Hello – we’re Coin Research. And this is our approach to research.

First of all, let’s put it out there: the old models of research are not fit for purpose in this digital age. To thrive in a world witnessing geopolitical upheaval, with digital globalisation, and with a new era of transnational cosmopolitanism – research needs to change.

The occasional survey or focus group just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Before our eyes we can see the accelerated transformation of the family, household, class, democracy, public sphere, economy, media, and so on.

We need to keep up.

This is true whoever you are. Whatever organisation you are a part of – you are not a silo. You exist within a shifting constellation of businesses, initiatives, institutions and so on.

You are a node in a network.

So, if you want to remain competitive, to develop authentic purpose, to reflect the needs of your customers or supporters, then you must start using the methodological tools and models of the networked age.

Below are the five pillars of modern research. These are the main five pivots we use when designing methodologies to answer today’s strategic questions.

(We discuss these five pillars in the first episode of our podcast series, The A-Z of Modern Research – a series exploring 26 key concepts shaping the future of research and insight. You can get to it by clicking here.)

Pillar 1: New routes

There’s a lot of new technology out there…

And getting to grips with it is crucial if we want to revolutionise research.

We’re talking research communities, mobile surveys, social media listening, and big data. These are the early superstars of the movement.

Then we have the shiny new tools of face-tracking, neuro-science, virtual reality and biometric research.

Staying on top of (and experimenting with) these is a must. They allow you to remain in a state of continual, and rich, conversation with all your various stakeholders.

And don’t just think about proprietary technology. Social media is a smorgasbord of data collection tools that are ripe for the plucking. We’ve used WhatsApp, Pinterest, Medium, Twitter, Facebook and even Tinder as research tools.

We like to think of it like this – the old research paradigm involved writing questions. The modern research paradigm is about knowing the possibilities of different platforms, and how to write a killer search query (although crafting beautiful questions is still crucial).

But let’s not act like magpies and get too caught up in tech. Lots of voices in the research space fetishize technology… so onto pillar number 2…

Pillar 2: Research as Content

We’re not going to say that PowerPoint is dead. It’s not.

But you know what we’re talking about. Delivering a deck with 75 slides, and seeing only two get used. No one is having a good time.

Take a moment to think about all the different formats of content you consume when you’re online. We’re talking podcasts, infographics, videos, tweets, pins, slideshows, and so on. And what about those awesome interactive websites…?

The modern research paradigm is about delivering research in a way that is engaging and built around the person that is receiving it.

And this means storytelling. Spinning a good yarn. Captivating your listener. People don’t remember facts and figures, but they do remember stories.

We’re not saying researchers need to write Moby Dick, but delivering findings through a lens of narrative structure is crucial if you want to get people’s attention in this noisy and distracting world.

So think like an editor. Build in sharing triggers. Make a documentary. Collaborate with a cartoonist. Get creative and see how much further your research spreads.

Pillar 3: Networked Thinking

All bow to the mighty network and its unstoppable logic! The network is king.

Think about it – most of the things that organise our life now exist as international networks. From financial markets to the distribution of goods and services; from art to culture; from sport to entertainment; from mass media to higher education; from organised crime to NGO’s; from religion to terrorism.

Airbnb, Uber, Facebook, Spotify, Google – all own nothing except their network.

No-one really knows where the age of the digital network will take us. It’s complicated. It’s shattering all the old models. For example, in the industrial era we had mass production – this was a model of high volume, standardised, rationalised production. It had a top-down and hierarchical structure.

But today in business we see networks of co-operation – alliances and partnerships. Not permanent hierarchical configurations, but project based networks that last for a certain time, product or process.

There’s a lot to be said about the network as the dominant structuring principle of our time. And for researchers, it is crucial to have a conceptual understanding of what a network is and how it works.

To move from the conceptual to the practical – we’re talking about a move away from using research panels and towards activating authentic research networks.

Start thinking about gate keepers, intrinsic motivation, Metcalfes law…

At Coin, we nurture our home-grown network of youth subcultures, academics, business leaders, high-net worth, and tech entrepreneurs. We don’t have a database. We have earned access.

Pillar 4: Multidisciplinary Approaches

Every day we witness new job titles spring up catering to the demands of an increasingly complex workplace. In academia the number of journals and papers is skyrocketing.

Within the insight world new categories breed subcategories. Dissecting streams of big data, running communities, analysing trends – all are demanding new skill-sets.

With such complexity, it can become easy to get caught in labyrinths of thought. Filter bubbles where we surround ourselves with the approaches we’re used to.

But modern research needs to have a low-resolution overview across multiple disciplines.

This isn’t new – research in business has always drawn from a range of different fields. The depth interviewing of psychology, the ethnography of anthropology, the semiotics of critical theory, the trend-watching of journalism, the statistics of sociology and so on.

What is new is the breadth of the challenge. It involves creativity in the sense of bridging ideas. Relishing in what we don’t know as opposed to jealously over-valuing what we do know.

There’s a Japanese word that perhaps best covers it – Tsudonku. It means leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other unread books.

Facing the new challenges outlined above means a flexibility of approach. Lateral thinking about problems. Wide-ranging thinking.

Pillar 5: The Philosophy of Listening

Finally we get to the crux of modern research. Listening.

Now I know what you’re thinking – you already do a lot of listening. You have your community managers, you have your employee engagement committees and so on.

But we’re talking about something deeper than that. Something transformational.

In philosophical terms, it is known as acceptance of the other in their radical alterity.

I don’t want to come across as a critical theory undergraduate (although critical theory should be making deeper in-roads into organisations), but this is how we can create a research fit for purpose in the digital age.

Most listening that is done in organisations is instrumental. It is listening to find out something. This just leads to an echo-chamber, and it is bad research. Good research is about helping your organisation become a more powerful network by increasing the value to all its members through the act of benevolent listening.

It’s listening before you start asking questions.

A first step is to reset the privilege of researcher over participant. We need to stop doing research ‘on’ people, and start doing it ‘with’ them instead. From respondent to co-researcher.

So what?

The research function of any organisation is the locus to affect the type of profound change needed in the networked world.

It is a new research. It is built on creativity and innovation. Deep new ideas. Fearlessness. It is human centered.

We feel that in the face of artificial intelligence and robots, in the face of the fear of automation, modern research is not something for machines.

This is the type of conversation we’re going to be having here at Coin Research.