IFF Research and Voluntas Join Forces to Improve the Quality of Housing Provision

We’re delighted to announce that our team has grown, with the acquisition of housing research specialist Voluntas.

Birmingham-based Voluntas focus on understanding residents’ experience, especially in the sphere of social housing. They recently celebrated 10 years of operation, and we aim to continue their legacy of helping improve the quality of housing provision across the UK.

With the strength of our combined skills and experience, and through the retention of their team, and the talent they offer, this union will allow us to serve our clients better.

Our Managing Director, Jan Shury, said: “We’re absolutely delighted to have joined forces with Voluntas. We’ve been talking to each other for a while and our synergies have been evident. IFF and Voluntas share a common mission to make a difference through the work that we do; and nothing makes a difference to people’s lives more than the homes that they live in.”

He added: “Working together, IFF and Voluntas will be able to serve more clients in the housing sector, expanding and developing the range of services and products that we offer, to help inform a new era of responsiveness to tenants’ needs. Beyond scale and range of services, the housing providers whom we work with will benefit from our complementary specialisms spanning the fields of welfare and benefits, employability, financial capability, regulation and business growth (among others).”

So what next for IFF and Voluntas?

Although it’s a bit of a cliché, for the moment it’s very much business as usual. The Voluntas team have been very successful with their research services up until this point so our focus is on ensuring that their research services continue uninterrupted.

We’re in the process of consulting with the Voluntas team and will shortly begin a listening exercise with Voluntas clients, to ensure we continue to deliver actionable insights, and understand if there are way in which we can serve them better.

What does this mean for our clients?

Very little in the short term. Neither Directors or Projects Managers will change, and services will continue with no change or interruption.

In the longer term however, we envision that this additional expertise will enable us to improve our offering, with opportunities for crossover with other services.

For example, there could be additional benefits offered from this additional sector insight for:
• Clients in the Welfare sector with an interest in benefits and the rollout of universal credit
• Higher Education sector clients looking to understand the student experience
• Business and Enterprise clients interested in stimulating local labour markets and support business growth

For further information

If you have any further questions about this acquisition or how it might affect you then our MD Jan Shury will be happy to speak with you.

Jan Shury
Tel: 020 7250 3035
Email: jan.shury@iffresearch.com

For any press enquiries please contact our Head of Marketing:

Sara Fernie-Jones
Tel: 020 7250 3035
Email: sara.fernie-jones@iffresearch.com

Social inequality in a post-truth world: How evidence could have turned the referendum

Social inequality has been a part of life for as long as humans have existed, with individuals from both sides of the coin striving to reduce it. Matt Barnes, the Chair at IFF’s seminar last week on ‘Dividing Lines – the Role of Evidence in Reducing Social Inequality’ set a context for an interesting evening of discussions by taking us through a brief history in time of social inequality, starting 6,000 years ago when old agricultural land owners controlled access to weapons, taking in the Victorian era and Dickensian exposés of the gap between rich and poor and landing in the recent past when the Thatcher years saw the most marked and rapid increases in inequality in post-war Britain.

Indeed, the battle between the ‘haves and have nots’ has been a primary driver in British voting patterns throughout modern history with lower earners typically voting left and higher earners voting right. IFF’s latest seminar provided a new, evidence heavy take on what this gap means in today’s world and revealed that the research sector might benefit from widening its focus on this historic economic divide.

The economic story

Most in the research and policy worlds will be familiar with the evidence of the economic story, showing that the gap between the highest and lowest earners has shot up in the last thirty years and that the UK ranks among the most unequal societies in the developed world (ranking 6th by the Gini coefficient in 2015). Most will be aware of the plethora of data behind Danny Dorling’s powerful critiques of UK policy and the recent attacks on the richest 1%. Speaker, Matt Whittaker of the Resolution Foundation highlighted an additional layer to this analysis, demonstrating that although the extent of inequality has on the face of it remained broadly consistent over the last twenty years, if we look at income after housing costs then it has in fact continued to rise. This is compounded by a slowdown in economic growth since the 2008 financial crisis which has seen average annual income decrease in real-terms for the poorest households and lowered the general mood of the country.

Slide shared by Matthew Whittaker of the Resolution Foundadtion during his event presentation.

