Michael Adams on Environics

It was 1970 when Michael Adams originally cofounded Environics Research and began building our reputation for accuracy, insight and integrity. We sat down with Michael to explore our company’s beginnings, what we’ve been up to since and where he believes the future will take us.

How did Environics start?

Environics began as a start-up focused on public affairs polling. These days, however, we go a lot deeper than that traditional public opinion work. We’re focused on understanding how governments and corporations can engage the public and engage communities, so our work in Corporate and Public Affairs is more complex and more effective. And of course we now have specialists in a wider range of fields, who understand the challenges our clients are facing in particular industries, and use research-driven insights to help them solve problems and succeed.

What drew you to the research field?

It’s hard to imagine now but when I was a kid, you didn’t know what other ordinary people thought. You could talk to people you knew personally, but mostly you just heard from people who had a platform: columnists and politicians. So I was attracted to surveys as a unique window onto my society.

Over time the research field has only gotten more interesting. The tools we have today—like our social values survey methodology—are much richer than anything I imagined early in my career. And the social values approach in particular has a huge number of applications. Whether it’s in Consumer Insights or in our Health and Pharma practice, we can use values to really get underneath people’s attitudes and behaviours and understand the “why.” And of course with the computation power we all have now, possibilities for new angles and insights are proliferating all the time. Our proprietary platforms MDConnect and PatientConnect, for instance, are bringing a level of clarity to the health care market that would not have been possible even a few years ago.

What do you see as the most important changes in your work landscape?

Like many businesses, ours has changed a lot in response to this environment of incredible connectivity and many-to-many communication we all now inhabit. Surveys can still have a lot of value depending on what you’re trying to achieve, but a research-driven consultancy like ours has a lot more tools in the toolbox than we used to. In our Digital Innovations practice, for instance, we’re solving complex business problems by leveraging combinations of primary research, broader market research, and tools that track public conversations. We say “a survey if necessary but not necessarily a survey.”

We are also very aware that in Canada we’re operating in perhaps the most diverse society on earth. To say to a client “we can help you understand the Canadian market” is a totally different value proposition than it was fifteen years ago. Our Cultural Markets practice understands various migrant population segments in remarkable depth; they help clients figure out all the nitty-gritty of a hyperdiverse society: what people from one place want in the grocery store, what people from another place want in terms of a car loan or a professional service. Two in five of us are first- or second-generation Canadians, so only by understanding the elements of the society can you really get a holistic picture.

What’s stayed the same over time despite the changes you’ve talked about?

There’s a sense of curiosity and intellectual engagement that has always animated Environics—and that’s very much the same as it’s always been. The other thing I’d say has been constant is the quality of our relationships with clients. We often work closely with clients over pretty long periods of time. Take a practice area like our Financial Services group: the combination of sustained work with clients and the depth of our experience with their landscape and their objectives leads to very trusting and effective partnerships. The tools have changed and the business challenges have changed, but many of our relationships do remind me of our early days when we were a small shop.

What are you most interested in these days?

Two things: one is young people, and the other is the incredible sociocultural diversity we have in this country, especially in our cities. Of course, there’s a lot of overlap between those two things because this generation of young Canadians is the most diverse generation that has ever existed in Canada, and maybe in any country on earth. Could there be anything more fascinating for someone who’s interested in social change?

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