About a 4 min. read
As a market researcher, political scientist, teacher—and human—I spend time thinking about concepts related to identity. I personally identify as a white, straight and cis male—in other words, I am not a person who has been under-represented or disenfranchised because of my race, sexual orientation, gender identity or other characteristics. But, I still have an obligation to understand that other individuals—including potential participants in our research—have been under-represented, misunderstood, and marginalized. Thoughtful consideration of identity offers opportunities to avoid bias, to better understand your audience (specifically how they view themselves and how they want to be identified), and can help your clients better communicate with their consumers. This is critical to good market research, and it’s simply the right thing to do.
Here are a few key—but non-exhaustive—ways market researchers should include identity in their work:
1. Create a safe space: Participating in qualitative research or taking a quantitative survey instrument is a daunting task. Everyone can relate to the “short” survey that ends up being ~20-minutes. Imagine reading the first few questions of a survey that asks you to divulge your identity, and your identity is not represented. You may feel unseen and/or unheard.
To help minimize these negative experiences, consider providing opportunities for respondents to self-identify using open-ended questions. While this requires coding responses after field, it’s one easy way to ensure everyone has a chance to identify themselves accurately. If you must use a closed set of alternatives, here are some recommendations:
2. Be comfortable with some discomfort: Decisions you make related to asking questions about identity might result in backlash. Feedback related to your survey will either appear in open-ended responses, especially for gender and sexual orientation, or via email. Consider these responses to come from two groups: allies and antagonists.
3. Ask identity-related questions at the end of the survey. Unless your research is focused on identity and you need specific representation, or if you need to click balance on these dimensions, save personal questions for the end. Inclusive identity questions early in a survey could activate participants and bias your results. Additionally, including demographics at the end of a survey is increasingly common in social science research.
4. Don’t waste data. Now, it’s time to analyze the results. As researchers, we’re inclined to save banner space by including the modal groups for analysis and “othering” those who don’t fit into the larger groups. What’s the point in gathering identity data if you’re not going to use it? Consider the following:
As market researchers we are not expected to be identity experts. However, we are expected to uncover insights that help to understand our consumers—not just the modal group. Refreshing the way we frame identity questions and using the data to uncover meaningful insights is one way we can be better humans and better researchers.