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RIIO-2. What does “strengthening the consumer voice” really mean?

What does strengthening the consumer voice mean, and do you know the best way to do this? Are you reaching the end user?


RIIO-T1 and RIIO-GD1 price controls are due to end in March 2021 with RIIO-ED1 ending in March 2023. Ofgem recently launched the framework review for RIIO-2 which marks the beginning of the consultation process for setting price controls for the network companies running the gas and electricity transmission and distribution networks in the UK.

The publication of the open letter[1] by Ofgem sets out the context for the development of the new price controls and seeks views from stakeholders on:

  • the overarching objectives for RIIO-2
  • the key principles that should be considered
  • Ofgems approach to stakeholder engagement including timetables

The central principle to the framework review is ‘Giving consumers a stronger voice in setting outputs, shaping and assessing business plans.’ In this article we will explore what strengthening the consumer voice really means and how this can be achieved throughout the business planning process.

Consumer panel vs. constructive engagement – what is the end result?

With clear direction from Ofgem that consumer engagement needs to be core to RIIO-2, organisations now need to scope out the methods, tools and solutions to engage with customers and stakeholders.

The water sector adapted through business planning periods PR14 and PR19 to ensure they captured customer and stakeholder views through the use of customer forums. The aviation sector is well known for creating engagement channels through constructive engagement. Both are well established routes and there is shared learning that can be applied.

Customer forums and constructive engagement frameworks reach segments of customer representatives and stakeholders, but neither approach captures the views of the end user. This is where you need to work with an independent expert.


Engagement - Panels or framework


Explain has worked within the utilities sector for two decades, working in contracted partnerships with several of the UK’s biggest and most respected suppliers and distributors. These relationships have allowed Explain to develop an in-depth understanding of the importance of customer and stakeholder engagement, ensuring we engage with the end user to deliver insights that support and are aligned to business planning.

 Why Explain:

  1. Independent: You can be confident that our advice will be impartial, open and focused on delivering robust insight to support business planning throughout RIIO 2
  2. Bespoke solutions: Offering a range of research methodologies from the traditional to the innovative, always focussing on the best approach to deliver robust insights ensuring we engage with the end user
  3. Research that unlocks insight: Delivering a range of research solutions through a mix of methodologies to deliver insights including: business planning strategic reviews, stakeholder research, customer research, vulnerable customer research, brand awareness and perceptions and public consultation.

Our team at Explain Market Research are experts at putting in place research programmes identify and support business planning priorities within the utilities sector.

 Contact us today to find out how we could support you and get in touch with our team to understand more about the solutions we can provide.



[1] https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/system/files/docs/2017/07/open_letter_on_the_riio2_framework_12_july_final_version.pdf

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Reversing the direction of care within the health sector

To successfully reverse the direction of care, you need to first understand how patients are accessing services. Are you doing enough?

It is well known that the NHS is feeling the strain and is under pressure to prioritise and allocate care to patients when they need it the most. With reports over the Christmas period of trusts at over 99% capacity,[1] it is vital that NHS organisations understand how patients are using services, and more importantly still, recognise when the direction of care needs to be reversed.

As an example, patients often see primary care within the NHS as the first port of call and it is often the first point of contact for patients. Approximately 90% of patient interaction is with primary care and for this reason it’s commonly referred to as the ‘Front Door’ to the NHS. Now imagine if those patients first took the steps to visit their pharmacist, self care at home, or – right at the start of the cycle – have a healthier lifestyle.

reversing direction of care

Reversing the direction of care will mean that care is available at a time when patients need to access it the most. Gaining insights into patient behaviour as to how they are accessing services will drive efficiencies and ensure the best return on investment for your organisation without compromising service.

What can you do?

 Using our experience in delivering complex research projects for the NHS, in this blog we are sharing our tried and tested approach to deliver actionable insights to shape necessary changes in reversing the direction of care.

