Lessons from Ask the Expert: How Inclusive Market Research Can Advance Business and Development Outcomes
The Feed the Future Advancing Women’s Empowerment (AWE) Program hosted an Ask the Expert virtual chat April 17–28 to engage a wide range of USAID staff and stakeholders in conversations with leading private sector firms and inclusive market research experts on conducting and using inclusive market research. The conversation spanned identifying specific tools and approaches used by the private sector to discuss how inclusive market research can strengthen companies’ resilience, competitive edge and brand value.
Some of the key learning shared by the featured experts and participants include:
A wide variety of tools and approaches have been developed to conduct inclusive market research. For example, inclusive market research design and targeted sampling were highlighted as approaches used by the private sector to ensure that the methods are relevant and accessible for women and other diverse populations being targeted, that the research sample is representative of the population — which includes attention to representation by gender and other social groups in that population — and that diverse perspectives and needs are adequately captured. Humble Inquiry by Professor Edgar Schein was referenced as an approach to go deeper with a few select stakeholders that are typically excluded.
The conversation also identified a variety of impactful areas where development practitioners can engage with the private sector on inclusive market research. These include:
- Providing technical assistance especially for micro, small, and medium enterprises: Development practitioners can provide technical assistance to the private sector through guidance on sampling methods, survey design and data analysis to ensure that the research is inclusive, while also being rigorous, unbiased and grounded in do-no-harm principles. Development practitioners can also build local research capacity in the countries or regions where the private sector operates. Technical assistance can include providing training and mentorship to local researchers and supporting the development of local research institutions.
- Building the business case for inclusion: When convinced of the business case, firms can help catalyze a process of change that increases jobs and income earning opportunities, promotes local markets and develops products and services for people who need them. Their success can become the community’s success, particularly when businesses effectively promote women’s empowerment and the inclusion of marginalized groups. Studies show that when a business integrates women into its business model and core operations, not only do profits improve but gender inequalities decline in the communities in which it works.
Inclusive market research and collaboration with development practitioners can hold benefits for the private sector, specifically:
- Building companies’ resilience toward a competitive advantage: Inclusive market research helps companies understand consumer trends related to sustainability, social responsibility and ethical sourcing. Deeper knowledge of consumer trends can enable the private sector to anticipate and respond to changes in consumer demand and mitigate reputational risks. For fluctuations in supply, inclusive market research can help companies diversify their suppliers or service providers, develop contingency plans, and/or invest in more sustainable production practices. Strong and diverse networks of suppliers can help the private sector stay competitive even in economic fluctuations.
- Foster innovation to enhance brand value: Inclusive market research can foster innovation by identifying certain risks that predict emerging gaps for opportunities to create social and environmental transformations. The identification of these risks and gaps can lead to the development of new products or services that meet the core long-term needs of customers with huge social and environmental impacts, which can lead to increased sales, improved financial performance, and greater brand visibility and market share.
The full Ask the Expert conversation can be found in the AWE Google Group. Additional information about the AWE Virtual Learning Series, including summaries of learning that has been shared, can be found on the main AWE Agrilinks page.