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Essex County Council - COVID-19 Business Research

Official Government guidance regarding Coronavirus to illustrate Essex County Council COVID-19 Business Research
Business Support Survey, MRS Operations Award winner graphic | Mackman Research, Market Research Agency

This project was selected as the winner in the 'Best Data Collection – Interviewer Administered' category of the MRS Operations Awards 2021. The judges said:

“In this challenging business support strategy study for Essex County Council, Mackman Research clearly demonstrated their wholehearted commitment to interviewer-centric research. They went the extra mile to ensure actionable data at a granular level, adopting a creative, multi-faceted approach to developing contact lists, to maximise the coverage of survey responses. Empathetic moderation of the telephone interviews was of paramount importance as many businesses were in crisis due to the impact of the pandemic, and Mackman’s interviewers demonstrated great sensitivity in their gathering of rich, contextual data. Going well beyond the remit of the original brief in terms of both the breadth and quality of data-collection and reporting, the immense value Mackman Research brought to this research is reflected in the glowing client testimonials. A worthy winner!”

The Research Project

Following a tender process, Mackman Research was commissioned by Essex County Council to conduct a time sensitive and important business support survey during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Essex County Council needed to know how they could better support the Essex business community in challenging times. The research gathered would help to shape Essex County Council’s business support and economic growth strategy, helping its businesses to survive and recover from the effects of the pandemic.


  • 837 Essex business representatives took part in the mixed method business support survey (online and telephone interview)
  • Key themes were identified allowing Essex County Council to prioritise their business support
  • Comments recorded during in-depth conversation provided rich and valuable insight to underpin statistical data collected via closed questions
  • A detailed overall report with results split by eight industry sectors included recommendations, executive summary and verbatim
  • Twelve separate Essex district reports for dissemination amongst key Council decision makers
  • A summary report presented to senior strategists within the business support and economic development team

Mackman Research were thoroughly engaged and extremely professional, expertly guiding us to get the best from our Business Engagement Survey. They explicitly understood the need for sensitivity due to the pandemic and expressed their creativity in gathering data, which went beyond the usual contact lists.

They actively sought out and engaged with our partners, maximising the coverage of survey responses and personally undertook telephone interviews, capturing all the necessary information whilst being empathetic to the respondents' concerns.  Mackman Research exceeded the target response rate and went further by producing 12 individual district reports, alongside the main report. The extensive data gathered helped form the basis of our business support service and gave our businesses a much-needed voice in a complex landscape.

Dominique Keogh, Principal Economic Growth Officer - Essex County Council

The Client

Essex County Council governs the non-metropolitan county of Essex in East Anglia and is one of the largest local authorities in England. There are twelve district and borough councils – Basildon, Braintree, Brentwood, Castle Point, Chelmsford, Colchester, Epping Forest, Harlow, Maldon, Rochford, Tendring, Uttlesford.

Brand Facts:

  • The county of Essex is multifaceted, with many characteristics amongst its towns, people, and landscapes
  • Essex County Council has the citizens of Essex at the heart of everything they do and are committed to helping people who live in the county of Essex to prosper
  • The Council has one of the strongest local authority brands. They are dedicated to investing in it, developing it, and ensuring it remains relevant for its residents and partners
  • Sustainable economic growth for businesses and communities across Essex is the number one priority for Essex County Council’s economic strategy

Research Aims

  • Gather insight from a representative minimum sample of 500 Essex businesses, spread across twelve districts, including micro, small, medium and large businesses
  • To explore how Essex businesses were coping with the Covid-19 pandemic and provide a measurement of the overall health of business in Essex
  • To gain a perspective on envisaged future challenges, including the UK’s exit from the European Union
  • Define specific areas of support that could be offered by Essex County Council, with a focus on recovering jobs and an investment in skills development

The Research Challenge

The research took place during extremely difficult times and needed to be completed meticulously and managed according to a quick time scale. The Mackman Research team balanced the project’s requirements with a need for sensitivity and compassion at this difficult time. To that end, our team engaged with respondents in lengthy conversations over the telephone in order to ensure that their stories and desire to be supported were recorded with accuracy.

Using data provided by the ONS, a sample quota was first applied across twelve districts, followed by industry sector, and then the size of the company (based on the number of employees). Once the research project went live it was evident that many businesses had already been targeted by a number of other organisations seeking information relating to the impact of Covid-19 on business. In order to overcome the challenge of research fatigue, our team had to explain the full purposes of this project, show outward compassion and be prepared to listen to comments falling outside of Essex County Council’s research objectives. Whilst this meant that at times conversations lasted up to an hour, it was clear that respondents appreciated our attention and time and we were thanked on numerous occasions for our approach and line of questioning.

The evidence and data that was collected by Mackman Research proved invaluable in giving us real and live information on the impact of the pandemic across a wide number of businesses and it played a key role in the help and services that we targeted to businesses during that time. The quality of this data was of the highest and its range and depth allowed us to react with targeted interventions.

The breath of the data allowed individual districts to gain a better understanding of their own businesses’ issues at more granular level. We were all amazed by the quality of evidence and data that Mackman Research supplied and its role in helping define and develop the support needed.

Michael Veasey, Sector Growth & Partnerships Manager - Essex County Council

The Research Design & Methodology

In collaboration with Essex County Council, Mackman Research designed a methodology that included a literature review audit of existing business research, as groundwork to the business engagement project. Collating and summarising research that had been completed in recent months, along with qualitative telephone conversations with Essex organisations, the literature review aimed to identify any gaps in data and themes that were worthy of further exploration. This was used to plan and design the fundamental areas of the questionnaire design.

In accordance with Essex County Council’s needs, Mackman Research proposed a mixed methodological approach to data collection. This comprised of telephone interview techniques where respondents answered questions when prompted by our telephone researchers, and an online version of the same questionnaire was available to those who requested self-completion. A link to the online questionnaire was also emailed to contacts where an email address was available.

In addition to Mackman Research’s call for participation, we ran several PR activities and encouraged direct district communications which helped to entice participation in the survey.

Research Outcomes

Mackman Research surpassed the target number of 500 completed responses by achieving a total of 837 completed questionnaires with Essex business representatives. In a comprehensive report containing recommendations and an executive summary, overall data was analysed for the whole of Essex and was further evaluated according to eight key industry sectors. Extra reports representing the twelve district councils considered the data for each area, and showed both overall results for the district, and information split by specific industry group. Our reporting used a graphical format alongside the listing of verbatim comments and relevant snippets of conversation from participants.

This research project yielded lengthy telephone conversations, detailed online responses, and statistical data. As well as providing themes, threads, and valuable insight into the health of the Essex business community, research data has identified a number of business support priorities requiring consideration and attention. Thorough recommendations and headlines were included in the overall report and were also delivered to senior representatives of Essex County Council via a video conference presentation. The research is instrumental in helping Essex County Council to develop the urgent support that is needed for Essex businesses, its people, and communities, going forward. The findings from the research will be used to help Essex County Council structure a programme of support to safeguard and create jobs and invest in skills development, creating a business support strategy for Essex which will help to grow each local economy.

I was extremely impressed with the approach that Mackman Research took in tackling a very challenging project during what was an extremely unsettling and upsetting period for many of the businesses responding to the research. Not only did the team at Mackman Research go beyond the requirements set with regard to sampling size to provide additional data and evidence, but they also went the extra mile by being empathetic, supportive and understanding to the businesses being surveyed and therefore represented Essex County Council (ECC) in an extremely positive way within the business community.

Tristan Smith, Sector Development & Partnerships Manager - Essex County Council

What Our Clients Say

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