Frequently Asked Questions
ESI ThoughtLab is an innovative thought leadership and economic research firm that provides fresh ideas and evidence-based analysis to help business and government leaders cope with transformative change. We specialize in analyzing the impact of technological, economic, and demographic shifts on industries, cities, and companies.
Our in-house team of over 40 thought leadership, economic, and subject matter specialists—and global network of experts and editors—excels at creating valuable decision support that sits at the intersection of visionary thinking, analytical excellence, and innovative content formats. As a collaborative enterprise, we work closely with organizations to create thought leadership that is highly relevant to their clients and supports improved delivery of ROI. Unlike media companies with branding limitations, we are an independent, full-service research organization able to fill all thought leadership requirements, including diagnostic surveys of companies, government agencies, consumers and investors; senior executive interviews and advisory groups; and infographics, indices, and performance impact and benchmarking tools.
ESI ThoughtLab is the thought leadership arm of Econsult Solutions, Inc. (ESI), a leading economic consultancy with links to the academic community. We have close ties to Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania, Penn Institute of Urban Research, and Drexel University's LeBow College of Business.
Visionary management thinking. Our multidisciplinary team of industry experts, economists, and thought leadership specialists is uniquely able to develop ahead-of-the-curve thinking that provides executives with valuable decision support. We specialize in understanding the impact of technological, regulatory, market, and economic change on business, government, and cities. Our management knowledge and consulting expertise allows us to collaborate effectively with subject matter experts, partners, and marketing heads in professional organizations.
Analytical rigor. Our team of economists specializes in evidence-based thought leadership. We have an unparalleled ability to reach and conduct surveys of executives, government leaders, consumers, and investors across countries and industries, which guarantees that we meet sample quotas. Unlike our competitors, we take a mixed-methods research approach that combines qualitative research techniques, such as expert panels and executive interviews, with robust macro-to-micro economic analysis, including cost-benefit analysis, benchmarking surveys, and economic modeling.
Innovative content formats. Engaging busy executives requires thought leadership to be delivered in innovative formats that are digestible, analytical, and interactive. Our innovative formats have included a Jobs of the Future Index for Cognizant, a cybersecurity benchmarking tool and ebook for Protiviti, a smart city database and analytical tool for Accenture and Oracle, an interactive microsite on the shadow economy for Mastercard, a cross-country opportunity index on autonomous vehicles for KPMG, and a series of “better question” articles for EY.
Our team of economists, thought leadership specialists, and experienced business journalists is skilled in conducting mix-methods research that combines qualitative insights with quantitative rigor. Our research methods are outlined below:
- Interviews with executives, experts, government leaders, and consumers
- Best practice case studies
- Advisory meetings with executives and experts from the private and public sectors
- Expert panels, drawing on specialists from academia and professional organizations
- In-country analyst network, for gathering and analyzing local information and data
- Use of research affiliates that specialize on global trade and other key global issues
- Focus groups of executives or consumers
- Market and competitive research
- Secondary research analysis
- Online, CATI, and face-to-face surveys
- Global, country, and city forecasting
- Scenario and risk analysis
- Consumer and industrial analysis
- Benchmarking and indexing
- Big data analysis and forecasting
- Economic and social impact analysis
- Cost-benefit and ROI analysis
- Geospatial mapping
- Interactive tool building and econometric modeling
- Attitudinal analysis
- Factor analysis
- Correspondence analysis
- Multivariate analysis
- Max-diff analysis
- Conjoint analysis
- Multiple regression
- Cluster regression
- Co-relation analysis
- CHAID analysis
Qualitative research can provide valuable insights into market trends, strategies, and best practices. Our thought leadership team has experience in gathering qualitative views through executive interviews, advisory meetings, and expert panels. We have access to and utilize a global network of experts, in-country analysts, and research partners to meet our research needs. We have partnerships with top universities, research institutes, and professional organizations, such as The Penn Institute for Urban Research (Penn IUR), IESE, UNECE, the Internet Security Alliance, Oxford Analytica, the Smart Cities Council, and more.
