“The challenge is to prepare for a possible downturn in such a way that the industry can sustain itself through a decline. At the same time, international clients are the source of considerable new research work done in the rest of Africa,” Vorster points out.
Since her appointment as SAMRA CEO in May, Vorster has clocked up long hours finalising the organisation’s strategic plan that was drafted by the SAMRA Council last year. Among other things, this includes the establishment of IT infrastructure, a number of marketing activities, and more products and services.
“At this point we have a relatively clear plan. The next three months will be spent putting the building blocks in place, followed by delivery of products and services to both SAMRA members and other stakeholders.”
For SAMRA, in particular, the challenge is to offer value-added products and services to deliver beyond just current SAMRA members, thus growing membership in the longer term and ensuring the organisation’s sustainability.
Besides breakfast sessions and other short professional development activities, SAMRA hosts an annual conference, (16 to 17 August) which will this year focus strongly on new ways of doing research, including new technologies, platforms and sources of information. “For researchers and their clients, these developments are most exciting as they get more and more value from research,” Vorster enthuses.
In addition, mini-conferences and half-day presentations are on the cards to update members on trends and developments on the technical research side, as well as webinars to discuss ethical updates, the SAMRA code of conduct and the implications of doing research in the “new work context”.
Besides the current annual industry survey to determine the industry’s size and types of work that are growing or shrinking, industry research on quality and confidence indices is also on the agenda.
“We intend optimising technology as far as possible to actively involve members and other stakeholders through online and website interface as well as by growing our social media and public presence. Some of the income-generating activities are aimed specifically at funding IT capacity,” Vorster adds.
A major challenge around sustaining growth in the broader industry is to ensure that quality is not compromised. “The biggest threat facing the research industry is the popularisation of research. I am referring to competing industries who offer information-based products and services based on information gathered through mechanisms that do not ensure the scientific quality of the information, and then passing it off as research to underpin big decisions – with which we then have to compete.
“At the same time, even though not all information gathering and information products and services are research, the popularisation of the concept of research also presents an opportunity for us as it makes it easier to explain and sell quality, scientific research, which, by nature, and increasingly so, is a very complex thing,” Vorster explains.
Likewise, consumers consistently need to be reminded of their indispensible role in research. “It simply is the right thing to do as their participation and input ultimately help to determine the very products and services they use. Without their input, the variety and quality of the available products and services, of which the broader society is the direct beneficiary, will not improve.”
When approached for research purposes, consumers should first ensure that the person or organisation doing the research is a SAMRA member. “Automatically, this will assure them that the person and organisation will abide by an international code of ethics. If the researcher or organisation somehow doesn’t comply, consumers can complain to SAMRA, which will then take the necessary steps. However, if the organisation is not a SAMRA member, consumers will not have any recourse,” Vorster stresses.
All the legislation applicable to the research industry as well as the government departments involved, have been identified. “We intend taking a far more pro-active approach by fostering very direct and ongoing relationships with government, an important stakeholder in research, so that we not only actively advocate for research, but are consulted right from the outset in matters that impact our industry, and research in general,” she concludes.
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