Let’s start with a question: How can a social scientist contribute to your operational needs?
Many industry leaders underestimate how social sciences can contribute. But when it comes to ROI, your bottom line, and developing cutting-edge innovation, the social sciences are a critical cog in the operations of successful businesses across countless sectors. A 2020 report from the UK-based Academy of Social Sciences reveals how a well-integrated social science approach can yield a cascade of business benefits, from improving strategic planning and risk analysis, to enhancing research as well as product and service development.
Leveraging social science to understand the human factor and how this drives your models, metrics, and markets is a strategic advantage. That’s why, as emerging and evolving technology continues to shape the way we live and work, having a social scientist on your team is a must.
In short, social scientists are experts in human experience: untangling and decoding information about what matters to people, or makes them tick, to extract and synthesize invaluable data that can help organizations develop effective, sustainable, relevant solutions for themselves, their employees, their shareholders, and the communities they serve.
Social scientists are highly skilled critical thinkers with specialized insights and expertise, who use a unique set of qualitative and quantitative analytical tools — from surveys and focus groups to open-ended interviews and field-based research — to extrapolate patterns, identify interdependencies, and predict trends within your company, or amongst your clients or customers. This, in turn, can inform decision-makers, direct policies and protocols, and help foster healthier, more equitable, and more robust innovation environment.
Here are the top three reasons every business needs a social scientist:
From processes to interpersonal relationships, social scientists can assess your internal operations, norms, and values, to ensure the working environment engages people in a meaningful way and motivates them to work more efficiently. A social scientist can help your teams overcome obstacles, adopt new technologies, streamline workflows, adapt to change, and develop creative solutions to their challenges, in turn boosting productivity, cohesion, and morale across your organization.
For hearing-aid manufacturers Phonak and Unitron, tapping into the expertise of experimental-psychology researcher Huiwen Goy allowed them to enhance their product line in a very specific way. In collaborating with Goy, the companies were able to study a key psychological component to hearing-aid use — namely, how effectively the emotional nuances of music are perceived through hearing aids — and then fine-tune their consumer offerings accordingly.
Are you having trouble finding great employees? Or keeping the ones you already have? A social scientist can examine your current situation and help your HR department understand what your organization needs, where deficiencies might lie, and how you can implement the right strategies to recruit and retain top talent.
Through their work, a social scientist can also enhance your own leadership skills by observing and assessing your intra-organizational dynamics, then identifying the management styles, tactics, and approaches to which your employees will respond most favourably. And social research is a crucial element in long-term planning, allowing you to set higher targets and direct resources accordingly.
Navigating social, economic, and ethnic diversity — both internally and externally — can be challenging for some organizations. A social scientist is trained to communicate complex ideas and translate knowledge to different audiences. They can help determine what matters to your targeted audiences so you, in turn, can ensure your messages are tailored to reach different groups in ways that will resonate with their knowledge, attitudes, and values.
Similarly, if you’re having trouble connecting with your core market, or if that audience is struggling to understand your offering, a social scientist can design user-experience studies, or create personas of your clientele, to help you better understand what’s working, what isn’t, and, most importantly: why. You and your team will then be well equipped to adjust your strategies and communications to expand your reach, secure that market, and grow your audience.
That’s what Newmarket, Ont.-based marketing firm Treefrog learned when they teamed with York University anthropology PhD student Laurie Baker to optimize their social-media strategies. Baker helped the Treefrog team conduct an anthropological analysis of social-media usage and user experience in order to better understand the people on both ends of a social-media exchange. The result? Invaluable information on how to more effectively connect with clients online.
Ongoing, consistent social research and regularly re-evaluating its results ensures the approach you take remains current, which allows you to renew the competitive edge you need to seize new opportunities in new markets.
The innovation landscape is expanding and evolving, as more and more social innovators arrive on the scene. Keeping pace with social innovation — and adopting business models that embrace equality, sustainability, inclusivity, the environment, and social justice — is important to staying relevant. But where do you begin, and how can you be sure you’re making the right decisions amid the present-day issues facing society at large?
A social scientist can guide your organization along an effective, creative path towards social innovation, whether you’re just starting up or are looking to pivot your business in a new way. Social scientists bring fresh perspectives and “outside the box” thinking to solve complex problems and can help you define or refine your company’s vision, mandate, and/or strategic priorities. At annual reporting time, research driven by social scientists can also provide a foundation on which to tell a comprehensive and compelling story, which highlights both the immediate and far-reaching social impacts of your innovation accomplishments.
The importance of understanding and implementing social science initiatives is clear. And the value a social scientist brings to an organization is undeniable. If you’re a business leader hoping to drive innovation, you would be wise to open your doors to an anthropologist, a sociologist, a political scientist, a psychologist, or a historian — you may be surprised by the variety of ways they will no doubt contribute to your success.