Web Summit is an opportunity to spend time with both the titans of the tech world, and the fledgling start-ups that are shaping the future. We’ve been working with CNBC on a report looking at the future of business, using the themes of Web Summit as a launch pad. We’re looking forward to sharing this with you, but in the meantime, here are some bite-size ’researcher reflections’ from attending the event.

“It’s undoubtedly an exciting time for business, and it’s vital that market research evolve at the same pace. A surfeit of technology that has been long-talked about is now shifting from early to mass adoption and will change the business landscape forever. We’re proud to be working with Coin Research to understand the implications for this upon everyday business and to keep CNBC firmly ‘First in Business’ in the workplaces of tomorrow.”
David Evans, Head of Data and Insight, CNBC

Chatbots: Chatbots are picking up momentum, and many are calling them the future of marketing. So – what about research? The easy answer is to consider how to use chatbots to capture qualitative information at scale from participants. And with text analytics becoming tighter we could see a new age of automated qualitative insight. However, the most compelling uses of chatbots, and artificial intelligence more broadly, was how it helped facilitate richer connections between humans.

This is the direction I would like to see this trend move within the insight space. Personally, I don’t like the idea of qualitative research becoming less human (and I say this as someone that uses digital mediums to conduct research daily). Qualitative research is enjoying a renaissance now. This is driven by the deep questions our accelerating world is throwing at us. It is also being driven by the need for deeper understanding of humans, so we can begin applying and shaping technology around human needs, pains and desires.

Legislation: GDPR is a pressing concern for anyone in the data collection space, and the future of digital legislation was everywhere at the Summit. Whilst it may be typical for companies to perceive these changes as a threat, it is up to us to see it as an opportunity. Our ethical role as researchers is to represent both the interests of the client and the citizens. So we should be taking a lead in defining this legislation, and helping organisations pre-empt and embrace legislation designed to safeguard society.

Virtual reality: Virtual reality has been used by some forward-thinking researchers as a tool since it first arrived, for example – testing store layouts, or using 3D cameras and headsets to put clients directly in the world of the participant. However, virtual reality needs to find it’s killer app. It’s a new medium that requires a new narrative form. Here researchers have an opportunity to use their skill to connect storytellers with technologists and people in innovative ways.

Innovative cities: Silicon Valley isn’t the only innovation hub. Increasingly, the focus is moving towards other technical cities with rich cultural history and a diverse population to add to the technological mix. Lisbon, the home of Web Summit, is one of these – as is Warsaw, Riga and many more. As such, we should be looking more to these unique places to see how they are evolving and playing with the advances in technology. In many ways, the tech agenda now is less building the tools, and more about working out how to integrate them into our personal and professional lives. It is up to researchers to understand what developments these hubs, with their own fascinating subcultures, offer.

Embracing mediums: Perhaps my favourite talk was by the CEO of Slack, Stewart Butterfield. He elegantly compared new digital mediums to poetry. In poetry there are limitations – you must have a certain number of lines in a sonnet, or follow a certain rhyme pattern. It is these communication limitations that encourage richness. These reflect the idea of researcher as platform expert. Each platform – be it Twitter, Instagram, mobile video and so on – has it’s own set of limitations that can be capitalised upon by a researcher to capture a particular type of data. Each has its own structure, its own rhythm, its own way of creating relationships. This is the thinking behind our DigiQual product. And, as we start seeing VR, AR, AI and all the other epochal changes on the horizon, it would do well to remember that it is up to us to learn how to use them for both the benefit of our clients, and the benefit of our participants.

Written by Oli Conner