Aside from our qualitative research expertise, a key advantage of working with ESI ThoughtLab is our ability to distribute a message across worldwide media channels. Our rich database of personal media contacts, key media and academic alliances, and advanced digital distribution tools, ensures the sophistication and success of our programs, particularly among financial, real estate, planning, and government organizations. By pooling our marketing resources together with those of clients and partners—and drawing on media partnerships with the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Analytics, and others—we substantially increase the success of our marketing and communication efforts.
Organizations often need compelling, evidence-based research to influence the opinions and decisions of their various stakeholders. Our economists draw on a variety of analytical methods, including economic impact analysis, cost-benefit analysis, geospatial analysis, predictive and scenario analysis, big data analytics, interactive tool building, and econometric analysis. As part of our quantitative analysis, we draw on a suite of global macroeconomic and microeconomic models, including input-output models, such as IMPLAN, and the National Institute Global Econometric Model (NiGEM). We also build bespoke models using Excel, R, and STATA.
Unlike our competitors that take a more journalistic survey approach, at ESI ThoughtLab our economists ensure the quantitative rigor and analytical quality of our survey process. Specifically, our specialists:
- Build statistically valid samples to enable projectable results and segmentation analysis;
- Validate the survey tool and results by applying quality testing and statistical techniques;
- Develop diagnostic survey tools that enable deeper segmentation and analysis of data for spotting correlations, benchmarking performance, and building digital maturity frameworks;
- Analyze survey results and other pertinent secondary data using advanced quantitative methods, such as regression analysis and econometric modeling; and
- Transform data output into customer-facing analytical tools, models, and data visualizations.
Our unique macro-to-micro approach allows us to go wide and deep with our quantitative analysis. We have completed numerous research projects, from large global studies, such as Visa’s Cashless Cities, to granular urban analysis, such as the Philadelphia Housing Index, a proprietary model of historical pricing trends across the city. Our team has conducted research and analysis for a wide range of organizations, including PwC, EY, KPMG, Accenture, Cognizant, Protiviti, Visa, Mastercard, Oracle, GM, HP, JP Morgan Chase, State Street Bank, Baker McKenzie, Cisco, the Brookings Institute, McArthur Foundation, Pew Charitable Trust, Council on Large Public Housing Authorities, US Department of Housing and Urban Development, US Environmental Protection Agency, US Bureau of Labor Statistics, as well as several major cities and transit agencies.
Traditional thought leadership and market research is no longer enough for gaining attention among executives and the media. To be successful in today’s demanding marketplace, companies need to provide evidence-based thought leadership that not only offers innovative business thinking, but that also validates and demonstrates impacts and value creation through trusted quantitative analysis.
That is why we set up ESI ThoughtLab as a joint venture with Econsult Solutions Inc., a leading economic consultancy that specializes in macro-to-micro economic analysis. Because we are organized as an integrated research team—headed by Lou Celi, a pioneer in thought leadership, and former leader and founder of thought leadership at the Economist Intelligence Unit and Oxford Economics, and Dr. Daniel Miles, a Ph.D. economist who specializes in applied economics—we are uniquely equipped to develop mixed-methods thought leadership. Such an approach requires a blend of innovative thinking, thought leadership expertise, quantitative rigor, and industry expertise not typically found in any one firm.
A systemic approach to mixed-methods research
Step 1: Frame a compelling hypothesis and storyline. Our first step is to identify a compelling hypothesis and storyline to ensure that the thought leadership will resonate with the intended audience and achieve your marketing and business objectives. In this stage, we typically conduct a careful review of secondary research and competitive thought leadership to ensure that our analysis will be distinctive and fill and unmet executive need for critical intelligence.
Step 2: Determine the right blend of research techniques. Once we decide on the research hypothesis and theme, our teams work together to decide the blend of qualitative and quantitative analysis needed to conduct the research, validate the hypothesis, and deliver the expected output. In this stage, we consider the value of a range of qualitative and quantitative approaches and how we would integrate them to deliver compelling thought leadership. For example, we ask such questions as: Does the topic lend itself to a more rigorous benchmarking approach? Will we need comparative data to conduct the analysis, and can we gather it from secondary sources or will we need to rely on a survey? Will examples of best practice or senior executive insights make the output more compelling? Should we create an analytical tool, index, or database as part of the thought leadership deliverables?
