Audience Dialogue

Background of Dennis List

Background

I grew up in New Zealand: a wealthy and peaceful country, though a little dull, and a long way from anywhere. When I left school in the 1960s, I planned to be a novelist, or, failing that, an architect. But when I went to university in Wellington, I discovered pyschology, and found more success with poetry than with fiction. I had an early introduction to the world of publishing when I was offered the joint editorship of a small literary magazine after my first year at university: I was 18 years old. When I finished a degree in psychology, I landed a research job for the Social Welfare Department of the New Zealand government. After a year of statistical work, I decided to to a master's degree - at Canterbury University, where the psychology department had a better reputation.

At Canterbury I completed a master's degree in social psychology, then (in the 1970s) worked for the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, mainly in its audience research department. Seeking a change, I came to Australia. My wife and I planned to stay for two years, then to move again: either on to Canada or back to New Zealand. So much for plans! Twenty years later, we're still in Australia. First we lived in Melbourne, where I worked for Morgan Gallup Polls, then moved to Sydney to work for the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Sydney is a difficult place to live, unless you're single or extremely rich, so when the ABC decentralized its head office functions, I was transferred to Adelaide: less exciting than Sydney, but much more livable.

When I moved to Adelaide, I didn't know many people outside the ABC. I tried to join the Market Research Society, but it turned out to be rather a secret society: it took me two years to find it. I thought I might do some further study. The ABC agreed to support this, as long as it was in management. So over the next few years, I did a part-time MBA in Arts Administration. I met some interesting people, and had a lot of fun challenging the received academic wisdom. To my surprise, the more I challenged it, the better marks I got. I ended up winning a medal for the (joint) top MBA student in Adelaide in 1986.

Media

From 1989 to 1998 I was the Research Manager for the ABC, with its Audience Research Department, later broadened into the Strategic Planning and Research Unit. This was part of the head office, but based in Adelaide. I managed a staff of around 20 people, organizing surveys and research studies all around Australia. While working at the ABC I became active in the Market Research Society of Australia. I was the South Australian president for several years, served on the national board, and am still the deputy chair for SA. I'm also a member of the Australasian Evaluation Society, serving on the state committee.

In 1997-98 the ABC (which receives nearly all its funding from the Australian government) suffered a 10% budget cut. It decided to save its programs by eliminating any activity that could be outsourced. That included my department. The ABC offered me a job as internal auditor (surprisingly similar to research, in some ways) but after trying it for a few months, it seemed rather a narrow and negative occupation. Instead, I decided to set up a research and evaluation consultancy specializing in media and communications work. In other words, Audience Dialogue.

Shortly before leaving the ABC, I visited a friend who (like me) had been market research manager for a large organization. He had been retrenched a few years earlier. Now he had a small but satisfactory market research business. However, he seemed isolated, and out of touch with new developments - for example, he was still using DOS because he had no time to learn Windows. After that visit, I realized that a small consultancy could be a very lonely business. Luckily, I was saved from such isolation by being offered a university position - in Marketing. This was not a discipline I had aspired to, even though I'd had a lot of experience with its research aspects.

Marketing

So in 1999, at the same time as I set up Audience Dialogue, I joined the School of Marketing at the University of South Australia (UniSA for short). This was a highly stimulating environment, among 30-odd argumentative academics whose main focus was on uncovering general principles of consumer marketing. Working with them was a great way to keep up with developments in research methods.

My role involved lecturing, tutoring, and supervising students' projects in the newest areas of marketing: interactive marketing, electronic marketing, marketing of innovations, relationship marketing, database marketing, and direct marketing. I coordinated the Marketing Electronic Business undergraduate course, and postgraduate Response-Based Marketing.

Lecturers at UniSA need either to have a PhD or be studying for one. In the 1970s, I'd seen many of my friends suffer years of mental agony through doing PhD theses on mind-numbingly narrow topics that didn't interest them. I decided never to do a doctorate, unless it covered a broad, stimulating topic and was of social value. Conflict management, perhaps, or futures studies. Luckily, what I thought of as futures studies, the School of Marketing saw a method of marketing. The university has recently founded Centre for Innovation and Development, which thinks I'm studying innovation. Luckily, there's a lot of overlap in these subject areas. Everybody's happy.

Futures studies

For many years I've been interested in the challenging problem of studying the future: a concept that (for people) seems to create itself. So for my PhD thesis (completed at the end of 2005), I developed a new method of scenario planning, using a variant of action research methodology. The method I proposed seemed obvious to me, but when I presented a paper on it at the World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF) Conference in Romania in 2001, the assembled futurists agreed that my approach was indeed new.
February 2006: the entire thesis is available on this website.