Building on the economic story, IFF’s own Alistair Kuechel showed us how the financial services market and the government-led UK Financial Capability Strategy have attempted to address the impact of economic inequality on the financially squeezed portion of the public, offering support to improve the individual’s ability and confidence to manage their money more effectively through free online banking products like Pockit, and by using regulation to reduce the ‘poverty premium’ (the idea that poorer people pay more for essential goods and services, for example from higher fuel tariffs and up-front payment methods). While these new initiatives were warmly received, Thursday’s audience reverted back to the core problem of the income gap and why the public and policy makers are failing to take notice of it.

Falling on deaf ears

Awareness of the poverty premium among the public at large is low, and graphs of the Gini coefficient rarely make the front pages. Indeed, it was the lack of traction gained by the extensive evidence on the issue, diligently produced by the research sector, that emerged as the over-arching theme of Thursday night’s seminar. While Guardian columnist and broadcaster (and the most emotive speaker at IFF’s seminar) Polly Toynbee accepted that most politicians are conscious of the issue (look at Theresa May’s ‘burning social injustices’ speech on the steps of Downing Street) they are failing to use the wealth of evidence available to shape new policies.

So why aren’t people listening? Perhaps this is a symptom of Trump’s post-truth world. Perhaps Gove was right and people really have ‘had enough of experts’. The feeling from Polly Toynbee was that the research world is failing to tell the economic story in a human way, to really engage people on an individual level. Matt Whittaker however took this one step further, revealing through his Brexit analysis that actually there are other stories at play, which researchers and policy-makers alike need to explore and employ before we can have a real impact.

The Brexit factor

Brexit’s shock result has shone a light on new dividing lines that go beyond economic inequality and cut across income differences and left/right voting patterns. While income was a factor, it was intertwined with other divides between, to name a few, students and workers, home owners and renters, and those who perceive that their communities are getting along or drifting apart. Perhaps the most important factor straddling all these issues, was whether or not voters had a degree. Importantly, while we have a wealth of evidence on economic inequality, this is only one of a multitude of inequalities that the individual perceives as relevant to them today and questions remain unanswered about how these other factors affect individual choices. Matt went as far as to suggest that if the remain campaign had identified and engaged with these lesser-known divides, the referendum result could have swung the other way.

When it comes to increasing the impact of research, we were left with the feeling that it is less an issue of poor story-telling, and more an issue of telling the wrong story. If we want evidence about social inequality to cut through the untruths, maybe we need to leave Danny Dorling’s graphs on the shelf and tell the stories that speak to what else really matters to voters now. As IFF perpetually endeavours to do, we need to improve our understanding of the new lines that are changing behaviour today.

IFF Seminar: Dividing Lines The Role Of Evidence In Reducing Social Inequality

We are very excited to announce that IFF’s next event Dividing Lines The Role Of Evidence In Reducing Social Inequality will be taking place on Thursday, November 22nd from 4.30PM-6.30PM.

Event details: 

Neither inequality nor the debate over how to narrow the gap are new concepts. However, societal gaps and the perceptions surrounding them change over time, and events in recent years have returned these discussions to centre stage.

The 2016 referendum result highlighted divisions along ‘non-traditional’ lines, challenging the traditional class-led divisions that have long been a fixture of UK society. Whichever the political persuasion of a government, it is clear that evidence-led policy will be key in narrowing gaps in equality within our society.

Event outcomes:

This is the fifth event of our series during which we will bring together an audience of policy and research professionals from the public sector and decision-makers from the private sector to help us explore how we can use evidence to reduce inequality.

Speakers:

  • Polly Toynbee (Columnist and former BBC Social Affairs Editor)
  • Matthew Whittaker (Resolution Foundation)
  • Alistair Kuechel (IFF Research)

Chair:

Matt Barnes (Director, IFF Research)

Discussion:

Speakers will be discussing how we can use evidence to reduce inequality addressing some of the following questions:

  • What are the current challenges to policy makers in reducing inequality?
  • How do we maximise the value of research to policy makers?
  • What skills do researchers need to enhance the impact of evidence?
  • Are there new divisions in society, or are the same old ones just revealing themselves in different ways?
  • What does this mean for research?

Post-event discussion (drinks and networking):

We will carry on the conversation with drinks and networking from 6.30pm. You can register your interest by following the link here.

