GOR 2018 – Impressions from Germany's largest Online Research Conference

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Last week, some of our team attended the GOR in Cologne to get some input about the future of online research and hold a presentation on our own study using chatbots in surveys. More on that later though. Since I come from a graphic Design / Communication background it was my first time at the conference and I was looking forward to get a deeper understanding of the field I now work in.
The four tracks included interesting topics such as Internet Surveys, Mobile Web and Online Research Methodology, Big Data and Data Science, Politics and Communication and Applied Online Research. I did not get to attend presentations in all tracks however some issues or thoughts seemed to be the connecting link throughout the tracks.

Online research needs to put itself ‘out there’ and look over the ‘Tellerrand’

This became already clear in the keynote by Dr. Mario Callegaro from Google London, where he presented in an eye-opening and entertaining fashion the parallels between everyday forms we have to fill out as tax payers and on various other occasions when visiting e.g. federal institutions and surveys in general. It was interesting to see how important web-forms really are for companies or constitutions. The smallest mistakes in designing those forms can lead to an enormous amount of follow up costs in administrations. Yet these two areas – even though they are obviously so close - remain separated in their silos. And what’s more, survey designers probably even look down upon those forms when they could actually learn from them. Mario showed some nice examples how the findings in the field of forms can help in designing online surveys. Because, if we are hones to ourselves, the earliest form of survey were questionnaires regarding taxes back in the day.

This is only one example amid a couple of other presentation and also, most notably, the panel discussion. Here again the consensus was that Market research has to market itself and look over the Tellerrand (broaden the horizon) to drive innovation in our industry. Edward Appleton (HappyThinkingPeople), once again Dr. Mario Callegaro (Google London), Dr. Lorenz Gräf (Startplatz) and Thomas Schäfer (Ipsos) had an intense discussion about where market research should or needs to open up to other disciplines and industries to accelerate the necessary changes which will be needed in the future. The market research industry can still learn from smaller start-ups in terms of agile organizations and the ‘trial-and-error’ / ‘fail fast, fail forward’ approach. Also tech giants could be a role model in terms of utilizing AI and other technical advancements, where we are still slow to adopt. The only flaw this discussion had was that it sometimes failed to follow up on some of the more controversial inputs. These came mostly from Edward Appleton, who attested the industry an aversion to change and what seemed even more important a strong reluctance to utilize even the most basic marketing measures to put the industry ‘out there’.

Because we really need to tell the world why market research is still relevant in the age of DIY-surveys, endless data seemingly available at our fingertips and, as many fear, AI threatening our jobs. Foremost, because the human factor and expertise and experience is still and will probably always be very much needed to put all this data in perspective, connect the dots and point to correlations and significant findings. And these of course have to be delivered and made available in an understanding and appealing fashion. Which brings me to the next point:

Data visualization is getting some much needed attention

(Disclaimer: my colleague, Florian Tress was, with Oliver Tabino of Team Q, the chair of the session on data visualization.)
The second big take away for me was that market research is realizing the importance of visualizing data in an understandable and sensible way to make it easy to read and unambiguous in the message. This was attested to by the session on Data Visualization, which was very well received by the audience. The most notable presentation for me came from Christina Elmer of Spiegel Online, one of Germanys biggest online publication. Her presentation showed very clearly how good and also entertaining data visualization can be to really help to get the point across and very much engage people even with complex data.  To make this work, Christina said, you need at least three people: a journalist, a data scientist and last but not at all least a designer. I think design is often overlooked or seen as too whimsical or even frowned upon by market researchers who seem to still be enamored with the go to bar charts. I hope to see some improvements here at the next GOR with regards to some of the presentations and I am glad to hear that my skillset is needed in this industry.

Last but not least: AI/Chatbots in Online surveys

As promised some final words on our own presentation about using chatbots in online surveys. AI is still a big topic in the industry and the advent of it worries many colleagues. As far as our findings go, at this point it can be a helpful addition in surveys but will not replace humans in the near future. In our study, we wanted to find out if chatbots can be used instead of an open text field in surveys and how that would affect the behavior of the panelists. We also wanted to see if the tonality of the chatbot and the personality of the panelist affects the outcome. We found that panelists write a lot more when ‘asked’ by a chatbot as opposed to the open text field. Also, that their personality and whether they had previous experiences with chatbots is also relevant to how much they write and how they rate the survey quality. If you want to know more, don’t hesitate to contact my colleague, Robin Setzer ( about the study. You can also read the blog post on why ‘Chatbots are the next big thing in survey research’ by my colleague Florian Tress.

All in all, the GOR was an interesting experience and many relevant topics where discussed and presented. I am looking forward to next year to see if the horizon of the market research industry has expanded and whether this will be presented with beautifully visualized data.