SSHRC Connects with Darrell Bricker

Darrell Bricker

Darrell Bricker

Darrell Bricker is chief executive officer with Ipsos Public Affairs, a division of the world’s second largest market research firm, with 700 experts on the ground in 34 countries. Prior to joining Ipsos in 1990, Bricker was director of research in the office of Canada’s Prime Minister and a research consultant with firms in Ottawa and Toronto. He holds a PhD in political science from Carleton University—where he was a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Doctoral Fellow—as well as degrees from Wilfrid Laurier University, which later awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree, naming him one of their top 100 graduates of the last 100 years.

Bricker also serves by appointment of the Minister of National Defence as the Honorary Colonel of the Queen’s York Rangers, Canada’s oldest army reserve regiment. For his volunteer work with the military he has received a commendation from the Commander of the Army, a commendation from the Admiral of the Navy, and has been awarded the Diamond Jubilee Medal by Canada’s Governor General.

A popular public speaker and media commentator, he is the author of five bestselling books: Searching for Certainty: Inside the New Canadian Mindset (with Ed Greenspon), as well as We Know What You’re Thinking, What Canadians Think About Almost Everything and Canuckology (both with John Wright); his most recent book, with Globe and Mail chief political writer John Ibbitson, is The Big Shift: The Seismic Change in Canadian Politics, Business and Culture and What It Means for Our Future.

In June 2013, Darrell Bricker sat down to speak with us on the changing face of the polling industry and the ongoing importance of social sciences and humanities research funding.

At Ipsos, you work with massive amounts of information, with so much more processing and computational capacity than when you started. What are the most significant changes to the polling industry you have seen?

I’d say there are three.

The first one is that research innovation used to be driven principally by the academic community and by government. Research innovation is not driven by those groups as much as it used to be, and this is particularly true of global research. So this concept of “global measurement” has become a big area.

[A] whole information-gathering infrastructure has been built to practice social science

If you go back to the political culture or social research work that was done in the ’50s and ’60s, these were huge undertakings. Now, however, we can do studies on that scale each week—it’s not an overwhelming burden to actually collect data. Basically, a whole information-gathering infrastructure has been built to practice social science.

The second change is this idea of a global average, that you can now actually start measuring the world, and the resulting capacity to use public opinion research to reflect that common voice. That possibility never really existed before because the technology didn’t exist.

The third major change is that technology is invariably moving online. Most global research is now done online. We have more ways of contacting people these days than have ever been possible.

You held a SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship. Could you tell us a little bit about your graduate research and any connection it might have to the Big Shift?

Probably the biggest connection was in terms of methodology. The social science techniques I learned in graduate school I still use every day. I mean, I’m one of those guys who basically went to school for something that they do for a living now.

But the interesting thing was I didn’t really do public polling when I was in graduate school. I was more of an econometrician-type analyst and only switched over to doing public opinion later on.

What was the impact of SSHRC funding itself on your graduate experience?

It was somebody from outside, someone whom I respected, coming in and saying, ‘You know what? This is worthwhile research. You should do this.’

For one thing, it meant I could go to school! I wasn’t one of those people who had worked for several years and had money set aside. It meant that I could pursue the research I wanted to do while getting by financially.

Ultimately, it wasn’t really about the money. It was about the endorsement of what I was doing. It was somebody from outside, someone whom I respected, coming in and saying, “You know what? This is worthwhile research. You should do this.”

Actually having somebody prepared to stand behind me financially and say that the work I was doing was valid and useful was hugely gratifying at the time.

My sense is that SSHRC does extremely valuable work, that it is still providing the same kind of endorsement for the people that need that type of support and that type of acknowledgement. And personally, I see that as a really valuable role to play.