IFF ‘Highly Commended’ at the MRS Operations Awards for Best Data Collection (Online)

What a fabulous, festive and fun-filled evening at the MRS Operations Awards last night. IFF were out in force with staff from across the company coming together in eager anticipation ahead of our nominations in the two best data collection categories, Best Data Collection Online and Best Data Collection Telephone.

This year the Oppies were moved from their traditional location at One America, Tower Hill to the Beach Blanket Babylon in Shoreditch so we found ourselves making the opposite journey to the ceremony having recently moved our own offices from Hoxton/Shoreditch to London Bridge/Tower Hill. As we passed by the graffiti splashed buildings and smelt the familiar scent of pulled pork in the air we hoped that this strange coincidence might be an omen for a triumphant return.

As the evening went on we were reminded of why the Oppies are so important. They are a celebration of the industry, a chance to put the spotlight on the operational functions that lie at the heart of our business and an opportunity for us to remember our own organisational achievements.

The awards we were nominated for this year represent two of our milestone projects. The Best Data Collection (Online) nomination was a result of work carried out on the Annual Survey of Goods and Services for the Office of National Statistics, a study with approximately 40,000 participants which contributes to the calculation of national gross domestic product (GDP). Our nomination for Best Data Collection Telephone come through our work on the Employer Skills Survey (ESS), one of the largest B2B survey’s in the world with just under 90,000 employer interviews.

It was a night filled with positivity and comradery and although we missed out on the main awards of the night our submission in the Best Data Collection (Online) category was highly commended by the judges.

We are very proud of the impact both of these projects have had and delighted that this was recognised by the judges. We want to take this opportunity to thank our clients and partners, in particular, the Office for National Statistics and Department for Education for commissioning these crucial studies. The harmonious working relationships we have enjoyed with both of these bodies has led to outcomes that truly make a difference.

This year’s Oppie awards are a signifier of the great work being carried out across the industry. We want to congratulate all the winners and nominees on the night for their outstanding achievements.

We hope to see you all again next year!

IFF nominated for two MRS Operations Awards for Data Collection (Online and Telephone)

We are very pleased to announce that IFF Research has been nominated in two categories at the upcoming MRS Operations Awards, Best Data Collection Online and Best Data Collection Telephone. Our operations team are the heart of our company and we are especially proud to have been recognised in the area of data collection.

Exceptional data is essential for influencing decisions relating to a client’s strategy, orientation and focus. The data collection awards seek to recognise teams whose excellence at collecting data has delivered outstanding results for the research process and IFF is nominated in both the telephone and online categories.

Best Data Collection – Online

IFF has been nominated for work on the Annual Survey of Goods and Services for the Office of National Statistics. The survey responds to an independent review of UK economic statistics conducted by Sir Charles Bean in March 2016, which highlighted insufficient measurement of the UK service economy. It informs the Services Producer Prices Index (SPPI) and is used by National Accounts in their calculation of gross domestic product (GDP) so accuracy, a clear user journey and excellent respondent support were essential.

Best Data Collection – Telephone

IFF has been chosen as a finalist in this category for work on the Employer Skills Survey (ESS), one of the largest B2B survey’s in the world with just under 90,000 employer interviews. IFF demonstrated innovation in approach, quality in data collection and management for a survey that had a significant impact on the employment landscape.

With an unprecedented sample size this body of work acts as a shining example of the scale and quality of IFF’s telephone research operation. The findings from this research offer exclusive insight into the skills needs of employers providing robust analytical power at a local, sectoral and occupational level.

Winners of the MRS operations awards, otherwise known as the Oppies, will be announced in September 2018 and we can’t wait to join the industry celebrations. Follow the link for further details MRS Operations Awards 2018

One company: IFF’s move to London Bridge represents more than just a change of scenery

We are now well and truly settled into our London Bridge office as we move towards the end of an amazing summer at IFF. Our relocation not only provided an opportunity to optimise our working environment with clever, collaborative working spaces and our own onsite viewing facility but more importantly allows us to operate together as one company across a single floor. Throughout our time in Hoxton our business was split across four floors and despite an open and collaborative relationship between staff in our research and operations teams (we have been nominated for two MRS awards this year for collaborative research projects) there was an unavoidable physical barrier between departments.

One of the hallmarks of IFF’s approach is ‘being human first’ in relation to clients, survey respondents but also crucially between our own people and we are delighted to have everyone working and interacting in one space once again.

