David Harmon is Managing director of Insight Statistical Consulting, a specialist provider of marketing research and statistical services. He is also the Treasurer of SRA Ireland.
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was young I had a keen eye for detail and enjoyed mathematics – a career in research was always a likely outcome!
When did you first turn towards a social research career?
My work as a quantitative researcher spans education, tourism, health, enterprise and finance. I have always found the research projects involving a social dimension the most interesting, i.e. approaching social phenomena through quantifiable evidence and relying on statistical analysis to make valid and reliable claims. So rather than turning towards a social research career I would lean more favourably towards projects that involved a social dimension.
What was your first professional job? And first project there?
I graduated from a Management Science and Information Systems Studies degree at Trinity College Dublin in 1993. During this course, I studied how to use techniques from disciplines such as business, mathematics, computer science, statistics and management science to solve real world problems. This prepared me very well for my first (and only!) professional job in a University campus company (Insight Statistical Consulting), almost 23 years ago.
Since 1993 I have worked closely with a number of University lecturers in providing the highest quality statistical expertise to clients from the public and private sector. Clients enjoy working with leading academics and academics enjoy working on commercial projects – it’s a mutually beneficial approach and one which has been very rewarding over the years.
My first project was a national survey of the public's attitudes to disability for the National Disability Authority. This was a very important study as public attitudes to people with disabilities can be a key facilitator, or a serious barrier, to their inclusion and participation in society. The results from this survey are being tracked over time and continue to guide Irish Government policy and practice.
Where did your career go next? What motivated that/those moves?
I have worked in the same company since graduating from my primary degree in 1993. There were opportunities to move, in particular to the client side, but I preferred to supplement my experience with additional education and extend our business services.
I completed a Masters in Marketing Research at the UCD Graduate Business School in 2005/06. It was difficult balancing work with study but hugely beneficial from a business administration and personal development perspective. I recently completed a Post-Graduate Diploma in Policy Evaluation using Official Statistics and this was very rewarding. For example, I discovered that there are many excellent datasets available from official sources that could be used in social research projects instead of (or in addition to) gathering primary data.
I’m currently working on a EUROSTUDENT project with the Higher Education Authority in Ireland to collate comparable data on the social dimension of European higher education across 30 countries. This project focuses on the socio-economic background and on the living conditions of students, but also investigates temporary international mobility. The main users of our findings from this study are higher education policy-makers at national and European level, researchers in this field and managers of higher education institutions. The dataset from this study (response data from approximately 20,000 students in higher education) will be uploaded on the Irish Social Science Data Archive for other social researchers to use (another great data resource).
What has been your best professional moment?
My career highlight was delivering a large-scale research project on public attitudes for An Garda Síochána (the Irish Police Force) which combined qualitative and quantitative research methods. It taught me how a mixed mode methodology can contribute towards better research findings.
As a business owner of a commercial enterprise, there have been many ups and a few downs in terms of winning and losing new contracts. The worst professional moment was failing to win a public tendering contract as the incumbent supplier in 2010. However we became stronger for it and regrouped to win it back in 2013.
Do you have a social research hero/heroine?
I work quite a lot on questionnaire design and the closest person to a social research hero would be Don Dillman. Dr. Dillman is Regents Professor in the Department of Sociology at Washington State University. He also serves as Deputy Director for Research and Development in the Social and Economic Sciences Research Centre (SESRC). I find his advice and judgement to be of enormous benefit whenever I refer to his publications.
Do you have a favourite quote?
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.”
What would you say to encourage a young person today considering a social research career?
It’s a very rewarding career with plenty of variation in that no two research projects are the same and the techniques used are evolving all of the time. I’d also advise that they continue their professional development at regular intervals during their career whenever possible.