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Bridging the Gap

Carrying out research into a wide range of contemporary socio-political issues and trends is a challenge for researchers – both intellectually and emotionally. However, one of the joys of this kind of exploration is the way in which insights gathered from one research project can inform and stimulate the knowledge and thinking that go into another. 

For example, last week I attended the launch of the Financial Conduct Authority’s ‘Access to Financial Services’ Occasional Paper – a paper based largely on independent research we conducted for the FCA into the customer experience of issues associated with access to a variety of different financial services and products. (Our own report was also published last week, alongside the FCA’s paper.)

One of the key topics for discussion at the launch was the practical issues associated with access to online or mobile banking services for those who are otherwise digitally excluded. This is a topic we know very well at Revealing Reality (ESRO), given the recent publication of our study for Ofcom into the needs, attitudes and experiences of those who access the internet exclusively via smartphones. During one particular discussion at the FCA event, I was thrilled to hear an audience member quote our Ofcom study as a way to elucidate a point about the current challenges associated with digital developments.

Alongside the debate about the technicalities of digital access ran a particularly lively conversation about how an improvement in financial education could provide a means of improving a customer’s ability to access financial services more generally.

While any investment in financial education should be welcomed, after hearing the stories and perspectives of our participants in both the FCA and Ofcom projects it is clear to me that one of the fundamental challenges driving exclusion is, as the title of the Occasional Paper suggests, access.

In order to ensure that every customer has a fair and equal opportunity to make the most of the services available to them, more needs to be done to ensure that the digital infrastructure is fundamentally inclusive in the first instance. It is perhaps from this starting point that an investment in financial education will reap the most reward – benefiting firms, consumers and wider society alike. 


Jenny presents ‘Smartphone by Default’ to Ofcom stakeholders

Does technology bring us together or is it driving new kinds of inequality? Are we entering a Utopian era of free-flowing information, or limiting our horizons with streamlined media? What happens when people stop questioning the content and breadth of their information sources?

These are some of the deeper questions touched upon during Ofcom Adult’s Media Use and Attitudes event, where our Associate Director Jenny Holland introduced findings from our recent report on smartphone-only internet access.

The study was commissioned by Ofcom to explore the needs, attitudes and experiences of those who only access the internet via their smartphone – either through choice or due to (often difficult) circumstances. The full report can be read here.

Ofcom’s latest statistics suggest that ‘smartphone by default’ internet users now comprise 6% of the population, and the trend is growing apace. Hitherto, the implications have been relatively hidden, but our research clearly demonstrates why policy-makers and developers alike need to take account of the experiences of those unable or unwilling to access the internet through a range of devices.

The trend is particularly concerning in relation to vulnerable people – e.g. homeless or elderly people, whose struggle to access online services may be compounded by the limitations in function or content associated with smartphone-only access. This is especially relevant in light of the government’s ‘digital by default’ strategy, whereby key services are increasingly moving online – raising questions as to whether a reliance on smartphones causes new axes of ‘digital exclusion’, and what impact these will have.

In bringing to life our findings for a broad range of Ofcom’s stakeholders – from media providers and academic researchers to the digital exclusion specialists at the Tinder Foundation – it was clear that the issue is fast gaining momentum among key audiences, and we are delighted to have been able to bring new evidence and depth to Ofcom’s understanding of the phenomenon.


WINNERS AT LARIA – Tuesday 19th April

We are delighted to announce that ESRO – in conjunction with the London Borough of Waltham Forest – has received the award for Best Use of Local Area Research at the annual conference of the Local Authorities Research & Intelligence Association (LARIA).

The winning project focused on children’s centres in the borough, studying the daily lives, experiences and needs of local families. Using place-based ethnography, depth interviews, co-design and stakeholder workshops, our research went beyond ‘stated needs’ to reveal the wider importance of children’s centres in facilitating social engagement and wellbeing. By re-introducing the service user voice into commissioning discussions, we helped stakeholders from a range of different services re-assess the value of children’s services as a means of meeting a range of key objectives.

Alongside this win, we were Highly Commended in the ‘Best use of Health and Social Care Research’ category for our pioneering work with Wirral Council – seeking to remove barriers to health-related worklessness – while congratulations are due to our very own Charlotte Harris, who was Highly Commended in the New Researcher of the Year category.


ESRO shortlisted for MRS Public Policy/Social Research award

We’re delighted to have been shortlisted in the Public Policy/Social Research category of this year’s Market Research Society awards for our work with the Financial Conduct Authority on consumer vulnerability.

Completed earlier this year, ‘Vulnerability Exposed’ (right, report available here) has helped the FCA to transform its discussions with financial services firms about how they can better meet the needs of consumers in a variety of vulnerable circumstances.

The impact of the study is being felt throughout the industry - and among other regulators - and we’re hugely excited that its influence has been recognised by the MRS and its judges.

Having won the Public Policy/Social Research three times since 2010, we’ve got our fingers crossed that we can add to our tally when this year’s MRS Awards are presented on 7th December in central London.



Earlier this year, we were commissioned by the Behavioural Insights Team at the Department of Health to understand why parents of young children with non-urgent conditions attend A&E – even at times when more suitable options like family GPs or pharmacists are available.

Using a mix of literature review, local area service mapping and ethnographic depth interviews, we analysed data through the lens of various behavioural biases and principles to understand the root causes of parents’ decision-making. The overall aim was to develop a practical toolkit which could be used by healthcare professionals to identify a range of cost-effective approaches to help parents make more suitable choices when concerned about their children’s health.

The full report is now available in the publications section of our website.

It reveals that – although most of those parents we interviewed agreed that emergency departments should be for emergencies only – there were a wide range of factors that ‘nudged’ them towards seeing it as a good option. Examples included the perceived additional expertise of A&E staff cued by job roles, uniforms and the visibility of ‘technical’ equipment. 

We also concluded that wider social trends – notably the erosion of traditional family support networks and pressure from online social media – are making parents increasingly anxious about making a bad decision.

We’ve since used the insights to identify new opportunities to reduce the ‘non-urgent’ burden on A&E departments, including:

  • Measures to enhance the perceived specialism of other health services to offset A&E’s reputation as the ‘go-to’ place for expert care
  • Upskilling parents so they have more confidence in their abilities to diagnose children’s symptoms and make health-related parenting decisions
  • Creating greater consistency in how alternative services are designed, delivered and packaged

We’d like to thank everyone who contributed to the project, and especially those busy parents who gave up their time to speak to our researchers. We’re hugely proud of the report, which we believe is a perfect illustration of how behavioural science can be used to make sense of complex and costly behaviours, and help clients make simple changes that have profound knock-on effects.

For more information on the report or any of its findings, please contact Tom Brown (, 020 7735 8040).