Innovation Made In Berlin

Takeouts from the recent BVM regional Meetup in Berlin

Berlin these days is a buzzing hub of startup activity. With the young and thriving scene comes a natural inclination in the city’s business scene to think about future topics — after all, the startup community is driven by the spirit to create a better future, turning specific human needs and challenges into products and services in a way that established businesses often fail to do.

Along with the new business scene, a host of new agencies have emerged that help businesses shape their future — by combining research, design, and strategy consulting in different measures.

But not only that: Berlin has also become a lively hub of the Design Thinking movement with Potsdam’s HPI School of Design thinking at the helm. Design Thinking is of course well known to have championed the role of user research (often anthropologically inspired) in creating human-centric products and services.

From a market researcher’s point of view, there are two ways of looking at this development: You can say, wow, look at all these new practitioners — how exciting to see research take on such an important and multifaceted role in business these days. Or you can go: Wait a second, who are all these new kids who don’t even care about our established quality standards and threaten to take away our business with their half-baked approaches.

At Point-Blank International, we’re more intrigued than worried about what’s happening out there — so our Head of Research, Dr. Barbara Lang, decided to invite practitioners from different Berlin-based service providers to the latest instalment of the regular Berlin meetups of the German Association for Market Research (BVM). The panel of speakers consisted of Jan Pechmann from strategic consultancy Diffferent, Manuela Risch from UX consultancy U*Seeds, David Weigend from public futurology hub Haus der Zukunft, and Jörn Schulz from Telekom’s innovation incubator T-Labs.

All of them introduced their approaches to understanding and shaping future-related opportunities and how they use research to do so. In the ensuing discussion, we tried to elucidate how their approaches are different to classical market research and what the established research industry might learn.

These are our 5 key takeouts:

1. Audacity

A new type of researcher / insight consultant is emerging. They are less invested in rules and standard procedures — and rather dare to engage people in novel ways beyond studio research. It’s not necessarily about sufficiently robust samples and elaborated deep-thinking. You can intercept people in public, engage them on Social Media, do small bursts of immersion. Of course, this raises questions of data protection and ethical conduct — established research players can walk the line when they know both sides.

2. Iteration

Why does the research industry favour big chunks of all-in-one research? Conditions and questions might change along the way — research should be able to flexibly evolve with emergent learning. Of course, this means that the whole culture of conducting and using research would need to change. Researchers might engage more with the business purpose of their work and start working towards more iterative processes.

3. Experimentation

If you want to understand potential futures and how people might relate to them, you can’t just ask them. You need to actually start creating some context, stories, and prototypes that provide both a functional and emotional frame of reference. It’s about engaging participants in a potential future experience. Researchers need to harness the power of Design in order to provide better future insight.

4. Experience

The new disciplines are engaging people much more directly in an experience rather than just talking about it. There is a lot of value to studio-based research, but the research industry might want to consider more playful approaches, bringing together clients and participants.

5. Show Why

Design Thinking has managed to create a wave and it’s reached the C-suite in companies. It has done so by focusing on showing the value of user research and employing design principles in the business process. Very often, qualitative market researchers use the same methods, but they are more concerned with justifying their approach rather than showing why they provide business value.

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