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Changing Hearts and Minds Through Creative Use of Research Technology

Christopher Martin

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6 MIN READ

Emily James

To win hearts and minds is a strategy with a long, chequered history. Used originally to describe a military tactic of the British, and subsequently a number of American foreign campaigns – it has since become shorthand for a particular style of approach to problem solving. Put bluntly, that problem is convincing others to side with you. In wartime, this has manifested as the provision of food, medication and aid to locals in affected areas to shift public sentiment.

Fortunately, corporate contexts are much less dramatic. But the underlying mechanics of the strategy remain the same. To win hearts and minds is not to introduce change or decision forcefully. Instead, the approach relies on making emotional and intellectual appeals that influence the other side.

When considered through this lens, it becomes clear why research, data and impactful presentation are important. However, it is not a strategy that should be employed to all scenarios. To change hearts and minds in a corporate context also requires an opposition. That may come in many forms; from reticent decision makers to a permeating status quo that research supports change to. But there must be a reason to deploy such a strategy – else risk becoming an abrasive force.

Insight and Technology

There are two parts that comprise any attempt to sway decision makers and stakeholders. The first is the content that is to be presented. This makes up the core of the intellectual and emotional argument. Is the data, or the story, compelling enough to influence others? Research projects rarely provide simple narratives. There is nuance to our discoveries, and to human behaviour. But even so, a compelling case can often be built. The other part we must consider is the role of presentation; how do we tell the story in an engaging way with the tools we have?

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How do researchers tell compelling, engaging stories? Maake them easy to access, explore and internalise. Control the narrative, but make it easy to share. Engage emotionally & intellectually.

While there is no substitute for the skill involved in interpreting data, technology can certainly aid us in presenting it. If we take the specific objective of winning hearts and minds – then our field of options narrows down. Ideally, we want technology to do the following:

  • Make the data easy to access, explore and internalise
  • Provide control over the narrative flow of the information
  • Engage audience members both intellectually and emotionally
  • Be easy to share and distribute throughout the organisation

It may seem a short list, but fulfilling all those criteria is no easy task. So, what technology does suit all these needs? We have a few options, but let’s explore some of those with the highest chance of success.

PowerPoint

There is a reason that despite a decade of calls of the death of the PPT, it still remains one of the most popular formats to present research data with. And it certainly shouldn’t be ignored. The slide-by-slide format makes for an engaging way to tell compelling stories one point at a time. Perhaps more importantly however, PowerPoint is a format that can be viewed both alone and in conjunction with a presenter.

But, I think there’s a lot more we can do with PowerPoint – making them more conducive to our above goals. This is all about creatively using the technology at our disposal and applying it to how we know stakeholders will engage with it. For example, I often recommend creating two forms of the same presentation; one designed to be delivered at an in-person session, and another that can be read alone. Why two versions? Because we know people will engage differently depending on how it is delivered. A self-guided presentation should include more signposting, greater use of stimuli and formats of data (video, images quotes etc.). Meanwhile a PowerPoint designed to be shown in a workshop requires less signposting and can focus on the data itself.

Similarly, sharing key slides as images or even printed posters is a great way to get more out of a single presentation format. Slides can even be incorporated into internal newsletters, shared via intranets or knowledge management systems to promote discussion, and published in booklets that offer a physical alternative.

Research Communities

The term research or insight community covers a broad base of technology. But in general, these are spaces in which customers interact with both their peers and research questions. We typically view communities as research collection tools – but in fact there is greater value to be found in them. Many platforms that fit into this category offer observer accounts which allow non-researchers to view discussions, explore analyses and interact with raw data, in a view-only style environment.

Making use of these features is a fantastic way to get decision makers involved in an interactive format. Additionally, bringing a greater internal audience face-to-face (at least digitally) with customers fosters empathy.

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Research communities are not just tools for data collection; but can be turned into powerful methods of connecting decision-makers directly with customers to bring about cultural change.

Focus groups and other real-time research tasks can take this idea even further. Observer accounts provide a space for decision makers to watch discussions unfold live. But it is up to us as researchers to encourage and support this level of direct engagement.

Project Management Software

Although not strictly research technology, project management software is widely used by many teams – from product to marketing, finance to operations. In fact, it is often a fairly universal language. To connect better with stakeholders and decision makers, I frequently recommend brining more research data into project management software. Whether it’s through images, videos, links, shared files or creating collaborative spaces where departments can discuss findings; there is a massive opportunity to better integrate research into core business processes.

The challenge here is one of permission. Researchers operate in environments where we control the variables, the systems and the flow of data. To work effectively in project management software and to use it as a tool of influence, we have to be comfortable working with the owners of this business asset and finding ways that add value without causing interruption.

These are just a few of the ways we can bring technology in to solve the problem of changing hearts and minds. But ultimately, even persuasive data told in a compelling way and with empathy may still take a long time to produce an effect. We’ve been experimenting with new ways to speed up that process, stimulate discussions and create customer centric cultures.

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