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Paul Hudson
Paul Hudson CEO of Intersperience
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How to not get lost in cultural diversity

As international market researchers we are the ones looking to understand, explore and dig deeper – we aim to get answers, interpret and analyse. In our own interest we need to raise cultural awareness and manage cultural diversity. Whilst cultural diversity can add tremendous value and depth to a project, it can also increase complexity and ambiguity, lead to misunderstandings or, worst case, incorrect data and results.

‘Cultural awareness’ is a hot topic in today’s globalised (market research) world. There is hardly a researcher who hasn’t been confronted with typical issues and challenges that revolve around cultural awareness: translating market research into different languages and taking into account all the fine details, the challenges of making the participant feel ‘at home’ during a survey or interview; accounting for time zones, public bank holidays and cultural preferences; making sure our survey instruments account for cultural diversity (survey response bias, scales etc.), to name just a few.

But sometimes I get the impression that market research can get a bit lost – we worry about details and the most minute cultural facets in a market research project. One can lose sight of the bigger picture. How do we at Intersperience avoid getting lost, how do we step back to see the wood, and not just the trees?

Step 1 - Treasure the skill of suspending judgement and pausing for a moment

It’s tempting to jump to conclusions, but it rarely helps your objective – look at the situation and collect as much information as you can before entering the next stage of evaluation. E.g. “A project has come in for Switzerland.” Stop and think. E.g. what are your language requirements: is there a need to cover multiple official languages (Switzerland: French, Italian, German, Rhaeto-Romanic) or to consider regional subtleties?

Step 2 - Evaluate and check assumptions

During evaluation there is a need to regularly check your assumptions, re-evaluate and adjust where necessary. E.g. cultural traits can lead to response bias: Hispanic respondents (compared to non-Hispanics) typically show not only a strong response bias, but also use fewer midpoints on a typical 1-7 scale (Culpepper, 2006).

Remember: Not-knowing is not a bad thing

Let’s admit that we don’t know. Let’s assume there are differences. Let’s investigate to find out what we need to know.

It might seem obvious, but to call on a (native) colleague, a native speaker or a professional (translator, statistician, psychologist, cultural expert) who has the specific expertise needed in your case can go a very long way. It will help you to stay on track, point you into the right direction or simply confirm your assumptions and judgement.

In order to make the most of diversity, to embrace and value it, we need to be comfortable with accepting some ambiguity and being confronted with differing views on action, priorities and outcomes. But that’s exactly the beauty of cultural diversity and what strengthens intercultural relationships – working together and joining forces. For us researchers this ultimately means that our efforts will result in a better cultural understanding, precisely tailored research and truly culturally sensitive results that make a difference.

Culpepper, R. A. (2006). Culture-Based Extreme Response Bias in Surveys Employing Variable Response Items: An Investigation of Response Tendency Among Hispanic-Americans. Journal of International Business Research, Vol. 5.

Posted In: Market research

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