Malcolm Rigg is Director of the Policy Studies Institute (PSI) at the University of Westminster, and also leads the Masters course in Applied Social and Market Research there.
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
I didn’t want to be a teacher mainly because both my parents were. It’s an irony that I’m now teaching and thoroughly enjoying it.
When did you first turn towards a social research career?
I worked as an interviewer on a large Oxford Transportation study as a holiday job when I was 16. My first interview was with someone who said he was coming from his home and going to his home. He turned out to be a hereditary peer coming from the Lords to his estate. I began to think that there was something rather interesting about research.
What was your first professional job? And first project there?
On my Business Studies degree, I did a sandwich year at IFF Research. Business Studies then was studying the core social sciences: economics, sociology, psychology, social psychology, law and politics. The first project that I ran myself (there were only half a dozen staff) was a very sexy study of awareness and use of plastic dustbins within local authorities. It marked the beginning of the end for the clattering and clanging of metal bins.
How did your career go after that?
I spent six years at PSI as a Senior Research Fellow, focusing on employment and training issues. I was Head of Public Interest Research at the Consumers’ Association, publishers of 'Which?'. After that a spell in government as Director of Research at the Central Office of Information. I joined BMRB International as Director of Social Research in 1997, and became Managing Director in 2002. I returned to PSI as Director in 2004.
What has been your best professional moment?
The best was probably the intense times working with a team on the evaluation of schemes like the Sports Council’s community sport initiative, Action Sport. It required getting immersed in a complex array of neighbourhood projects and working collectively, using a wide range of methods to tease out the essence of the schemes, the models they were premised on, and the dynamics that unfolded.
In your work what gives you the most satisfaction?
I’ve always enjoyed the hunt, so to speak, in winning new projects, but I’m just as interested in supporting researchers to develop and grow. It’s always great to meet researchers who learnt their research through the BMRB graduate scheme. That’s one of the main reasons why I have taken over running the Masters in Applied Social and Market Research at the University of Westminster which is now based within PSI.
Do you have a favourite quote?
"All that is solid melts into air…" Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto
Who is you social research hero/heroine?
Several! I’d have to include Andrew McIntosh (who owned and ran IFF) and Michael White (at PSI) who mentored me in the art and craft of survey design, analysis and reporting. However, my real life research heroine is my wife, Lesley Saunders, formerly of NFER, more recently at the General Teaching Council and now a freelance researcher – she has a deep understanding of research and we spend endless hours debating and arguing about research and politics. She writes wonderful poetry too! We have lived next door to each other for 30 years!
What would your advice be to new social researchers?
I think that research is a calling. I would say if you’re deeply curious and caring about society then social policy may be for you, but think carefully before labelling yourself as one kind of researcher or another. Research requires an open mind, and too many researchers define their interests and position too narrowly. When PSI was set up as PEP in 1931, the job spec merely called for people who were highly intelligent and could write: these would still be near the top of my list. Ensure that you place ethics at the heart of your practice. Seek out a mentor. And listen to the Today Programme every morning so that you know and think about what’s happening in the world.
Interview by William Solesbury, October 2011