Half time: Empowering Consumers by Identifying Hidden Consensus

It has been a busy few months for the Horizon ‘Uncovering Consumer Consensusproject, with progress on multiple fronts, but lots still to do!

Early in the project we began constructive discussion and engagement with another research team in Horizon, focusing on responsible research and innovation (RRI) practices in research — including a preliminary session using the ‘Moral-IT’ ideation card deck (Urquhart & Craigon, 2021).

Following this, Work Package 1 ‘Giving decision makers what they need’ quickly got up to speed. Ethics approval was obtained for qualitative studies involving both:

  1. Focus groups — with decision makers working in Research & Development at one of our large FMCG-sector industry partners,
  2. A wider survey study — designed to cast the net wider and engage decision makers across a broader range of companies and societal roles.

The first focus group with our industry partner was held in August. Attendees provided their views and insights on a range of topics relating to the benefits of and challenges to, considering uncertainty in business decision-making, as well as much positive engagement with our proposed methodology. A follow-on session is already pencilled in for later this year, and dialogue has already been transcribed and analysed with the help of the newest member of the ‘UnCoCo’ team, Heshani Wijethunga — a 4th year PhD candidate in the UoN Business School, and Senior Lecturer in Marketing Management at the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka.

Earlier this month our WP1-lead, Elena Nichele, presented a summary of key findings at the Annual Conference of the Association of Business Communication (ABC) — raising further interest in our work, particularly concerning the possibility of applying our methodology in a mixed methods approach. Building upon similar interests around future collaboration and application of our methods raised by project partners within first focus group itself, we have developed more tailored content and examples to present in a follow-on session, to show how the data captured could be used to valuably inform product design choices, including through the Interval Agreement Approach (Wagner et al., 2015). We are also in the process of analysing data collected in the WP1 survey, from a broader variety of business-related decision makers.

Though not as far along as WP1, WP2 ‘Giving consumers what they want’ has also been progressing. This focuses on a single comprehensive empirical study, which will compare our proposed methodology against a more conventional control condition.

So far, the study has obtained ethical approval and the interval-valued survey software that we will use to implement our method (DECSYS — Ellerby et al., 2019; 2020) has been updated to work with the large online recruitment platform ‘Prolific’ (Palan & Schitter, 2018), which will allow us to reach a larger and more representative sample. Software testing is ongoing, while experimental design, stimuli, and analysis plans have been developed in detail, and we are currently in the process of both preregistration (soon to be published on Open Science Framework— and piloting, to finalise expected study duration and participant remuneration. The aim is for each of these to come together and allow us to get the experiment up and running in November, so that we can complete the bulk of data analysis before Christmas.

While our project lead for WP3 ‘Doing what is right’ Jiahong Chen, has moved onto an academic position in the University of Sheffield’s School of Law (Congratulations!), he continues to play an active role in the project. RRI remains an important strand running throughout the other work packages, both in terms of ensuring participant welfare and consideration of not only negative, but potentially inequitable distribution of positive impacts of our research. As mentioned earlier, we have been working with another Horizon project team to develop our RRI ‘action plan’, and early engagement has led to the inclusion and development of several RRI focused research questions, into both the first and second work packages of the project. These will focus on gaining a better understanding of whether adopting our methods to inform design of consumer products could relatively disadvantage any particular consumer or societal groups — combining perceptions of potential consumers, who would be the ones providing their preference data, and insights from industry decision makers with experience of how this data could be used in practice.

  • Ellerby, Z., McCulloch, J., Young, J., & Wagner, C. (2019). DECSYS–Discrete and Ellipse-based response Capture SYStem. In 2019 IEEE International Conference on Fuzzy Systems (FUZZ-IEEE). IEEE.
  •  Ellerby, Z., Miles, O., McCulloch, J., & Wagner, C. (2020). Insights from interval-valued ratings of consumer products—a DECSYS appraisal. In 2020 IEEE International Conference on Fuzzy Systems (FUZZ-IEEE). IEEE.
  • Palan, S., & Schitter, C. (2018). Prolific. ac—A subject pool for online experiments. Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Finance, 17, 22-27.
  • Urquhart, L. D., & Craigon, P. J. (2021). The Moral-IT Deck: a tool for ethics by design. Journal of Responsible Innovation, 1-33.
  • Wagner, C., Miller, S., Garibaldi, J. M., Anderson, D. T., & Havens, T. C. (2015). From interval-valued data to general type-2 fuzzy sets. IEEE Transactions on Fuzzy Systems, 23(2), 248-269.

Written by Zack Ellerby

The Uncovering Consumer Consensus project sits within Horizon’s Agile programme