Sunday, 21 August 2016

A level understanding of data can shape futures

For someone like me, whose mind resembles one of those dusty old shops selling an eclectic collection of second-hand goods, sometimes an idea for a blog comes from the most innocuous of conversations. Last week was A Level results week here in the UK. Well done if you or your child achieved what you/they wanted/needed to get that University place. If you are dealing with disappointment, my heart goes out to you. I’ve been there and it’s tough. What can also be tough is deciding what you might want as a career, and what subjects you need to study to get there. More so when you are aged 16/17.

In my time, and with all the self-confidence and wisdom of a 17 year old, I absolutely knew I wanted to be a ‘lumber jack’ when I left School. I didn’t, and I am really glad I eventually became a nurse. Last week I was talking to a colleague whose son was at that decision making point and didn’t know what he wanted to do. His son liked learning about the psychology of behaviour, he didn’t want to become a psychologist or work with people. He liked Maths but didn’t fancy working in accountancy and although he enjoyed English, he didn’t know whether studying it would help him get a job. I wasn’t much help in providing advice, mainly because my usually creative mind seemed entirely focused on very traditional career pathways, and of course that world of work is changing, and changing exponentially. 

Pondering on this conversation later I remembered that I had recently read of a conference held in Manchester last July, for digital marketing professionals. What caught my attention were the reports of how companies recognise the behaviour of digital users today and how they use that behaviour and the data it generates. From a behaviour point of view, it is estimated that by 2020 (but possibly by next year), the majority of searches on line will be undertaken by voice or image – indeed, 70% of the so called millennials use voice search regularly. So the massive surge in on-line sites providing goods and services will need to think what this means for their approach to marketing.

As a University, we will need to consider what this means for how we engage with our students. Some of the company data usage was quite amusing.  Have a look at this Carlsberg advertisement. It made me laugh out loud. Apparently it was said that many men felt it had been made with them in mind, whereas the men’s partners laughed as they recognised aspects of their men’s behaviour in the advert.

Whilst I and others might have found the advertisement  humorous, it absolutely had a bottom line motivation aimed at enhancing the Carlsberg reputation and increasing profit. Other information presented at the conference was equally interesting, although I am not sure how such information might be used. It appears that 40% of all baby product purchases are made by households with no children. Only 31% of people searching for paid on-line adult games are males aged between 21 and 35; and almost 50% of all home improvement searches and purchases are made by women.  

What’s clear though is, if research (that delivers hard facts) rather than perceptions is used creatively, it’s possible to consider a complete paradigm shift in opportunities. So in the case of my colleague’s son, perhaps there is a way to combine an interest in Psychology, a liking for Maths and English in working towards becoming a digital marketer. In any case, and new career opportunities aside, it’s the notion that it is research that delivers hard facts thats important. 

So I was upset on Friday to learn of the decision by Marie Stopes to suspend terminations undertaken using general anaesthetic and also to those under the age of 18 because of concerns raised by the Care Quality Commission (CQC). Of course I don’t know the detail of the CQC inspection of Marie Stopes services, but I have been involved, first hand, in one of their inspections. The subsequent report of the inspection was full of inaccuracies, not evidenced based, and was shaped by personal opinion. 70,000 women use Marie Stopes services every year. This decision will effect 250 women every week. It’s to be hoped that on this occasion, unlike so many others, the CQC have good data, and most importantly, really know how to use it.