Traditional scenario planning tends to view organizations as helpless pawns in the world system, while traditional strategic planning tends to hold that anything is possible, and an organization can succeed through sheer will and co-operation. My scenario planning variant combines these two views: an organization's future (or an industry's, or an area's) is partly within its control, and partly subject to outside forces. By the time I've finished developing this method for considering the future, I hope it will be a powerful but relatively simple tool that any group of people, industry, or geographical area can use to help it find its path through the future.

Evaluation

The main work of Audience Dialogue is communications evaluation, in two quite different areas. In Australia, the work mostly involves evaluating websites and internet communications, usability testing, and developing marketing strategies. But most of Audience Dialogue's work is done for developing countries. Through my links with Ausaid and the BBC, when I was with the ABC I was occasionally sent on assignments to developing countries to help improve their broadcasting systems, mostly through staff training. In the 1990s I worked in Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia on these projects - on secondment from the ABC. After leaving the ABC I became a consultant for the Swedish aid program through Sida, the Swedish aid agency, working mostly with the Media Development Office of Sveriges Radio. I've helped evaluate media aid programs in Vietnam, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Indonesia. As I can't do this alone (not speaking fluent Vietnamese, Amharic, Swahili, or Bahasa Indonesia) my emphasis has been on training local staff in simple research methods.

Qualitative research methods

In my work with the ABC and Sida, I've developed several new methods for qualitative research: consensus groups, and the co-discovery conference. Though qualitative research can be a long drawn out and confusing process, these methods have worked well at making direct contact between media managers and their audiences. More and more, Audience Dialogue's work is moving away from an emphasis on research (finding out) towards an equal emphasis on planning, and how to make use of the research.

Publications

My writings cover a wide range - poetry, science fiction novels, comedy, media, social science, and several editions of the encyclopedic New Zealand Whole Earth Catalogue. (You can read some of the fiction on my literary website at www.dennislist.net). But because this is the Audience Dialogue website, I'll focus on the most relevant ones for this site's audience.

While with the ABC, I wrote an Audience Research Cookbook, a short book for radio and TV managers on how to do small-scale surveys. Unexpectedly, this became popular overseas. In my last year at the ABC, copies were sold to over 20 countries, on all continents - even though much of the content applied only in Australia. After I left the ABC, I wrote a new version, entitled Know Your Audience: a Practical Guide to Media Research (published by Original Books, NZ, 2001). In 2002 I wrote a marketing handbook aimed specially at radio managers in developing countries, Participative Marketing for Local Radio. (Original Books, NZ, 2003.) The full text of most chapters of these books is available on this Audience Dialogue website.

In the last few years I've also been producing some academic papers, given at conferences in Australia, Romania and Japan, as well as articles published in respectable international journals such as Field Methods, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, and Futures.

A list of my publications is available here for your reference, by meaningful category.

Diffusion of innovation

Corkindale, David & Dennis List (2003). "A Test of the Bass Model for Adoption in a Professional Services Market." Presented at ANZMAC Conference, Adelaide, December.

List, Dennis & David Corkindale (2003). "The Use of the Internet by the Australian Market Research Industry." Presented at ANZMAC Conference, Adelaide, December.

Corkindale, David & Dennis List (1999). "Use of the internet by Australian market research companies." Presented at Market Research Society of Australia Conference, Adelaide, September.

Marketing

Corkindale, David, Peter Balan & Caroline Rowe (1996). Marketing: Making the Future Happen (2nd edition).  Thomas Nelson, Melbourne.

List, Dennis (2003). "A Framework for Evaluating the Performance of Marketing Systems." Presented at ANZMAC Conference, Adelaide, December.

List, Dennis (2003). Participative Marketing for Local Radio. Original Books, Wellington. Indonesian translation published by Kantor Berita 68H, Jakarta,  2004.

Research methodology

List, Dennis (2006). Co-Discovery Conferences: A Users’ Manual. Original Books, Wellington.

List, Dennis (2006). Quick Guide to Audience Research. Original Books, Wellington. Arabic translation published by World Association of Newspapers, Paris, 2006

List, Dennis (2005). Consensus Groups: A User’s Manual. Original Books, Wellington.

List, Dennis (2005). Scenario Network Mapping: A User’s Manual. Original Books, Wellington.

