We interviewed Significant Insights 30 Under 30 nominee, Abi Plank, who works at 2CV and is a Digital Research Manager. Abi loves seeing the power of research to drive positive social change and leads a cross-company, charity partnership with Single Homeless Project (SHP).
Take us through your industry journey so far? How did you arrive at this point?
If you’d asked me 5 years ago what ‘Digital Research’ meant, I’ll have to be honest and say that I knew very little! I had just finished an internship as an HR, Operations and Project Assistant at Clear M&C Saatchi, a marketing strategy consultancy, and was looking for a new role. I had been in contact with various recruiters and a position for a ‘Digital Research Executive’ at 2CV, a global research agency, was put on my radar. Although my experience in digital research was fairly limited — I had only worked on one project using digital methods at Clear — I was really interested in learning more about how digital approaches could be used to better understand people’s lives. I was also really inspired by the incredible range of clients that 2CV worked with. And so, I applied, got the job and almost 5 years later, here I am!
Since then, I have learnt so much about the world of digital research — and research in general! As the Digital lead for 2CV’s Social Practice, I now focus on applying digital methodologies to social research projects – meaning that I specialise in using digital tools to explore complex social issues for charities and public sector organisations. This makes my role hugely rewarding — working out how to best engage specific audiences via digital methods, providing a safe and empowering online space for people to share their personal experiences and viewpoints, and turning this into insights that aim to address some of society’s biggest challenges.
Together with our sister company, TVE, I also have the privilege of leading our ’12 Flitcroft’ charity partnership with Single Homeless Project (SHP) – a fantastic charity working across London to prevent homelessness and help vulnerable and socially excluded people transform their lives. I co-ordinate all aspects of the partnership (fundraising, volunteering & pro bono) and have loved seeing the positive impact that our partnership has had on SHP clients and colleagues internally – bringing a sense of unity when working across different office floors, and around an issue that is so prevalent across our city. We are now entering our 4th partnership year and have some exciting research and events planned for the months ahead – a live music fundraiser and Christmas Gift Giving are just around the corner!
So, what’s so inspiring about our industry?
We can genuinely make positive change happen. As researchers, it is our job to represent the people we speak to as best we can. This takes on even greater importance in social research — helping to amplify the voices of people who might otherwise be overlooked or marginalised, and guiding our clients to make informed decisions to best meet their needs.
I also love that it’s such a creative and dynamic industry! In everything from question design to research methods to final reporting, we have the freedom to be creative and try something new. It’s funny in life how we quickly label ourselves as being, or not being, ‘creative’, and yet, if research has taught me anything, it’s that we all bring creativity to the workplace in different ways.
What message do you have for anyone considering a career in our industry?
The first thing I’d say is not to be put off if you have no idea what research really is, or what a specific role entails – that’s absolutely okay and is very much my career story (and I’m sure that of many others too!) No matter your background, there is a unique perspective and set of skills that you’ll be able to bring into the world of research. It’s a wonderfully collaborative industry — between colleagues and clients alike – so, come ready to bring your ideas to the table! Your voice matters.
When starting out, I also remember being so pleasantly surprised by how quickly I was being brought into conversations with clients. Hearing their future aims and ambitions first-hand made me realise that I was part of something so much bigger — and it was the role of our team to help them achieve that!
How do very junior researchers stand out?
At the beginning, so much of it is about immersion, curiosity and being willing to throw yourself into anything and everything! No-one is expecting you to understand everything overnight – it’s about proactively putting yourself in positions where you can learn (ask to read a new brief, join a team brainstorm, sit in on a client call, observe a focus group, look at some fresh data…). The great thing about research is just how quickly you’ll have the opportunity to learn something totally new!
I’d also really encourage you to spend as much time as possible working with as wide a range of different people as possible, and ideally on as broad a range of topics as possible. Although I specialise in social research, I also really enjoy working on projects for commercial brands — there is a huge benefit to learning from the challenges of different sectors, being stretched methodologically and often seeing the imminent, and tangible, impact of a recommendation in the marketplace!
Finally, look for opportunities to take ownership and lead on something that you’re passionate about. I’ve loved seeing how people across 2CV have identified areas of the business that they want to champion and have been able to run with it. Once settled in a new role, have a think about what you might like to bring to the business and don’t be afraid to challenge the norm – it doesn’t necessarily have to be something ground-breaking, and might even be a case of suggesting a slightly new way of approaching an age-old problem. The good news is that you’re entering an industry that is open to change, and you have a role to play in that.