This is a good use of research - not in the service of “storytelling” but to resist and dismantle stories (by using a counter-story). Everything I know about how judgement and decision works suggests it won’t do much but it might do something and it’s good to have these figures in one place.
Yesterday I saw a very senior figure in the research world - about as senior as it gets - tweet fulsome praise to Channel 4 for screening Benefits Street and starting a “debate”. Of course this is bullshit. Benefits Street isn’t starting a debate, it’s parroting an existing “debate” funnelled from the government through the media.
The entire premise of commercial and social research used to be that if you gave people - your clients - information, they would make better decisions. We mostly now know this isn’t always or even usually true, and that generally people will make decisions then look for stories that back them up - something Benefits Street obviously provides. So research is shifting towards an admiration for storytelling and a respect for people who can interpret data in convincing ways.
But storytelling is not an inherent good, not remotely. If storytelling is based on flawed evidence, then that storytelling is bad and dangerous. If research tells a different story to the one the client wants to hear, it’s our job to tell that story instead. Lauding a program like Benefits Street for its controversy, its construction of a one-sided debate, is fundamentally anti-data, and anti-research.