List, Dennis (2005). Scenario Network Mapping: The Development of a Methodology for Social Inquiry. University of South Australia. [PhD thesis] Available online at Uni SA (pdf) and Audience Dialogue

List, Dennis (2005). Know Your Audience: A Practical Guide to Media Research (2nd edition). Original Books, Wellington, New Zealand. Indonesian translation of first edition published by UNESCO, Jakarta, 2001.

List, Dennis (2005). "Enhancing Indonesian democracy: some methods for putting broadcasters more closely in touch with their audiences." Melbourne: International Radio Conference, July 2005.

List, Dennis (2004) "Maps for navigating the ocean of alternative futures." pp.225-237 in The Causal Layered Analysis (CLA) Reader, ed. Sohail Inayatullah. Tamkang University Press, Taiwan.

List, Dennis (2004). "Research by infusion: the co-discovery conference." Presented at ANZMAC Conference, Wellington, New Zealand, December.

List, Dennis (2004). "Evaluating the Effectiveness of Websites." Presented at Australasian Evaluation Society conference, Adelaide, October.

List, Dennis (2004). "Combining program logic with scenario networks." Presented at Australasian Evaluation Society conference, Adelaide, October.

List, Dennis, and Mike Metcalfe (2004). "Sourcing forecast knowledge through argumentative inquiry." Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 71 (5) 525-535.

List, Dennis (2001). "The consensus group technique in social research." Field Methods, 13 (3)  277-290.

List, Dennis (1997). Audience Survey Cookbook. Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Sydney. [Translations into Vietnamese, Lao, and Khmer published in 1997]

List, Dennis (1983). "N=1: A Quest for the Perfect Respondent." Australian Marketing Researcher, 1983 (2) 7-18.

Foresight and strategy

List, Dennis (2007). "From scenario planning to scenario network mapping." Presented at conference of New Zealand Society for Sustainability Engineering and Science, Auckland, February. Available Here (pdf)

List, Dennis (2006). "Reflection on the future: its possibility and usefulness." Journal of Information Technology Theory and Application, 7 (4) 21-33.

List, Dennis (2006). "The Leaf of Goals in conflict management." Presented at Asia-Pacific Mediation Forum, Suva, Fiji, June 2006. Available Here (pdf)

List, Dennis (2006). "Action research cycles for multiple futures perspectives." Futures, 38 (6) 673-684.

List, Dennis (2005). A systems approach to business models; pp 21-30 in Amit Singh Sisodiya (ed), Business Models: An Introduction. Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts of India University Press, Hyderabad, India.

List, Dennis (2004). "Reviewing hindsight to sharpen foresight: scenarios for 2000 in retrospect." Presented at conference on Innovation and Social Development in the Knowledge-Based Economy/Society, Dubrovnik, Croatia, May. Available as Working Paper, Centre for Innovation and Development, University of South Australia.
List, Dennis (2004). "Multiple pasts, converging presents, and alternative futures." Futures, 36 (1) 23-43.

List, Dennis (2003). "The globalisation of media and communications in Australia, 1980-2020" in Globalisation: Australian Regional Perspectives, ed. Martin Shanahan and Gerry Treuren. Wakefield Press, Adelaide.

List, Dennis (2003). "Three maps for navigating the ocean of alternative futures." Journal of Futures Studies, 8 (2) 55-64.

List, Dennis (2003). "Network scenarios: a new way to scenario planning." Chapter 5 in Business Scenario Planning - Concepts and Cases, ed. Amit Singh Sisodiya. Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts of India University Press, Hyderabad, India.

List, Dennis (2002). "Three maps of the future." Presented at conference of World Futures Studies Federation, Kure, Japan, November.

List, Dennis (2001). "Multiple pasts, diverging presents, and alternative futures." Presented at conference of World Futures Studies Federation, Brasov, Romania, September.

Looking ahead

This section is, of course, obligatory for a futurist - but one of the axioms of my futures research is "if you don't know where you're going, and you don't know where you've been, you don't know where you are now." to put it another way, one purpose of studying the future is to help you work out where you are now.

The path I've mapped for Audience Dialogue is to move from survey research, through qualitative research, through evaluation, through to futures studies. With the mechanics of survey research becoming more and more commoditized, and the data quality higher, our focus of work will move towards dealing with bigger issues and messier problems. Now that I've finished my doctorate, I'll be able to devote more attention to developing Audience Dialogue into a more forward-looking organization.

In our small way, we will be trying to help solve some of the world's most pressing problems, specially those relating to communication between people. I want our work to contribute to goals such as increasing true democracy (i.e. more than just occasional uninformed voting), an open society, transparency and diversity of media, peace-building, reducing poverty by redressing power imbalances.... That should be enough, for a start.

Dennis List