What is Really Needed from Online Research Platforms?


By Walt Dickie, Executive Vice President

C+R does a lot of online qualitative, which means we use a lot of newly designed research platforms and try even more. We're also very interested in using DIY survey tools as a means of giving our analytic staff a shorter, faster, less expensive path to fielding a client's project. So, again, we're constantly looking at new tools.

There are a lot of new tools and platforms entering beta or being rolled out, and they're increasingly attracting investment and developer interest. There's a huge amount of variation across tools, of course, but their designs have a lot in common, too. All of them have given a fair amount of thought to how to design an interface for the supplier/user, the people who are going to conduct a project. They have also thought a good deal about the respondent interface. But the interface for the end data - often dominated by a "report" that can be exported to PowerPoint - doesn't seem to have received the degree of thought given the others.

And this last interface - which should be designed around the needs of the client, and should have been designed with the awareness that every client is looking for at least some insight and maybe an actual working plan - just regurgitates data in shiny graphic form, delivering "Marketing Research" rather than "Marketing Insight". Why didn't the smart engineers and web design people think more about this?

The main reason, I think, is that they're listening to research providers, not the clients who buy the research and ultimately pay the bills. Either that or they're just not watching very closely to see how the business is changing. Even if we allow that the model of the research report- delivered to the end client by a firm that conducted the nuts-and-bolts research, analyzed the data, and wrote the report- will be around for some time to come, we should also recognize that it's already under siege. As time frames compress, team decision making grows, and the quest for insight replaces the delivery of data and analysis, team working sessions replace presentations and reports.

C+R frequently works this way especially for community-based, social, online qualitative projects. It's also our standard approach for clients using Interactive Query powered by Invoke, a real-time, interactive, collaborative platform that offers surveys with statistically solid base sizes combined with the flexibility of on-the-fly questionnaire changes and one-on-one respondent interaction. Invoke is the only platform I'm aware of that is based on a model of a collaborating team interrogating the data being collected in real time and leaving at the end of the day having achieved consensus on its meaning. Kudos to them for their vision, but I want more, and I think our industry should, too.

So here, in no particular order, is my wish list for tools whose back ends are designed as decision support systems so a team of clients and research suppliers can have tools at hand for getting past the data and on to the decision. Some are pure flights of fantasy that I have no idea how to realize. Others are grounded in currently realizable technology (I think), given sufficient determination and resources.


  • The "back room" team should have the same kind of information-sharing and messaging tools that we give the people in our marketing research online communities and that many corporations provide for their day-to-day operations. Every team member should be able to start discussions, join groups, and upload their thoughts and notes for comments or votes. Simply conceiving the team as a group and providing that group with the kind of functionality that we find in many corporate social networking platforms would be a huge advance. It goes without saying that the team should be able to assemble in virtual space, and should not have to be physically together at one site.

  • Every team member should be able to independently, or with a group, explore whatever data the platform is collecting and working with. Everyone should be able to keep private notes with the ability to post ideas publicly to other team members at will.

  • Team members should be able to tag or otherwise annotate items of interest in the data or produced by other members of the team when they find them especially insightful or meaningful. This is especially crucial in qualitative projects, but could be equally valuable in many quantitative projects. When a team is looking for insight, revealing items and ideas need to be marked as they are discovered so they can be quickly retrieved and easily shared out and discussed further.

  • Functionality for data analysis specialists will have to be available. A coding team should be able to code/tag texts or media with the results then being posted for the team(s) to utilize. Video specialists should be able to retrieve tagged segments to compile "highlight reels" for sharing. The team should be able to tap statistical specialists, text or data analytics professionals, or other kinds of specialists as needed.

  • Every team member needs access to information beyond the boundaries of the immediate project. This means access to the internet, of course, but the platform should make it easy to bring in information from corporate data stores and libraries, or from supplier data repositories. Being able to retrieve previous work or supplementary data is a key aspect of making good decisions- no project stands alone.

  • Teams are often actively led by facilitators whose job it is to help the team move the process along. Tools to help expedite the process like voting and sorting tools that let groups work through piles of ideas to identify areas of interest and consensus would help.

  • Displays of the results of the team's discussions should be designed so that they are, in effect, self-reporting: the final state of the display should reflect the result of the team's effort. Ideally, someone viewing such a display should be able to drill down into the top, final state to see more of the underline processes that led to the final display state, the "result," "conclusion" or "decision." The requirement of producing a PowerPoint "final report" should be left behind for a more powerful metaphor.


I would love to hear suggestions about this topic. Do you work in collaborative teams? What kind of collaboration tools do you have available? Are you using any tools or platforms that have incorporated a "back room" for your team, and, if you have, what do they provide?