Spending cuts – the next chapter

Mark Speed, joint managing director of IFF Research, looks at the implications of the Government’s spending cuts on the public sector’s use of market research to inform future strategies.

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The Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review has been and gone, but what happens now?

Many questions still remain for the world of market research, especially within the public sector.

That said, there is no point arguing about the merits or pitfalls of the spending cuts. While this may bring about some fundamental changes in the way research agencies work that marketers should be aware of, there will be opportunities. We can see new patterns emerging already.

Researchers will still need to provide research solutions to marketers despite the austere environment, in a way that is sufficiently robust to help the decision makers both implement and evaluate their policies.

While there will be much debate over the detail in the coming months we feel there are three broad areas that we need to start to address:

  • The setting of priorities to aid the implementation of future strategies
  • The recommendation of appropriate research methodologies for the above
  • The robust evaluation of those strategies

Priority setting
We are seeing signs of an increasing demand for marketers in Government departments and other public sector bodies to consult with service users about what services to provide.

Given the significant budget cuts many locally delivered services are facing they will need to assess what their users see as essential versus the ’nice to have’ and then the patently unnecessary.

This is no longer about customer satisfaction and asking how the experience has been, but rather, using research to establish what the priorities are for public services before they are delivered.

That is not to say that customer satisfaction research is dead, rather the public sector will be relying on research to help set priorities and shape the providers’ agenda, as well as assess the outcomes.

Methodological Recommendations
It will become even more important to ensure the methodology is appropriate for the questions to be answered. Public sector clients (and their procurement departments) will be expecting more for less.

However, this doesn’t mean research should be rendered meaningless. There will be times when less robust methodologies will be adequate for the research objective; yet at other times we will need to fight against the lowest cost option and provide valid reasons why a more expensive approach is necessary.

There is a danger that the ubiquitous online survey becomes the common default and we need to prove the worth of other methodologies when the situation dictates, and when it doesn’t we should accept that online or other less costly methods have their place.

Policy evaluation
Of course the Government will also need to undertake robust evaluation studies of the new policies that are implemented. But at the moment it is too early to be able to pin point all the opportunities that will come out of this area of work.

No one enjoys periods of austerity, but it is time for both research agencies and marketers to accept the situation, roll up their sleeves and think of ways to assist the country to get back on track by providing and using cost effective research in a robust manner.

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