Our offices were unveiled to clients and the wider research community at our summer research seminar, ‘The Truth About Research – How to Uncover What People Really Think’, in early July but for those of you who have yet to visit, here are few images as well as a short message from our Managing Director Jan Shury on the thinking behind our office design.

An evening of truth and lies: ‘The Truth About Research – How to uncover what people really think?’ – IFF event summary

Trying to understand what people think and how they behave goes to the very heart of research and analysis. Trust in what participants tell us is vital and this consideration is what inspired the fourth event in IFF’s seminar series, The Truth About Research – How to uncover what people really think, which took place on the evening of Thursday 5th July at IFF’s new riverside offices in St. Magnus House, Lower Thames Street.

One of the themes to emerge from the evening (which featured presentations from a combination of experts on human behaviour, semiotics, research and poker!) is that people do lie − quite a lot in fact − and this is not a new phenomenon to emerge with the so-called post-truth society. However, when people lie it is often not because of a deliberate intention to lie, but instead can come about through situational circumstance and social desirability pressures. Thankfully, there are numerous techniques which researchers can use to help get to the truth.

How to “tell” a lie

Humans lie on average twice a day, and it can be very difficult to tell when someone is lying. Indeed, academic research has shown that the average person will correctly guess when someone is lying just 54% of the time. Marginally more accurate than a toss of a coin. Even in a setting in which the idea of spotting a lie – or bluff – is glamourised, one of the speakers of the evening, Caspar Berry, an ex-professional poker player, told the audience that such concepts are overrated and long-term poker success boils down to the ability to calculate risk rather than an ability to read people.

So how can we spot a lie in research? Katie Oldfield, Director at IFF Research, explained that a mixed method research design can prove very helpful in the search for truth: “There are risks and limitations in respondent accuracy in both quantitative surveys and qualitative research, but when we do both and can combine them on the same topic we can start to see where things overlap, where there is strength of feeling, or where there are contradictions, and ultimately allow us to get a much richer picture and get closer to the truth of the matter.”

Caspar Berry – Professional Poker Player

Plausible deniability – it’s just a little lie

“Humans do lie quite a lot, but we usually lie just a little bit – we push at the margins of truth – so that we can deny the lie to others, but also deny the lie to ourselves said Nick Chater, Professor of Behavioural Science at the Warwick Business School. Professor Chater’s talk focused on how we justify lies to ourselves (sometimes lying without even realising it), with a key influence being pressures to provide a response, but also to provide a socially desirable answer.

Nick Chater, Professor of Behavioural Science at the Warwick Business School

Looking at this concept from a research perspective, IFF’s Katie Oldfield provided examples of how this can be countered. “We’ve previously conducting research among employers about adherence to equality legislation and we had to work quite hard to get employers to give honest answers.” One of the ways this was achieved was by using scales with more response points to allow research participants to admit to having certain views ‘a bit’ whilst allowing them to show they do not feel they have the most extreme views. It was also necessary to develop question wording which ‘normalised’ behaviours/attitudes that respondents may have been unwilling to admit, for example by stating “other employers have said ‘X’ about equality legislation… is this something you agree with?”

Truth is relative

Dr. Alex Gordon, Founder and CEO of Sign Salad, explored how semiotics – the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation – affects peoples’ truths. “Truth is a relative concept, it changes according to the contexts in which we are set said Alex, providing examples of how we are culturally conditioned to see ‘truth’ in signs. A neat example is how a thumbs-up gesture can have drastically different meaning when delivered by a scuba diver (signalling the end of a dive and the need to ascend) and its everyday use for signalling something good or agreeable. Fail to understand the cultural contexts of signs and symbols, and researchers may misinterpret why research participants respond in certain ways.

Alex Gordon – CEO, Sign Salad

One way of countering this can be through adopting ethnographic techniques into research design. IFF’s Katie Oldfield explained that “Observing people in real life situations over a longer period can be very powerful for getting closer to their truth, rather than a more artificial setting such as an interview or focus group setting.” An example provided by Katie was a recent piece of research among troubled families in Wandsworth where a ‘walk-and-talk’ technique was adopted. “We walked with people around their local area whilst talking with them in a more conversational style which was a great way to get people to really open up about their lives, rather than a more formal interview.”

