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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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I share your views Ray and Alastair's comments are spot-on. ISO is not a one-size-fits... and for that reason, I'm personally not sure that it is a good idea for trade bodies to blindly promote these standards as such. In Denmark, the national MR association originally went as far as to demand that the members implemented ISO. Last year, the association was dissolved as members had fled - much due to disagreement on this issue.

The challenge however, is that ISO certification is often perceived by clients as a quality seal of approval. Although well documented processes and product consistency may be important elements of 'quality', it clearly doesn't mean that you're necessarily getting the better MR product opting for a certified vendor.

That said, like Alastair, I do believe that ISO can be really helpful (for mid-tier MR companies) in not only documenting existing processes, but also in improving these. It provides a systematic approach and I'd be surprised if the very certification process itself hasn't made most certified companies reconsider (and ultimately change) "one or two" processes, even if this is not the intended purpose of the standards. Thus, while ISO is not fit for all, I would certainly encourage any MR company to familiarize themselves with the standards to make an informed decision - and subsequently communicate to clients why that have/have not opted for certification. There are plenty of objective and legitimate reasons for the latter.

Finally, anyone is free to take whatever they find suitable from the standards and act accordingly, without necessarily going for the full package. Either way, I think that most companies would find it to be a healthy and learning process after all.


Ray, Wonderful to see a rational analysis on this. A disclaimer: I'm biased as my day job is helping research agencies improve their business processes/profitability and I wouldn't want to be replaced by an ISO specialist! But what I've observed is that:
-ISO, done properly with the help of a decent consultant and taken seriously by all involved can be really useful for mid-tier MR companies to get their processes and systems documented. (I also think it's wasted on small companies, and insufficient for very large ones). Many such companies have "evolved" on the back of clever founders and much knowledge is often held in the heads of a few individuals so they can end up with lots of things being done for reasons that are lost in the mists of time. This is highly dangerous and systematically documenting what's going on is a good first step in preparing mid-size companies to grow.
- BUT ISO doesn't really tell you whether your processes are best practice for MR, what to prioritise or how your processes impact profitability or overall research quality. Importantly it does not really deal with how the "hard" bits of the research process (software systems, statistical controls etc.) interact with the "soft bits" (how researchers work, quality of deliverables etc.), and it's the "soft bits" that make the big difference in research transformation.

As an example, I've just completed a review in a company that is also doing ISO - I found it really helpful to see what had been done by the ISO guy, and it saved me time -- but the kinds of recommendations he gave, while useful as baseline measures of what was going on, were not going to transform the company in a significant manner or really improve outputs to the client.(Nor, to be fair, were they intended to).

So, while ISO can be useful to some MR companies, I don't think ISO accreditation really provides clients with the sort of assurance they need, and like you I think the industry has to start to develop it's own forms of certification.


Well almost agree anyway


Look at that Ray, I think we finally agree on something ;)


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