This was reinforced in the aftermath of the 2016 Brexit referendum, when it appeared that pollsters had misjudged the mood of the nation. Had researchers canvassed a fully representative sample of the UK, including both urban and rural locations? In short, was the surprise at the referendum result in the largely London-based social and market research community linked to researchers not hearing diverse rural opinions?
So, in 2018, Sarah and her longstanding colleague Paul Flatters, a leading socioeconomic trends forecaster, launched their fieldwork agency, Field Mouse Research, to help ensure the fair representation of rural voices in the research industry.
This research influences marketing, design and innovation in the private sector and policy-making in the public sector, so it’s critical that people in every corner and valley of the UK are heard. Sarah and Paul believe firmly that every opinion counts – from London to Llanymynech.
Field Mouse has recently been strengthening its position within the research community as specialists in rural and agricultural issues. As the business grows, more research agencies are approaching Field Mouse for access to farmers and other people who work in agriculture for in-depth interviews and focus groups.
Since the Covid-19 lockdown, this research has been taking place online and over the phone. Field Mouse has been impressed with how well both clients and research participants have adapted.
“We thought it would be a problem, especially in rural areas with poor broadband,” Sarah admits. “But many farmers have already had to come up with alternative, often innovative, solutions to their terrible broadband. And if anyone isn’t quite ready for Zoom video calls, our clients have been very willing to interview them over the phone instead.”
There are also new benefits to conducting research online.
“The great thing about it,” Paul explains, “is that whereas before we could only include farmers from one area, for example around Welshpool for a focus group at the Royal Oak, now there are no geographic boundaries. We are conducting research with farmers from County Armagh, Argyll and Bute, Powys, Cornwall and Norfolk – all chatting together in the same online focus group, led by a researcher working from home in London.”
The research might have an agricultural focus – for example user testing a new agri-tech app – or it could cover a general issue affecting the UK, which the client, encouraged by Field Mouse, increasingly wants to include a rural perspective on.
Research participants are typically paid between £50–100 for taking part in a research project, depending on the nature of the research. Farming projects often pay more, as Field Mouse knows how hard it can be for farmers to find a spare hour to sit in front of a laptop.
Field Mouse always needs more people to join its Rural Panel of Research Participants, to gain the widest possible breadth of opinion.