Step 3: Create a multidisciplinary team to guide the research program. After deciding on the topic and research techniques, we establish a research team with the qualitative and quantitative skills needed to conduct the study. These teams will include a blend of business journalists, thought leadership specialists, and economists needed to carry out the research. Each project includes an experienced project manager, as well as Lou Celi as the senior advisor and project contributor. Since the best thought leadership is a team sport, we also work in close collaboration with our client. We are comfortable working independently on projects to a client’s specification or sharing the responsibility for conducting the research and creating the content deliverables. We can bring in professional designers, marketing managers, and writers as the need arises.
ESI ThoughtLab specializes in conducting international research both on a qualitative and quantitative basis, with the unique ability to conduct surveys and interviews in local languages. Our thought leadership management team, which includes Lou Celi, Anna Szterenfeld, Janet Lewis, Julien Beresford, Ed Ruehle, Daniel Miles, and Barry Rutizer, is comprised of highly experienced experts in international analysis and alumni of global organizations, such as the Economist Intelligence Unit, Oxford Economics, Institutional Investor, and Harvard Business Publishing. To support its research programs, ESI ThoughtLab draws on its global network of experts, research affiliates, and survey panels around the world, as well as global economic and trade models that provide historical and forecasted data on over 100 countries.
We can conduct international research across countries, cities, industries, market areas, and management topics. Examples of our international research include a survey of 2,000 investors across age and wealth levels in 26 countries for EY; a survey of government officials in 136 cities on smart city initiatives and performance results; a survey of 400 CIOs and CTOs around the world on the impact of nationalism on IT strategies for Accenture; a global digital transformation survey of 2,000 C-level executives across six industries, 150 MBA students, and 50 futurists for Cognizant; an analytical tool and database on the shadow economy in 150 countries for MasterCard; and scenario analysis on the global economic and business impact of policy trends on international trade for PwC.
ESI ThoughtLab takes a team-based approach to conducting thought leadership, ensuring close collaboration with its clients to ensure that the research is on point and maximizes ROI.
We adapt our research approach to meet the needs of the client, including working collaboratively on many aspects of the research, taking on responsibility for several tasks as part of a cross-company team, or working independently to meet the specifications of the client. ESI ThoughtLab follows a well-defined collaborative process which includes:
- Conducting brainstorming sessions to identify key issues, hypotheses, and perspectives that will resonate with the target audience, gain media attention, and differentiate a client from its competitors;
- Interviewing the client’s subject matter experts and a targeted group of its own clients to understand their research needs, as well as to get insights, quotes, and case studies for final deliverables;
- Working together on the research, if desired, including developing surveys; selecting, arranging, and conducting executive interviews; sharing research and empirical data; and creating and designing analytical frameworks and tools;
- Holding meetings to analyze the findings in conjunction with a client’s team to interpret findings and gather actionable insights that can be woven into engaging narrative and valuable decision support; and
- Maximizing professional exposure and ROI by working together on webinars, client meetings, press events, social media, media campaigns and partnerships, and other communication methods.
ESI ThoughtLab has established a world-class network of research panels with its partners around the world to ensure it delivers on its research objectives and sample quotas. Our firm has the unparalleled ability to conduct international research in any language across countries, industries, cities, companies, executive functions, and type of respondent.
