Article: Global? Codes of Research Conduct
Codes of conduct are largely formulated on local data protection requirements.
These rules and requirements need to be understood by clients and suppliers
alike. Unfortunately, unless you have experience of working with or
received a recommendation for an 'overseas' research provider, it is
a minefield for clients when looking in a directory and selecting the
right research agency.
As an international research institute, Everture has learnt which providers
are the best to work with and we know they abide by their own local
data protection (DP). Even so, to make this easier for us all, we could
all do worse than gather the DP requirements of each country, bringing
these together in one globally accessible information point to help
keep the client and the agency up-to-date on DP activity.
However diverse business cultures are around the globe, market research
has developed an assumed set of moral codes by which business is conducted.
Nevertheless, there are some bad apples so you cannot rely on an assumption
when it comes to keeping within the law.
It may seem a strange analogy, but consider a curry house doing business
in Birmingham, England. It will be conducting business among the densest
population of Balti curry houses (known as the 'Balti Triangle') than
anywhere else in the world, including Kashmir! Among this community
of curry house owners a sub culture has emerged with its own set of
morals and standards which affect the way these firms conduct business.
Even if these standards are an assumed consensus rather than a written
code of conduct they serve as a common understanding to protect the
reputation of all the restaurants in a competitive business environment.
EU Data Protection
Our morals in the market research industry also serve as standards
in the way in which business is conducted. Even so, we may often raise
an eye brow at how local written standards, such as data protection,
are different to our own. In Europe for example, not the least binding
legislation is the EU directive on Data Protection. But in many European
states, the adoption of the directive into local 'research codes of
conduct' seems to be evidently lacking in some areas and unworkable
The aims of the EU directive is to ensure that there is a common understanding
of how the respondent's and client's interests and anonymity are protected.
However, it is a strong argument that with the prolific amount of market
research agencies that exist there needs to be more clarity in data
protection to support the international reputation of the research industry.
At the moment there are only a handful of countries that have nationally
representative research societies helping to demystify the EU directive
for local application.
Local Research Societies
In the UK, the EU directive has formed the basis to the Market Research
Society 'Code Of Conduct'. As a member of the MRS, one is obliged to
conduct research according to this code. The key benefit is that you
have peace of mind when conducting research in the UK. It is also provides
peace of mind for clients that the supplier respects this code, indeed
to many research buyers membership to the MRS it is often a prerequisite.
However, as an international research institute, we are often out and
about in countries far flung from the UK, where the MRS is not as widely
known and consequently has less impact.
There are European and International societies such as ESOMAR. ESOMAR
communicate with local societies but have representation in countries
rather than representing the research community of the country. Subsequently,
although ESOMAR provide International and European codes, they are not
applicable to all countries. It could be argued that to have a workable
comprehensive code of conduct, research societies in each country could
be more actively involved in representing the research industry as whole.
The case of the MRS' influence in the UK, may however be an exception
and not just because the British do have a propensity to join clubs
and societies - the connection to the Balti Triangle. Apart from the
Balti Triangle, England also boasts having the densest population of
MR agencies and practitioners in London than any other city. The culture
of this close knit research community is in part represented by the
MRS. This, compared to the geographic spread of agencies in other countries
may be determining the effectiveness of each country representing their
own research community.
Many codes, one voice
Bearing that in mind I feel we could do worse than having some form
of non-governing central point of contact to learn of each country's
data legislation. The ideal would be to act as one voice to help our
international colleagues support the research industry when it comes
to the redevelopment and communication of local data protection requirements.
In the short term, a Website where details of each country's Data Protection
is accessible - watch this space!