  1. Review current service access – Do you know if the public are over using a particular service due to insufficient access to other services? Are there any trends to highlight how services are being accessed? Do you even know what the public want from primary care – seven day GP appointments, extended hours surgeries, telephone appointments? The first step in shaping services is to consult and ask the public what their needs are.
  2. Education – In our experience there is confusion on what services should be accessed when, from where, and by whom. It’s essential to see the service structure through patients’ eyes and understand how to communicate and educate on current services. Understanding the problem before looking at the solution will lead to sustained results.
  3. Develop social marketing – Developing and co-creating social marketing campaigns with the public will lead to and encourage positive behavioural change. Areas of focus should be self care, healthy living and creating educational campaign materials to outline steps to be taken when accessing services.
  4. Consult with staff – Ask those that know. Tap into the expertise of your primary care staff at grass roots level and deep dive to understand their experiences and solutions to support you to achieve your vision.

Why Explain Market Research; and how we will deliver actionable insights.  

The decision to meaningfully uncover actionable insights into how patients are accessing care will be one of the most valuable consultation activities you will undertake. For that reason, you should use an independent expert.

Having worked with the health sector nationally for over a decade on a range of research projects, Explain Market Research has developed a unique and relevant skill set aligned to research and engagement within both the NHS and private health sector; we are providing insights which are underpinning changes to models of care nationally.

Examples of our work include:

Follow the links above to read our case studies in full.

Why Explain:

  1. Independent: You can be confident that our advice will be impartial, open and focused and will deliver a return on investment
  2. Bespoke solutions: Offering a range of research methodologies from the traditional to the innovative, always focussing on the best approach to deliver actionable insights for your organisation
  3. Experts in consultation: With a longstanding track record of delivering pre-consultation and consultation research into changes of care within the NHS, we are sector experts
  4. Research that unlocks insight: Delivering a range of research solutions including: public consultation, stakeholder research, brand awareness and perceptions, customer and employee research.

 Contact us today to find out how we could support you and get in touch with our team to understand more about the solutions we provide.




[1] http://www.acutemedicine.org.uk/news/leading-doctor-fears-for-hospitals-as-new-year-dawns/

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NHS Staff Survey 2017 is now underway; will you really value the insights? You should.

Is your workforce in the 74% of NHS staff that feel enthusiastic about their job? Do you know what your workforce really think and how they feel? Have you independently asked?

The NHS Staff Survey 2017 is now underway. As a leader of your organisation, you need to understand how to maximise the opportunity to engage with staff to uncover meaningful and actionable insights.

The 2016 survey saw a 40% increase in participation from staff across all organisations. In context, the survey included views from approximately a third of the NHS workforce and was the biggest response achieved in the survey’s 14 year history. This illustrates and confirms that NHS employees want to be given the opportunity to share their insights on a wide range of areas, including how to improve patient service and their own job satisfaction.

The return on investment for your organisation from engaging with staff will be measurable. Your teams will be more productive, you are less likely to deal with staff complaints, you will see increased collaboration and teams working together, staff retention will increase and lower rates of sickness and absence will be recorded.

Why Explain Market Research; and why should engagement be independent?

The decision to meaningfully uncover actionable insights in your organisations through staff engagement will be one of the most valuable marketing and human resource (HR) activities you will undertake. For that reason, you should use an independent expert.

The findings and results that we will uncover will be unbiased and independent; we will be able to uncover and probe insights that are unlikely to be disclosed to your senior or internal HR teams.

Having worked with NHS organisations for over a decade on projects including complex service change consultations, public health behavioural change projects, and research to understand behaviours linked to accessing services and new care models, Explain Market Research has developed a unique and relevant skill set pertaining to research and engagement within the health sector.

Using a range of research methodologies and engagement approaches we will help you understand how to engage, uncover insights, benchmark measure and improve results in your organisations.