Our B2B panel is a pre-recruited group of business professionals who have shown their interest in participating in market research studies. ESI ThoughtLab has access to one-and-a-half million global B2B executives, including C-level executives and direct reports, IT professionals, marketing professionals, software developers, and business owners. We can screen panel members against multiple criteria to ensure you get your target mix of B2B respondents, including:
- Location (city, region, country)
- Industry and subsectors
- Type of company (private or public)
- Revenue level and growth
- Number of employees
- Job title/role
- Seniority level/decision-making
- Level of internationalization
- Profit level and growth
- Digital maturity
- Market share
- Number of people supervised
- Age of company
- Name of company
- Purchase involvement/influence
- Employment status
Our consumer panel is a pre-recruited group of over three million people who have agreed to participate in market research studies for incentives. We can provide national representative samples as well as low-incidence respondents globally. Here are just some of the ways that we can profile consumer panelists:
- Household size
- Language spoken
- Annual household income
- Wealth level
- Number of dependents
- Education level
- Marital status
- Location (country, region, city)
- Residence type
- Hobbies and interests
- Shopping habits
- Leisure activities
- Health and wellness
- Destinations visited
- Use of technology
- Cars owned
- Psychographic profile
B2G survey panel
Unlike most other research firms, ESI ThoughtLab specializes in public-sector research and analysis. Our team can survey decision- and policy-makers and their staff at the national, regional, state, province, and city levels. Here is an example of the multiple types of survey respondents we can source at the local government level:
- Mayor/Chief Executive
- City Manager/Chief of Staff
- Chief Information Officer
- Chief Operating Officer
- Chief Financial Officer
- Chief Technology Officer
- Policy Director
- Director of Smart City Initiatives
- Director of Innovation
- Direct reports to these executives
Econsult Solutions has deep connections to a range of universities, including University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, Temple University, Widener University, Bryn Mawr College, Philadelphia University, and Pierce College. In 2014, Econsult Solutions became a corporate partner of Drexel University’s School of Economics within the LeBow College of Business. As a corporate partner, the firm contributes to Drexel’s tradition of experiential learning, academic excellence, and participation in real-world problem- solving.
We also have research partnerships with a range of international research bodies and trade associations, including UNECE, the Internet Security Alliance, the Security Industry Association, the CFA Institute, the Organization for International Economic Relations (OiER), and the National Association of Business Economists.
In all countries where we operate, ESI ThoughtLab and its survey partners comply with all regional, national and local laws relating to privacy and data protection, including General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), EU-US Safe Harbour, COPPA and other data protection frameworks. In addition, we comply with other research industry standards, such as ICC/ESOMAR International Code on Market and Social Research and CASRO guidelines.
We only work with sample companies and research panels that are ISO compliant. ESI ThoughtLab and its partners comply with ISO standards for research confidentiality, project documentation, training, outsourcing, and quality control. ISO representatives conduct annual audits to ensure compliance with standards.
ESI ThoughtLab and its survey partners have privacy policies in place to ensure data protection. Our policies define the kind of personal information that is collected, and the purposes of this process. Our survey partners take security measures to protect panellists from loss or abuse of their personal information, and they provide details on how personal information can be updated or deleted. Our security measures include our practices regarding data handling and back-up, as well as disaster recovery (see questions 17 and 18 below).
ESI ThoughtLab and its survey partners follow strict measures to ensure that every aspect of panelists information is kept secure. Member profile information is highly confidential and is used only for market research purposes only. All the surveys are evaluated anonymously, and our panelists do not receive any commercial e-mails or other spam. If a panelist no longer wishes to be a member, his or her information is permanently removed from the database.
Our sample companies vet all survey panels carefully and recruit for panelists through reputable sources, such as D&B and Hoovers. They ensure pre-qualified, double opt-in respondent lists, and regularly analyze retention rates and respondent churn. They also check client references and apply rigorous quality control on gathering and maintaining panelist information.
Our engagements have given us hands-on experience working with major corporations around the world. In every thought leadership assignment, we seek to create an environment where our project team is in constant communication with our client and collaborates with the client as a partner in our research and communication efforts.
Because our team includes thought leadership specialists, economists, and professional project managers, our clients can expect higher quality at every stage of the project—creation and validation of the sample, survey ideation, sincerity of responses, accuracy of data, the intellectual rigor of the analysis and the deliverables, and the timeliness of delivery.
