Time to Start the Slow Research Movement?

Back in 1986 in Italy the Slow Food Movement was launched. It was a reaction to the encroachment of fast food on Italian food culture. A few years later they’d gone international, and a Manifesto was signed in Paris (where else!)

At its core was the idea that the ‘right to pleasure’ was falling victim to ‘the madness of the fast life’. That in the 20th century we had ‘invented the machine’ and then ‘modelled our lifestyle after it’ in the name of productivity. They set out to defend ‘real culture’, to ‘rediscover’ and ‘cultivate’ local food cultures, rather than ‘impoverish’ them.

I think there’s some parallels with where research and insights are heading.

There’s no shortage of opinion pieces on ‘agile’ research being the way of the future, or the need for speed in this fast-changing digital world.  We are here to satisfy our clients’ needs, and without question that sometimes means short deadlines, fast turnarounds, the need to change things as we go, to be ‘iterative’. And there’s no doubt that tech advances of 21st century have made all of this so much easier to do – the ‘on tap’ nature of online consumer panels and communities is an obvious example, and I’m sure there are plenty more. They all save us time.

But there’s a critical part of any research / insights process that hasn’t and shouldn’t change – and to my mind is the most critical. It’s the human component. Thinking time.

Insights are not always obvious. Turning findings into insight – especially in qualitative research – needs time. Time to think. To rush things unnecessarily reduces that thinking time and risks compromising the quality of insight.

My issue is not with speed per se. As I said, pressing deadlines are often the business reality we and our clients face every day. Of course research should only take as long as it needs to take. The nimbler we are, the better. And I’m certainly no Luddite. I love what the internet and smartphone technology enable a qualie like me to do and have being using them in my work for over 15 years.

My concern is that speed for speed’s sake becomes the overarching norm. Just because technology enables us to do some things more quickly, ‘fast’ becomes the way research is expected to be done – full stop. In all cases, for all clients. Despite the risk to quality. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

So maybe it’s time for a ‘Slow Research Movement’. To defend the ‘right’ to enough time to think.

To borrow from (and with apologies to) Slow Food, I can already see the beginnings of our manifesto:

‘Time to think’ is at risk of falling victim to the madness of the fast life. We have invented the internet, PCs and the smartphone, and then modelled our approach to research after it. While we should pay due respect to technology for the time it saves us, we must defend ‘thinking time’, re-discover its essential worth, and cultivate not impoverish it.

Who wants to join?