I recently attended my first post-lockdown Quirks conference. Things were certainly different, but with good cause for optimism.
Back on the road again
It was September 30th, 2021 – almost 18 months since we were all grounded by the pandemic. And I finally got the chance to hop on a plane for the first of three Quirks conferences, in Chicago, London, and New York.
Travel’s not as simple as it was. And once I arrived at Quirks, I needed proof of vaccination and a mask on at all times. I was taken aback by the significantly lower turnouts. Considering less than 60% of the US is fully vaccinated, I guess it makes sense. I can see how boarding a crowded plane and spending a few days at an indoor conference hall with strangers from all over the world might not be appealing to most. But I couldn’t wait.
Socially distanced socializing
I always make the rounds at conferences. It’s a great good way to hear what everyone’s talking about, and what our industry’s future looks like. And to catch up with some old friends and colleagues too, of course. This time was extra special for me, because I was representing Forsta in the midst of launching our new brand and vision.
So I struck up some conversations, but things felt a bit…awkward – even with people I’ve known for years. Is that who I think it is behind the mask? Do we shake hands or fist bump? (Get that wrong and you’re suddenly playing a clumsy version of rock, paper, scissors.) The most common bit of branded swag at this event was hand sanitizer. Almost every session seemed to have something to do with the pandemic. Everywhere I looked, there seemed to be some little reminder that things aren’t quite back to normal.
A sudden new interest in new tech
The turnout may have been lower than usual, but enthusiasm was high enough to make up for it. The speakers and vendors at all three events were optimistic about the trends and opportunities in research. In my opinion, the research industry’s always been a bit slow to adopt new ideas. Traditional methods still dominate the industry, even as new approaches and technologies have arrived.
The pandemic has shown businesses that they need to embrace new tech to stay competitive. Automation, machine learning, artificial intelligence, facial coding, eye tracking, brain wave mapping, voice analysis – these aren’t new technologies. But they’re now gaining a foothold in an industry that’s been set in its ways for decades, much of which is due to the pandemic A lot of that has brought on by the global pandemic.
For example, think of a seasoned qualitative researcher still doing in-person interviews. In 2019, it would’ve been tough to move away from this approach and switch to a digital solution with facial coding or eye tracking. Fast forward to the middle of 2020 and that same researcher will have had no choice but to switch – simply because in-person research was no longer an option. Out of sheer necessity, the pandemic has made the research industry sit up and notice the benefits of new ideas and the new tech at their disposal. This opens the door not just to more digitalization, but also for ways of getting scalability and insights at speed.
Ultimately, it’s all about agility
Back to everyone’s favorite research buzzword: agility. One clear takeaway from Quirks is that the pandemic has changed the world and we can’t go on doing things the old ways.
Things are starting to return to normal, but it’s certainly a new normal. There are reminders everywhere. Even the simple flight attendant announcement as we taxi away from the gate may forever be changed to include “make sure your mask is entirely covering your nose and mouth.”
There’s a great quote that sums up my thoughts and recent observations:
“Things happen, we learn to adapt or we don’t, but we move on in some way or another. Sometimes that’s hard and takes longer than we’d like.”Barbara Elsborg
Perhaps the pandemic has finally forced the research industry to do the same.
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