We follow a systematic project management approach including initiating project plans, organizing project teams, providing regular progress reports, executing on deliverables, and ensuring quality control throughout the project. The depth of our research team allows us to mobilize additional resources when necessary.
By blending visionary thinking with analytical insights and innovative outreach, we provide high-impact thought leadership to help organizations stay ahead of the curve. We draw on a full spectrum of qualitative and quantitative methods to conduct our research. We believe the best results come from mix-methods research since it supports expert insights with empirical evidence.
We create high-impact decision support by:
- Developing fresh ideas by staying on top of public- and private-sector research, including competitive studies;
- Taking a team-based approach, which brings together the right specialists from both of our organizations;
- Drawing on insights from advisory boards of industry leaders and prominent experts;
- Focusing on technological innovation and its implications for business and government;
- Harnessing advanced analytics to assess future trends and scenarios, and their impacts;
- Applying a multidisciplinary lens that considers economic, political, consumer, and market shifts;
- Building on a deep body of research with senior executives, policymakers, futurists, and academic leaders; and
- Creating analytical tools for both internal and external consumption.
We have found that frequent and effective communication with our clients makes for more efficient projects. We usually prepare a workplan and a communication schedule, depending on the type of project and the client’s preferences, and provide regular updates as the project progresses. These progress reports can be done in writing or over the phone through regular catch-ups.
As we conduct projects, we track the progress against an anticipated project timeline and report any potential issues that threaten the initial timeline. If a project is in danger of falling behind, we usually pull in additional staff to make sure that schedules are met. Our firm is large enough that we typically can reallocate resources quickly in response to a project need.
We prepare analyses and use research methods that are transparent and easy to follow, and therefore easy to check. This approach not only facilitates communication and quality control, it also increases the likelihood that the analysis is correct the first time. We check every analysis for reasonableness, and the calculations both by hand and computer. For high stakes calculations, we often reproduce an analysis independently and compare against the original.
Among our key performance measures include:
- Survey response rates against sample targets;
- Level of press coverage for individual projects;
- ROI in terms of business generation against costs;
- Track record on economic forecasts;
- Client satisfaction surveys; and
- Website and social media click-through rates.
ESI ThoughtLab subcontracts survey fielding to survey companies that are fully vetted and that comply with all regulatory frameworks, such as GDPR and EU-US Safe Harbour, as well as abide by research industry standards, such as those set by ISO. We only work with survey companies that have rigorous quality assurance programs in place (see question 8 for more details).
Confidentiality and security of client information is a top priority at ESI ThoughtLab. It is understood that it may be necessary for a client to provide documents and share information that is relevant to the preparation of our analysis or project. All such documents and information will be considered confidential. Our data approaches are compliant with GDPR and other international standards (see question 8 for further details).
ESI ThoughtLab also understands the need for cybersecurity and protection. Our recent research program focused on global cybersecurity challenges (The Cybersecurity Imperative) has reinforced our commitment to cybersecurity best practices and approaches.
All our data is continuously backed up. While working on a project we use SharePoint, which is a cloud-based program and therefore limits potential disaster-related impacts. It also helps us to reduce any downtime. Periodically, content is also copied to local servers. Our local servers have both internal recovery capability (via RAID configuration) and external recovery capability (through backup drives updated regularly and kept remotely, for recovery in the event of fire or other physical disaster).
Econsult Solutions, Inc. provides businesses, non-profits, and public policy makers with consulting services in thought leadership, urban economics, real estate economics, transportation, public infrastructure, development, public policy and finance, community and neighborhood development, planning, as well as expert witness services for litigation support.
ESI combines robust quantitative analysis with trusted expert insights and impactful implementation to create sustainable solutions. We work collaboratively with our clients and draw in expertise when necessary from our network of experts and partners across industries, regions, and management practices.
The Econsult business has been in continuous operation since 1979 with the founding of Econsult Corporation. Originally started as a regional firm, predominantly delivering services across the mid-Atlantic, over the years ESI has gained a national footprint, providing services to clients nationwide. ESI is a registered small business with the Small Business Administration.