Delivering Meaningful Insights V2How we deliver meaningful insights:

  1. Interpret your results and identify the ‘hot spots’ through a detailed review of the survey data
  2. Identify those teams or departments that are most dissatisfied and understand what they are dissatisfied with
  3. Undertake qualitative research with those teams or individuals and get ‘under the skin’; and then
  4. Co-create with respondents to identify solutions and provide strategic recommendations on actions for improvement
  5. We can continue to track engagement and work with you to deliver actions.

Our team at Explain Market Research are experts at putting in place research programmes to deliver for clients.

 Contact us today to find out how we could support you and get in touch with our team to understand more about the solutions we can provide.

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Explain Market Research launches new research solution to deliver innovation

Originally developed in 2010, Explain’s innovative online community platform has undergone a substantial upgrade to better meet the needs of clients and end users.

Organisations in a range of sectors, including utilities, healthcare and manufacturing, have chosen our platform as it provides a unique and extremely cost-effective method of research and engagement to suit any budget.

An online community in the simplest form is a form of social and digital engagement, sometimes referred to as an online panel; they offer a bespoke, members-only digital space in which to directly engage ‘in the moment’ with a desired audience – for example, customers, stakeholders, or internal staff. Communities are currently being used to monitor perceptions of customer service, develop new products, and engage with vulnerable and ‘hard to reach’ consumer groups.

Along with the build of each community, Explain provide an ongoing management and moderation service which sees users encouraged to actively participate in conversation, providing a qualitative two way conversation. Views and opinions are gathered through discussion threads, polls and online surveys, with fresh and relevant content uploaded frequently to ensure high levels of engagement, providing a 360 degree view from customers.

Our online communities range in scale and scope, with each community individually designed to deliver the needs of clients. We currently host and manage online communities ranging from bespoke projects with 50 members, running for a limited time to deliver immediate insights, to long term strategic models with thousands of members, that will run over a number of years as an engagement tool.

The recently launched Version 3 of the platform offers enhanced design and media capabilities, along with greater usability to improve user experience for members.

Kim Davis, Explain Market Research’s Managing Director commented “Our newest release has stimulated interest from those who see research as an ongoing investment in product and service refinement. Any industry that is serious about stakeholder engagement should consider an online community, as an extremely cost-effective way to carry out ongoing research.  It breaks down barriers such as location, accessibility and timing. We are seeing a significant shift towards this type of research, particularly in regulatory environments, to demonstrate consistent engagement, and also in manufacturing for product innovation and development.”

Based in Newcastle upon Tyne, Explain has provided full-service market research solutions to a range of organisations for over two decades, with specialist knowledge and expertise in the utilities, healthcare and financial services sectors. Delivering innovative insights is at the forefront of our culture. Our online communities are part of a wider suite of innovative solutions to research and engagement, which also includes mobile app surveys, collecting ‘in the moment’ data and insights.

With a shift towards ongoing and digital research, to demonstrate consistent engagement, we continue to work with clients to find solutions to their needs, and are seeing a significant increase in the uptake of online communities as a research tool.

Take a look at our infographic below and get in touch to understand how your organisation will benefit from an online community.

communities infographic

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A guide to market research – DIY or outsource to a specialist agency?

Company budgets are always under review and managers are always under pressure to make savings, so when it comes to market research is this something that can be carried out by your own internal resource, or do you need a market research agency that specialises in this discipline to deliver this for you?

There are times when research does lend itself to being carried out externally and times when this can be carried out well internally. However, organisations do have to be careful that in their efforts to save money, it doesn’t cost the business money in the long run! Poorly constructed research can also have an impact on the public’s perception of your business, as research is another form of engagement and will leave a lasting impression on your customers and stakeholders.

Before deciding which way to go, there are a number of important factors which should be considered:

  1. In-house capability

You may not think it takes a genius to construct a survey, however experience alongside strategic and logical thinking are required in order to get the most from any research. A strategic mindset will help establish what you are trying to achieve from your survey, while logic is needed to map out the questionnaire journey, question type and determine if the outputs will meet your objectives. This may sound obvious, however it’s amazing how many surveys end up going out the door, yet the results don’t meet the initial research objectives!

