By Gerard Atkinson
I want you to imagine a quiet Saturday morning in Canberra 18 years ago. You’re getting stuck into your second cup of tea, and getting stuck on 25-down in the crossword (celebrated Russian poet, seven letters). The answer is on the tip of your pen and then…
At the door is a well-dressed but slightly shy young man asking whether you would have a few minutes to complete a survey.
That guy was me.
Market and social research have been a consistent thread in my career, despite originally training as a materials physicist. During the week, I would be buried in equations and building experiments, but outside university studies I needed to pay the rent. One of my jobs was as a face-to-face interviewer for Nielsen, going door-to-door collecting data. Another of my jobs was as a wedding DJ, which made for fascinating anthropology, but that’s a story for another time.
In the 18 years since then, and across multiple jobs and continents, I have continued to apply market research methods as part of my work, leading the delivery of research projects, and now overseeing teams of researchers in designing and delivering strategic planning, evaluation and research programs.
Market research and evaluation have a lot in common – they’re not the same – but many of the techniques used in market research are applied daily in the evaluation space. Think of surveys and interviews as fundamental techniques, but then add the array of statistical approaches that are applied to understand behaviour and preferences. Before coming to evaluation, these techniques were a core part of my work, whether through understanding internal program performance, to understanding audience behaviour in the arts.
The similarities between market research and evaluation are not too different from how we share techniques and theories applied in other disciplines to inform our work as evaluators, but this time around I’ll (wisely) avoid wading into the debate over whether evaluation is a transdiscipline or multidiscipline.
It was with this crossover in mind that I recently became accredited as a Qualified Professional Researcher through the Australian Market and Social Research Society. Gaining QPR accreditation is a way for me to communicate my commitment to delivering best practice research with ARTD and my capability to enable positive change through that research.
It also commits me to a continuing process of professional development though training and engagement with the latest research in the field, which will inform how we design and deliver insights for our clients.
So, it’s great to have been able to get official recognition of those skills. Combined with QPR certification, it holds me to a standard of quality in what I do and encourages me to keep learning. It also keeps that thread of applying market and social research going, 18 years on from that first job knocking on doors.
By the way, the answer to 25-down was “Pushkin”.
 An exploration of these terms is provided by in Scriven, M., “The Concept of a Transdiscipline: And of Evaluation as a Transdiscipline”, Journal of MultiDisciplinary Evaluation, Vol. 5, No. 10, July 2008