The Insights and Innovation Exchange is my favorite conference each year, and not just because it’s held here in Atlanta.  The two and a half days that we gather down at GA Tech are jam packed with presentations, technology, conversations, etc.  It’s a whirlwind that leaves most attendees both exhausted and invigorated.  Here are a few themes based on what I heard and saw, but remember no one person can possibly experience everything so this is just a quick glimpse.

Technology Solutions = Exponential Growth

It’s been two years since I attended IIeX last, and what strikes me each time is the number of new and niche technology solutions available.  Want to do ethnographies via cell phone?  There’s a company for that.  Need to create virtual spaces for customers to experience?  There’s a different company for that.

Gone are the days of expos filled with full service suppliers and sample providers.  The name of the game here is specialization.  In fact, I can’t imagine how any one client can navigate the seemingly endless supply of technologies. I guess that you have to have a clearly defined problem so that you know which direction to turn.  Otherwise, a client (or freelance researcher like me) could easily get lost in the sea of booths each peddling something they claim is very different from the next.

It’s Not Just about Technology

Behavioral Economics was an underlying theme in many of the presentations, as researchers become more and more aware of what Dan Ariely calls the predictable irrationality of our choices. With this in mind, we are beginning to use technology to improve our techniques and predictability rather than to simply automate our repetitive activities.

Sure there are some presentations on automation and new tweaks to age old techniques, but what took center stage were those that are truly changing how we think about research (e.g. SciFutures virtual reality demonstration and the Brado Innovation Lab parked out front of the conference).  These and so many others are creating new techniques and making research about more than just sitting behind a computer taking surveys.  This is where research is going, and I’m excited about it.

User Experience

Another major focus of presentations was improving the “respondent” experience, and the topics here ranged from finally solving the “mobile problem” to creating entire ecosystems for content and survey delivery.

One of my favorite quotes coined by the folks at UBMobile was “mobile-first IS people-first.” This simple phrase crystallizes the idea of finally meeting respondents where they are rather than forcing them to conform to our traditional methods of online research.  It’s not groundbreaking.  In fact,  we’ve been talking about making sure surveys are mobile-friendly for what seems like a decade now.  Yet, ResearchNow announced that one-third of the survey going out to their panelists are still not mobile compatible.  That is crazy at this stage in the game!

Making surveys mobile compatible is kind of the low hanging fruit here.  It’s sort of the bare minimum that we need to do, but there are lots of other solutions coming online too, and I’m excited to see us step out of our typical survey-focused world to find other ways to engage people.

Women Make Their Voices Heard

And finally, a topic that is near and dear to my heart.  I think I can honestly say that I felt as if IIeX was more balanced along gender lines than other conferences I’ve attended.  We still lack diversity in other ways, but IIeX partnering with WIRe (Women in Research) seems to have paid off as I counted over 60 female speakers, and several of the keynotes on the first day were women.  One entire session by Beate Chelette focused on women in leadership roles and described the initiatives top companies are undertaking to improve retention and promotion of female executives.

In addition, we had an extremely successful Women in Research event on Tuesday night. This event was well attended, and hopefully, many walked away with a better understanding of the organization and the need for it.

Unfortunately, one of the last panels on the Future of Insights was all white men, but we were all quite empowered to let them know it wasn’t acceptable.  Overall, I think Greenbook is making a concerted effort to be not just inclusive but to cultivate entries from women.  With the efforts of  WIRe’s 50|50 Initiative and the New Research Speakers Club, we are making considerable progress.