On 18th March 2020 the UK Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance, made an important comment when he was talking about antibody testing for COVID-19:

“Going forward it’s going to be critically important to be able to monitor this disease well, only by monitoring can we start relaxing measures again, it’s all part of a critical ability to manage it in an agile way going forward”

Sir Patrick made direct reference to something which we have all been experiencing in recent weeks, even if we have not been aware of it: agility.

The ability to adapt to changing situations is a key element of human nature, and this adaptability is arguably part of why we have been so successful as a species. However, rarely have we seen the need to be agile implemented at such a global level and with such immediacy. In our personal lives, schools have become virtual classrooms, supermarkets are adapting to increased demand and restaurants are focusing solely on food delivery services (and in some cases becoming grocery vendors themselves). In our professional lives, entire companies are being asked to work remotely and have put this in place successfully with only a few hours’ notice, a situation which is completely unprecedented.

Most striking, however, is when we look at COVID-19 management nationally: governments have been issuing, iterating, refining and reissuing guidance day-by-day as the situation develops, taking decisions based on expert advice. This clearly demonstrates elements of classic agile workflows: short sprints to make decisions, bringing in expert knowledge where needed, minimum viable products (aka ‘one round of advice’) and iteration to refine. These methods allow us to adapt quickly and effectively within a rapidly changing environment. The agile mindset applies to market research even more in these troubled times.

The global COVID-19 response has demanded of all of us that we act under uncertainty, adopt new norms and rapidly change our behaviours. To many of us, this change feels both bewildering and uncomfortable – understandably so, given that behaviour change is one of the most difficult things to achieve (just ask our behavioural science team!). Nevertheless, there is some comfort, and perhaps some wisdom, to gained by taking a long view to human history. This history demonstrates to us that every human society has, time and time again, had to cope with sudden behaviour changes in their daily lives and to find creative ways to move through times of uncertainty. Time and time again, human societies have shown themselves to be nimble, and we have adapted. In many ways, the story of human history is a story of agility.

Certainly, the changes we are currently making in response to COVID-19  speak to this innate human ability to adapt: we are already agile in our everyday lives. You might not even realise it but are likely to be already embracing the principles of agility and making the most of it, when perhaps, you were one of many who initially struggled with the idea of agile.

Your market research doesn’t have to go on lockdown, even if your country has! Insights are still in abundance to uncover if, now more than ever, we all work collaboratively in agile ways. This is something close to our hearts at HRW since we have been implementing agile strategies for several years.

Agile research has been shown to be able to generate important insights whilst also be engaging both for respondents and internal stakeholders. Even though no face-to-face contact is possible in many countries, interviews can be held virtually using carefully crafted techniques to ensure a great user experience. Virtual CL days can be held to allow for an immersive research experience with in-the-moment feedback. Meetings and presentations can be held virtually with the use of webcams and exercises to make sure everyone feels truly involved.

More than anything, the current climate has highlighted the need for flexibility, collaboration and adaptability – elements that lie at the heart of our ethos at HRW, and we’ll continue being resilient and finding insights to carry our clients through in these challenging times.


By Sophie Bone, Bethan Crisp, and Emma Neville


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