty of warnings for the likes of the contributors to Megachange – including, ‘Avoid Technological Wonder’.

Ian Christie used to work at The Henley Centre. He is now Research Fellow, Centre for Environmental Strategy, at the University of Surrey.

11 April 2012 at 8:46 am 1 comment

Rethinking online research

by Pen Stuart

As consultants and researchers try to understand evolving consumer behaviour, we quite often use online survey research. It’s one of those areas which seemed like a revelation when it was first introduced, if only because it pushed down research costs, but has changed little recently. The online world has moved on but online research is still trapped by the legacy of the forms and questionnaires of face to face research. It is a classic example of using technology to do an old thing in a new way.

But there’s a cost to this: dull forms leads to lower engagement with the questions which leads to lower quality answers; poorer data, in other words. So, like all areas which have got stuck, it is crying out for some innovation.

To help us understand what is coming next, we invited the market research specialists GMI in to talk about what they’re doing to refresh the online survey. Their view: survey writing is becoming a creative discipline, a specialist form of communication designed to get people to respond better – exactly as happened with the emergence of advertising as a discipline.

Their research suggests that respondents are happy to spend longer on questionnaires, and provide much richer and more considered results, and without being paid more, if you make the survey process more entertaining. Activating their imagination is crucial, to get respondents to think in more interesting ways about your subject. Instead of just asking ‘what is your opinion on…’, for example, GMI asks you to ‘imagine you are being interviewed by a journalist who asks…’, thereby creating an element of role play. Tests show it gives proven longer and more thoughtful responses.

They’ve also borrowed from games design – turning repetitive actions with little tangible benefit into a structured process that engages and entertains. This can make the survey more of a challenge. But the answer to the obvious question – won’t people just quit the survey? – is ‘no’. But it depends on the design of the challenge. Changing a question from  ‘describe yourself’ to ‘describe yourself in exactly 7 words’ means that people spend more time on it, leading to better responses and better data.

There’s a catch, of course: the cost of developing the questionnaire increases. The solution to that problem is finding clients who care about the quality of the research data they’re getting back. And engagement also opens up new types of response – relevant when you start to think about increasing open source innovation, and getting consumer feedback on new product development. All in all, something to start experimenting with.

The image at the top of the post comes from The Listening Post blog, where there is an interesting post on why respondents abandon surveys. The image is used with thanks.

5 April 2012 at 12:09 pm Leave a comment


The Futures Company blog

The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.


WPP? Leaders in Advertising,Branding,Marketing