When we look in the mirror, it’s easy to see not only the physical attributes that define our unique features, but also the layers beneath that makeup who we are — those tired eyes given as a gift of raising your children, the cultural mark that ties you to your ancestors, or that scar of survival you proudly wear as a badge.
Now imagine looking into the mirror and seeing something stare back at you that is a superficial version of yourself. You only see bits and pieces of the person you know yourself to be, but never your entire reflection. This is the “sample crisis.”
How do we add pigment to traditional research surveys' shades of gray in today’s diverse world? Our culture demands it, and our antiquated research questions are suggesting that it’s time to change the way things have always been done. This year’s SampleCon played host to many concerns in that area, validating the unease amongst the global research professional community.
Beyond the age-old challenges in market research (retaining quality, shortening surveys, keeping panelists engaged) is a more pressing issue of capturing diverse voices. Perhaps the root of keeping panelists engaged is deeper than the look and feel of the survey platform. Perhaps we are not connecting to people how it matters most.
To better understand where we are missing the mark, we need to look to the next generation of respondents. We know that, more than any previous generation, Gen Z is deeply rooted in their identity.
While most agree that the way we ask demographic questions isn’t ideal, there is still a lot of debate about changing it. There are many considerations researchers have to make when changing such fundamental things, like how we ask gender, age, race, and ethnicity questions.
Do we need to make historical comparisons? Do we need to have a comparable demographic makeup to other existing client research? How do we ensure we’re inclusive and still able to accurately analyze the data?
We know that humans are complex. Very few of us identify as simply as the standard set of demographic descriptors often included in surveys. However, the considerations above can be paralyzing when we’re all seeking THE right answer.
Recently the following question was asked to me: “How do you define the panelist of the future?”
My response: “Fluid and evolving.”
That’s to say, there is no perfect answer right now. But we can’t remain stagnant while we wait for the perfect answer to come along. Instead, we must focus on “better” versus “perfect.”
It’s vital to take action by auditing your own practices. Evaluating what we can change today. As a first step, define standard screeners and demographic questions through a lens of inclusivity. Reimagine and broaden how we ask questions like gender identity in a nonbinary way and age with a list that doesn’t stop at 65-plus.
Shift from the traditional gender question with two options (male and female) to an open-ended question that asks a person’s gender identity and provides a more inclusive set of options, including Man, Woman, Transgender, and non-binary. To avoid placing people into an “Other” box, we change the language to allow a respondent to select “Prefer to self-describe.”
It’s a small example of the seismic shift needed. It’s not perfect, but if we’re able to bring a bit more humanity into the here and now, it’s a start.