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A question of ethics: Three things to consider before your next research project

13 July, 2021 | 

By Ivan Chen, Account Director – Data & Insights, Pureprofile

Market research is the most powerful tool available for businesses seeking to better understand their customers. Tangible, accurate insights have become increasingly critical to business decision-making, so it’s crucial for researchers to use every tool available to deliver true and authentic results. To achieve this, the highest standards of ethics must be incorporated into each and every project.

For academics, ethics in research is always top-of-mind. Not only because it’s a critical component of project approval, but because of the shared knowledge that robust ethical procedures lead to more thoroughly considered research, greater credibility, and a more esteemed contribution to scientific literature. So when it comes to choosing a research partner that takes an ethics-by-design approach, three key questions must first be asked.

How is the sample acquired?

Online research companies typically use one of two methods to acquire survey respondents – river or panel sampling.

River sampling refers to the process of inviting members of the public to share their thoughts via a survey link – which is typically placed on a variety of different websites. Once clicked, respondents are asked initial screening questions before being directed to a survey. The issue with this method is that researchers have no indication of who will respond, and sometimes basic demographic information may not be available. There will generally be no way of validating who the respondents are or where they’ve come from. There may also be no way of getting in touch with these respondents once the survey has been completed, which will cause issues down the line if the same people need to be contacted again for a follow-up survey.

Panel sampling involves the establishment of a group of community members who are recruited for surveys directly. Those who are interested in taking multiple surveys over a period of time are then invited to participate in surveys based on their profile information. Look for companies who specialise in building and nurturing panel communities. A research partner should reward respondents in accordance with how long it takes them to answer a specific survey. By working with a partner who manages their own research community, businesses can ensure that the findings are accurate and ethically procured. Respondents are also more likely to be ‘real people’ due to the anti-fraud checks and balances they have to go through in order to be a part of the panel.

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What security measures are in place?

In addition to anti-fraud measures, researchers seeking to conduct ethical research must implement extra security protocols. Identity validation is pertinent here, and points of identification must be cross-checked with a panel member’s application in order to establish that they are who they say they are. Additionally, IP addresses should be checked to ensure that multiple accounts aren’t using the same address. There are many other measures designed to ensure that respondents are being honest. For example, if someone completes a survey within a significantly shorter period of time than other respondents, they can be flagged as having falsified their submission, and should be removed from the study.

Understanding where and how data is stored is a crucial consideration for ensuring its security. This helps to secure compliance with local regulators, and prevents any issues emerging with country or state-specific data privacy laws. Ultimately, this ensures that all personal and sensitive information is treated confidentially, and in a manner that fully complies with leading global standards.

What global standards does the business adhere to?

A final consideration is to query which industry bodies, industry accreditations and compliance laws the business adheres to. The ESOMAR code of practice sets global standards for self-regulation for researchers and data analysts, and should always be honoured. From a legal point of view there must also be compliance with GDPR and CCPA guidelines (as well as with other codes and regulations that may apply to a specific market). Full certification in ISO 20252:2019 is vital, as it establishes service requirements for companies conducting market, opinion and social research.

It’s worth considering what other resources the panel company has in their arsenal. Companies that hire researchers with strong academic backgrounds are the standouts as their employees will have rigorous training in applied ethics and the end-to-end process of data collection, analysis, and interpretation. This provides the additional assurance that ethics are deeply embedded in their systems, methods and recruitment processes.

Pureprofile’s Data Scientist Dr Uwana Evers agrees that ethical concerns are of the utmost importance across all stages of the research process. “It’s not just academics and ethics committees that place strong emphasis on ethical concerns. Clients, stakeholders, and consumers really do care that researchers consider and address ethical issues. These include informed consent, respect for anonymity, confidentiality, and privacy, and ensuring no harm is done as they conduct research projects.”
Taking an ethics-by-design approach to market research creates the best possible outcomes, and is crucial across all stages of the research process. Ethics removes bias, ensures high quality responses, and increases data quality. By probing research providers about the type of sampling used, the security measures implemented, and the global standards they adhere to, researchers will be able to obtain the most accurate and powerful consumer insights possible.

Interested in learning about Pureprofile’s dedication to ethical research? Get in touch with one of our data experts today.

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