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    Nobody pays me to write any of the copy on my blog, and should I ever have the good fortune that they do, I will declare it. My main employment is as the owner and principal of The Future Place consultancy. The Future Place provides two key services 1) training and services to industry and academic bodies and 2) consultancy services to companies. The details of the companies I work with are a private matter, but if I blog about any company who has paid The Future Place more than expenses recently (approx. two years) I will mention that they are a client. I hold equity in Virtual Surveys and provide consulting services to them from time to time. I am paid to run courses for a number of trade bodies and over the last few years clients have included ESOMAR, AMSRS, MRS, and MRIA.

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Brandon Watts

Excellent post and discussion. The bottom line is Market Researchers seem to have ignored their own advice. Its important to know the client and develop the reporting solutions that will maximize the utility of the insights and help the client succeed. A "one size fits all" just won't accomplish that. While the details are are required for context, the most important thing is providing a story or roadmap in the most useful format possible to move the client ahead.

@ResearchRocks shared some interesting thoughts on this topic ( and more can be found here as well:

Ray Poynter

Hi Sandy, I think your post highlights the three most important points about debriefs, 1) the research should deliver what the client needs, 2) not all clients are the same, 3) not all projects are the same.

When I am a client it is in my capacity as a local politician. In my role as an elected councillor I am not the research buyer, I am the end user (since 1983 I have spent 20 years as a County Councillor and 24 as a Borough Councillor - i.e. some of the time I have been on two authorities.

If a research company is presenting the case for a strategic investment in, say, a town centre, I want a story, I don't want many numbers, and I want insight. However, in a separate document, I want the methodology, the questionnaire, the basic data, and a description of how the insight was arrived at. A Town centre re-modelling takes about 5 years from concept to post-implementation review, during that time there will be elections and some of the politicians will have changed. The background document has to remain coherent for at least the five years, and sometimes longer.

If a research company is presenting a benchmarking study or a satisfaction study, I am required by law to look at the individual scores, there is a presumption in Government guidance that we will use Red (i.e. have missed targets), Amber, Green highlighting of problems (BTW, deviating from Government guidance can attract sanctions if anything goes wrong). So the main presentation has to show all the scores that are red, along with the question that was asked. The ability to tell a story in a benchmarking presentation is less, the two most typical ways are a) here is the overall story, now here are the detailed numbers, or b) here are the detailed numbers, now here is the overall story. Attempts to blend the story and the numbers usually fail as the councillors will stop the presentation too often and get into lengthy debates about not just the causes of the problem, but their pet views on the remedies.

If you look at the comment from the ResearchGeek you will see reference to clients who want numbers. But even more pointedly, look at the comment by Alistair Nicoll (who has been involved in the commissioning of more research in the UK than most people) who finds he has to specify a Word report in order to get research companies to deliver what he needs.

I think the key point is that what is shown in the debrief should be different to what the client is left with as a permanent record of the project. We may disagree about the detail of what is shown in the debrief and what is in the permanent record, but I doubt we think that what is shown can or should be the same as the permanent record?


The emphasis on all this is in the wrong place. The objective should be to tell a story which answers the client's business questions. NO part of the questionnaire should be shown. Only words and images (charts, tables, photos, etc.) that help tell the story should be in the presentation. Often what matters are not individual questions, but combinations of questions. The reference to "data from all of the questions I have paid for" is particularly off-base. As a client, I don't pay for questions. I pay for information. Yes, I want a complete set of tables, but that is a secondary deliverable. Part of the story is the methodology. What details of the methodology are important will vary by study, but in some cases sample definition, timing, location(s), etc. are critical to keeping the findings in context. Everything that is secondary to the story should be in back-up. Information on your company and how to initiate further content should NOT be included. The last thing any research client wants is to have others in the company going directly to the consultants. Your client knows how to contact you. Remember, you succeed only when you help your client succeed.

Alistair Nicoll

"I produce a PowerPoint deck that is great during the presentation, but is not great as a leave behind".

How I wish all research agencies would learn this important lesson - I am reduced to specifying in briefs I want a word report to stop agencies thinking that all they need to do is leave the powerpoint


There are plenty of clients (here in India especially) who still need to see all the numbers, which is hard - but we haven't done a good enough job of getting them to trust us well enough to just give them the answers unfortunately, I guess we're a bit behind the more developed markets on that front.

Anyway - the point on notes pages is essential. Write notes pages, but don't use them whilst presenting is what I always say. It helps you to de-clutter your charts without producing a separate leave-behind document, but importantly, it also helps you to de-clutter your thoughts and structure your presentation into one cohesive argument rather than a series of unrelated charts.


This a really insightful post Ray-thanks (specially because I work in MR but on the Operational side). Particularly love "What the client (in most cases) wants are answers, not the chance to work with the numbers".

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