A quick short online survey for example can usually be constructed by someone internally and is generally more cost effective to do so, using the various tools that are available across the internet. However, for more complex work which has high importance for your business, think carefully before using anyone who hasn’t got the experience to do this.

  1. In-house resource

If you require a methodology that involves 1,100 completed on-street or telephone surveys then carrying this out internally usually isn’t an option! This is obvious to outsource due to the number of fieldworkers that would be required and the technical capability required for telephone interviewing, such as call recording.

There are methodologies that in theory could be delivered by an internal team, such as focus groups. However it is vital that the team is proficient in focus group moderation, discussion guide creation and thematic analysis. There should also be enough moderators to handle a number of groups to be representative of the base that you are researching.

The administration and organisation of a focus group should not be overlooked.  As part of a package that a research agency offers, the administration and logistics of recruitment and session organisation are also included – this is time consuming and well thought through in terms of ideal venues, room sizes, location, equipment and so forth.  Therefore if your organisation does not have the resource to do this, then this is also an added value benefit.

  1. Market Research Society (MRS) guidelines

Most research agencies are MRS partners or members and will adhere to the guidelines set out by the MRS. These are professional standards which are put in place to ensure that research is delivered to the highest standard in terms of ethical practices, commercial value and reliability.

Research agencies often send their staff on Market Research Society courses to enhance their professional development, so that they bring more to their clients in terms of innovation and best practice.

  1. Independent research

When outsourcing to a research agency, bias is less of a concern than it would be if it was carried out by an internal team or person. Research by a third party will be carried out and delivered independently, which will impact on respondents’ openness to questions during fieldwork.

Concern of a biased approach to analysis and delivery of results is also removed when outsourcing to a specialist agency, as there is no danger of political agenda or emotional attachment to the outputs.

  1. Quality and reliability

Depending on resource available and the capability of staff within the organisation, quality and reliability of findings should be considered. You may have a team of highly trained and experienced market research specialists, however if you don’t these factors may be at risk. The importance and influence of the outputs and complexity of the research will provide a good indication as to whether your project should be outsourced to an agency who can guarantee high quality work and robust results.

Consider your options carefully, weigh up the risks and if you believe research is worth doing – it’s worth doing correctly.

Contact us today to find out more about the research and engagement solutions we offer at Explain.



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Engaging with the vulnerable and hard to reach

Vulnerable customer and ‘hard to reach’ research is a requirement that more and more insight and market research managers are having to address as part of their roles. Not only are regulators keen for organisations to demonstrate that they are inclusive, but there is huge value in businesses being more effective in their engagement with those who are in debt or utilising services inefficiently.

Vulnerable customers are often identified as those with long or short term illness, those living with disabilities or in poverty, and also customers who are elderly.

Hard to reach groups will differ depending on the organisation and the products and services which are offered, but can include:

  1. Non-English speakers
  2. Those who are in severe debt
  3. Those who have suffered a mental illness or struggle socially
  4. Individuals who have a drug or alcohol addiction
  5. Younger people who are not in education or employment
  6. Elderly who live alone and don’t have family or friends

There are many reasons why it is important for organisations to be able to reach out to audiences that can be more difficult to engage with. This can be from a socially responsible point of view, or to reduce inefficiencies. However, as the term suggests – ‘hard to reach’ is exactly that, so having the right approach is vital.

So how can an organisation grow relationships with those where there are perhaps more barriers in place that will allow them to do this?

As organisations are placing more importance on engaging with these audiences we have become experts in delivering research programmes that provide great insight into these key groups.

As every organisation is different and each of these groups are so very diverse, a one size fits all approach will not work in research. Careful thought and consideration as to how these groups can be engaged with is crucial. Below are just three important factors which need to be deliberated when putting in place research and engagement with hard to reach and vulnerable groups:

  1. Language

For example, there is little point in using technical jargon or business speak when engaging with a group of 16 year olds. This may seem obvious, however it is surprising how difficult it is to get a specific point across without making use of industry specific terms. This is very common in the healthcare sector for instance. We recently carried out research which found that although the terms ‘Primary Care’ and ‘Secondary Care’ are commonly used terms across the NHS, only 26% of the sample we spoke to actually understood the term  ‘Primary Care’.  And this isn’t just the hard to reach groups either, this is the general public.

