Risk Management

Risk Management and Puppies:
How to avoid disasters during global
research projects

Risk Management and Puppies How to avoid disasters during global research projects

Author: Ruth Partington

The dictionary* defines ‘risk assessment’ as: ‘n. an absolute pain; something that no one is sure will be acted upon but you’ll get in trouble if you don’t do it… and sometimes carrying one out might help’
You caught me, it’s an alternative dictionary.

Certainly, some of us understand the crucial role that risk assessments can play in a business to help it survive and thrive. If you conduct Global Research, however, it can be particularly tricky to navigate the huge risks associated with cultural misunderstandings, translation issues and infringing upon international or in-country laws. It’s why the simple task of carrying out a pre-project risk assessment can be hugely beneficial to global researchers, helping you to avoid re-fielding, losing a key client – or worse.

When it comes to the daily grind, however, it may seem almost impossible to fit regular risk assessments in amongst all the other tasks. It might be easy at first – like introducing a puppy into a busy (and inexperienced) family. Maybe you get lucky; habits form, it gets incorporated into the fabric of the day-to-day and life is much better as a result.

Often, sadly, the family realises a grown dog is just too much hassle.

So, wipe away any tears from that sad thought and buckle up. I’m going to take a quick look at the multiple areas you need to focus on when assessing potential pitfalls in your global projects. By the end, my hope is that you feel empowered to start mitigating the key risks associated with your global research.


The obvious one: International Law

The spotlight has been on international law for some time now with the EU’s Data Protection Act 2018 coming into effect. In the US, resulting updates to the EU-US Privacy Shield have changed the legal risks of collecting EU citizens’ data. In the UK, a no-deal Brexit carries even greater GDPR implications as businesses would be required to have a GDPR representative in at least one of the EU countries in which they collect data.

GDPR has already introduced Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIAs) into our lives, making them an obligation when carrying out global projects that may involve collecting personal data from EU citizens. Of course, what a DPIA doesn’t always do is cover the legal risks of conducting research in non-EU countries such as China, where the international transfer of data is incredibly strict and even internal data protection laws are changing. There may be complex laws around carrying out fieldwork such as in Saudi Arabia, where women being interviewed may be required to have a Wali or male guardian present (although this law has changed recently to give more rights to the woman).

Russia pollution

It would therefore never be amiss to expand on the DPIA to include assessing the legal risks of carrying out your research, whatever the methodology, in other countries and across other areas of the law. It could save you from facing legal action, hefty fines or, at the very least, having to destroy the results of your research.


The big one: Translation Errors

While deciding how to field a project (or who to field it with) to best overcome legal obstacles, you may get a slight headache coming on at the thought of the translation process further down the line. That’s because of the huge risks associated with the language used to gather the data needed for your study. If your multilingual survey does not have the same meaning as you intended (a mistranslation) or has grammatical or terminology errors, the impact could be devastating. You could end up 

  • receiving much lower than expected participant engagement;
  • rescheduling your project to account for re-translations;
  • dealing with an unsatisfied client during the client review stage;
  • having to re-field parts of, or the whole of, your survey;
  • creating completely inaccurate insights for your client.

It is therefore not enough to use one in-country, native, specialist translator who has the necessary translation credentials, especially for a language that you do not have in-house. The translation should then be reviewed by another, equally-qualified native speaker before being sent back to the original translator to finalise. Translation quality assurance checks must be run for consistency and to pick up on any human error introduced during the translation process. Equally, using a specialist translation company that can source these translators and run pre- and post-insight quality processes may be quicker, easier and less expensive in the long-term.

Risk management

What if you don’t need to translate? After all, businesspeople in India all speak English, right? Maybe 82% of Romanians responded to your recent survey saying that they would be comfortable taking it in English. And, lest we forget, Brazilian Portuguese is basically the same as European Portuguese. Well, our experience translating surveys for re-fielding shows that insights from markets where the survey has not been conducted in the participants’ mother tongue experience lower participant engagement and significantly less consistency in the resulting data.

Running a pre-project translation risk assessment can greatly reduce the chances of having your project completely derailed by translation errors. The assessment process will ensure that the need for translation is confirmed and that your translator or translation partner is properly vetted and briefed, resulting in consistent, accurate data from which to build your insights.


