While the industry remains largely healthy in Canada, it is under considerable pressure to define and enforce standards. What is now playing out (partially, in the press) reflects the fundamental tension evident in new ways of doing things as well as the difficulty of self-regulating industry associations to deal with change.

Yet another news article appeared this week to question the integrity of the market research industry in Canada. The article is a natural reaction to the controversy around Campaign Research practices in the last federal election (more information on this topic is available here and here).  The MRIA (the national association) is now considering disciplinary procedures after receiving complaints about the activities of the firm, which is a gold seal member.

Susan Delacourt’s latest article is significant not because a firm may have done something wrong, because ultimately that does happen. The real issue is that the article  links the issue to a broader problem in the industry. There is a rehash of the infamous letter from Bricker and Wright criticizing some polling practices (see my discussion of it here) and reference to a recent book chapter that addresses the “troubled state of polling in Canada.”

The MRIA can, and probably will, act to address specific incidents of violations of the Code of Conduct but disciplinary actions will not change the frame through which polling is now being viewed. A frame that is not conducive to positive stories or positive industry development.

The discipline available is, however, quite modest. This reflects the fact that any self-regulating industry is only as good as the strength of the consensus that members share (in spite of the competition between them).

I would argue that the latest incident is in part a reflection not of a rogue violation but of a fundamental undermining of the consensus of what polling and market research is all about. In this sense, the letter by Bricker and Wright is a reflection of that breakdown. it also means that the solution — better and stricter enforcement — will be difficult to accomplish unless a new and clear consensus emerges in response to the controversy. A crackdown is only possible with such as consensus.