  1. Tone

Tone is different to language, as it goes beyond the actual words used in any communications, whether a discussion guide, questionnaire, online survey or promotional material used to engage for the research. Tone should be adopted for the audience – a formal approach will not encourage those who are young to participate in any research, as this can be intimidating. Having a moderator in place who is able to adapt to the audience is vital. For questionnaires, more visuals can be used. There are lots of creative ways in which you can communicate with your respondents, to make them feel at ease and more willing to open up and participate.

  1. Methodology and Selection

Usually a methodology is largely selected on the type of insight that is required, however carrying out telephone interviews or on-street surveys as you require a quantitative analysis will gain little return with a disengaged group, while trying to recruit on-street to get people who have issues socially to come along to a focus group at a public space such as a hotel will not be successful either.  Methods such attending pre-arranged groups or community sessions are an extremely useful way to engage with the hard to reach. Not only are you going to them, they are also in their own environment so will feel naturally more comfortable and more willing to participate. Offering experiences is also a fantastic way to encourage some hard to reach groups to participate in research. Activity days that will provide them with some value and an enjoyable experience will not only encourage them as respondents to attend, but also will make individuals feel more at ease and start to participate more with a skilled moderator. Online communities which already have a specific audience type are a great way to engage with those certain groups. There are online communities available which specialise in certain profile types; for example, an online community made up of people who have a disability, or who care for those who do, is an excellent way to carry out a range of qualitative or quantitative research.

Our team at Explain Market Research are experts at putting in place research programmes with vulnerable customers and those who are hard to reach.

Contact us today to find out more.



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Knowing, segmenting and talking to your audience in their language, improves engagement

Information overload increases by the day, so how do organisations become smarter in order to engage with their stakeholders such as customers, prospective customers, users of a public service, employees…

Email boxes are now crammed packed with notifications of the latest offers, on-demand TV allows viewers to skip past ad breaks, we have internet streamed music with preference built play lists with no ad interruptions, there are text message notifications to overcome the issue of more and more people not opening their mail, we have internet adverts that follow you around online …. those who are responsible for engagement have a difficult task at hand to understand which channels and what messages are right to yield the desired results.

A one size fits all approach didn’t work as effectively as a targeted communication campaign 10 years ago, so now with all of the rapid and major changes in how we communicate, this approach has very little impact.

Segmentation is more important than ever and is applied and used by large retailers extremely effectively due to most transactions taking  place online and data collected as part of the process at point of sales –  this is known as ‘big data’.

It’s not all about demographics either.   We can’t assume all those 65 plus have the same preferences e.g. silver surfers Vs. traditionalists. There is huge diversity within demographic groups now and without behavioural segmentation to give a true understanding of what makes your audience tick, your communication will likely fall on deaf ears.

Getting our hands on this data can be extremely difficult.  If your services aren’t all about online purchasing and point of sales, this makes it even trickier.  It’s not uncommon for organisations particularly within the utility, public sector, healthcare, housing and education sectors to have collated large databases of various stakeholders including customers, but have great difficulty in segmenting it to communicate more effectively in order to improve engagement.

Market research is fundamental in understanding key groups and to start the process of an effective segmentation strategy  based on behaviours and preferences, allowing us to talk the same language with the right benefit messages using the right channels to our intended audience.

Our team work with a range of organisations across sectors, particularly where segmentation isn’t as straight forward. Our mix of research, marketing and data specialists will build a programme of research and segmentation strategies to help your business become more effective and smarter in engaging with stakeholders.

We have produced an infographic for anyone thinking about how they can better understand their audience:

Segmentation infographic