Conducting Market Research on Sensitive Topics
Market research, like research in general, is used for various reasons. Sometimes to uncover purchase behavior of consumers, other times to determine employee satisfaction within a company. Most of the time respondents have no problem completing a survey and giving their honest opinions, but on occasion there are studies that make respondents uncomfortable, possibly unwilling to participate. So what happens when research strikes a nerve?
Socially sensitive research can be defined as “studies in which there are potential consequences or implications, either directly for the participants in the research or for the class of individuals represented by the research.” When respondents are concerned that there may be consequences because of their honest answers, they may choose to not participate, which is not good for the researcher.
Assuring study participants that all of their responses will be completely anonymous and their identity will never be shared is important when researching delicate issues. Employee satisfaction surveys may be one of those studies where participants are reluctant to answer honestly, or at all, for fear that their employer may find out their identity and issue some form of punishment, possibly loss of job. As researchers, it is our job to ensure that the employee’s identity is never revealed and that results are presented in a way that does not allow the employer to identify anyone.
Some of the risks of sensitive research are:
- Loss of confidentiality regarding the identity of the survey participant
- Loss of confidentiality with the information given by survey participant
- Consequences from being identified as a survey participant
Medical research is another sensitive area where respondent privacy must be protected. Medical records contain some of the most intimate details of a person’s life. When someone is asked to disclose personal health information, they want to be certain that information will not be shared or used for any purpose other than the specific research study. Some companies have violated privacy by simply allowing the window of an envelope containing personal medical information to display more than just the patient’s address. Imagine having a sensitive condition, like HIV, and anyone seeing your mail is able to see this in the window of the envelope? A careless printing mistake has now become a HIPAA violation.
Stacy Martinez, Project Manager