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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.

The Balti-Triangle

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 in others.

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!

Stewart Fitchew
Research Consultant
Berlin, Germany


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