Katie Oldfield – Director, IFF Research

The truth is it can be difficult to tell if someone is lying. There are factors at play that are outside of our control and ultimately, we have to accept that people will not always be truthful with us, sometimes even unwittingly. The best way of uncovering the truth? Spread your bets by using a mixed methodology approach, watch for overlapping patterns and make people feel comfortable enough to be genuine by being genuine and honest yourself.

For the full archive of events at IFF visit our dedicated events page here.

IFF Seminar: The Truth About Research – How to uncover what people really think?

“The trouble with research is that people don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say.” David Ogilvy

Trying to understand what people really think and how they behave goes to the very heart of research and analysis. Yet research often requires people to respond in a prescribed way through a structured questionnaire, for example, or an artificial focus group environment.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we find that people can often give answers that are ‘socially desirable’ or designed to save face. They are optimistic about plans and intentions but not realistic about future behaviour. How far are they being actively deceptive and how far are they deceiving themselves?

This has been a challenge to researchers since the modern industry evolved, and as an industry we have proposed many tools, techniques and tests to help us to get closer to “the truth”. Never has the challenge been greater than in these days where people more commonly and routinely manage different identities / uphold different versions of themselves across different media, and where digital media tools, automation and AI all come together to challenge the notion of a single truth.

This event seeks to discover the truth about research; in doing what we do, in the way we do it are we uncovering “the truth”, the partial truth or everything but the truth?

Can you handle the truth? 

This is the fourth event in IFF’s seminar series which focuses on challenges and opportunities for the world of research and analysis. Attendees have the chance to discuss the psychology of truth and lies and to take away some practical ideas on how to gather more accurate and ‘truthful’ data.

Chair:

Rowan Foster (Director, IFF Research).

Speakers:

  • Caspar Berry (Professional Poker Player and Expert in Human Behaviour) will be sharing insights into how and why people lie and how to detect the truth.
  • Nick Chater (Professor of Behavioural Science, Warwick Business School) will consider both simple and complex methods to encourage truthfulness.
  • Alex Gordon (CEO, Sign Salad) will be exploring how people’s attitudes, beliefs and truths are influenced by culture, signs and symbols.
  • Katie Oldfield (Director at IFF Research) will further interpret the practical implications for research design and delivery.

Once the panel have spoken we will open the floor to the audience for questions and debate.

Register your interest by following the link here

The challenges of remaining impartial in the research industry

For many organisations developing a set of values can be a challenging process. It can be difficult to concisely define the nature and intentions of a business without ending up with an overstated proclamation, largely influenced by what you believe clients want to hear.

At IFF we have done everything we can to avoid such an approach and have instead used the exercise as an opportunity to reflect on the way we work rather than the other way around, sharing an insight into the true nature of what our organisation has grown to become over the last 50 years.

In this blog series we want to put our values under the spotlight, explain their true meaning and analyse their importance in the landscape of the research industry as a whole.

An impartial existence
In essence our organisation exists to find answers. In most cases the answers we reveal are presented as a fact, finding or recommendation and for this reason we must be able to stand by their integrity to justify the legitimacy of our work. Trust is built by maintaining this legitimacy with clients but we also carry a responsibility to ensure our findings have not been influenced or steered by pressure from clients who may have commissioned work to confirm their own opinion or in some cases even justify their existence.

The EU referendum has provided some good examples of bad practice with both sides of the debate using figures that they feel will influence the outcome in their favour for their own gain rather than educating or informing the general public. This kind of selective analysis is exactly what we try to avoid at IFF instead looking to reveal the full picture and offer fair and objective recommendations.

See our blog: Brexit – What next for the UK?

Testing integrity
Integrity is really put to the test when a stakeholder or clients preferred outcome is different to that shown by research findings and we are put in the difficult situation of having to push back against someone we clearly want to remain on good terms with. It becomes even more difficult when this comes off the back of information which can be interpreted in different ways. We have seen many examples of client pressure at IFF but always push for what we believe to be the most ethical and reasonable analysis.

For this reason we consider ourselves fortunate to exist as an independent entity free from internal pressure to toe the line when shades of grey emerge. In the end we have been commissioned to give our expert opinion and we believe that our conviction and commitment to our recommendations is one of the main reasons we continue to be chosen as an independent and impartial authority.