The critical one: Benchmarking

This is one area where consistency is vital to the success of your global research, particularly for trackers. The longer the benchmarking is required, such as for brand trackers that run for several years, the greater the chance that the translations will need to be updated. This is particularly pertinent for markets where the participants’ language is rapidly evolving and being influenced by new technologies.

Similarly, the consistency of your research may also be threatened if working with a global client and managing multiple in-country client review stages. Annually, we work on a large-scale tracker with a client facing these specific risks to their research and have created a way to empower their team either to reject or incorporate client requests (read about it here).

Russia authority

Finally, there is the lesser-known threat to the consistency of your research: acquiescence skew. This is where cross-market benchmarking is affected by more than just inconsistent translations.

Research concluded by B2B International showed that participants in certain markets were more likely to want to please the interviewer with their optimism and agree with positive suggestions or questions compared to other markets (such as Singapore). The result is an inconsistency or skew in your data.

Assessing the risk to the consistency of your project across markets and/or previous waves will help identify all of the areas that need careful attention during both the translation and review processes.


The tricky one: Cultural Sensitivities

There are many ways other than an acquiescence skew that cultural differences pose risks to the success of your research and even your business. One of the most difficult of these to avoid is committing a cultural ‘faux pas’. For example, you may not realise that the way you ask a simple question, the gender of your participants, could be extremely offensive or even tread the lines of legality in certain markets. Text is not the only medium where cultural differences need to be considered: showing an image of men and women enjoying a beer together may risk offending participants in certain markets, losing their engagement.

Risk Management cultural sensitivity

In terms of cultural terminology, it can be crucial to your research to remember that the aforementioned beer’s brand might be called one thing in one market and something completely different in another. The same can be said for drugs and stores. This clearly poses a risk to your research and may require re-fielding if not adapted to each market accordingly.

Finally, some cultural differences are much more subtle and exclusively linguistic, such as the way you address your participants. Many languages use different verbs and pronouns depending on which gender you are addressing, or how formal you need to be with your audience - which in itself is unique to the demographics of each culture.

It is therefore crucial to both clearly identify your audience, any brands and potential cultural sensitivities during a risk assessment at the beginning of your project.

Risk Management Technology

The hidden one: Technology

It is exactly these cultural and contextual nuances that lead us on to the controversial, but useful, application of AI and machines when gathering and translating multilingual data. It may be surprising to know that machines will never translate incorrectly (except for Google Translate™ and other systems that learn through unvetted user input). Rather, the errors are down to the machine misinterpreting the grammatical or cultural context of the text and translating too literally. For example, automated social media scraping tools are not yet advanced enough to account for sarcasm or understand the latest slang.

The problem is that these mistranslations due to context may remain undetected if the results are not reviewed by a native speaker. Recently, I was involved in a project where one of Thailand’s most well-known brands, ‘Chang’, had been translated literally into ‘Elephant’ (cĥāng), which would have potentially derailed this particular brand tracker had it not been identified as a mistake.

A risk assessment will allow you to identify if, where and how AI and machine translation can be used to enhance the consistency of your research and increase time- and cost-efficiencies, without incurring hidden costs.


What is the future of mitigating risk in Global Research?

In the end, global market research is all about generating key insights that are genuinely actionable for your clients on a global platform. The multi-market approach carries many risks for both your research and your reputation, which only grows as our world becomes even more connected and – increasingly - divided. It is for this reason that risk assessments shouldn’t be reserved for strategy meetings, but woven into the thought process for every global project.

So, remember… risks assessments are for life, not just for Christmas.

Ruth Partington

Ruth Partington

Ruth Partington

Ruth (MMRS) has nearly 25 years’ of expertise bringing the Insight Industry closer to its global research participants, through excellent quality language services and consultancy. Alongside innovating for global insight, Ruth brings transformation vision to the translation industry in her role as Chair of the national Association of Translation Companies. True to being a passionate businessowner, specialist communicator and motorbike enthusiast, she’ll never shy away from a discussion on ‘changing the game’!


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