Meet the Board: Bobby Duffy

July 9, 2018

Bobby Duffy is the Managing Director of Public Affairs in the UK and Global Director of the Ipsos Social Research Institute. He has previously been seconded to the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, conducting analyses on life satisfaction and trust in other people, and is a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Policy Institute, King’s College London. Bobby Duffy is a new board member at the Campaign for Social Science and also sits on several advisory boards for think tanks and universities.

What is your social science background?
Bobby Duffy (BD): I studied Social and Political Science at University, spent a short time in an employment policy think tank then went straight to MORI, now Ipsos MORI and have been there ever since (except short periods at the No 10 Strategy Unit and the LSE)! My main focus has been on primary research approaches – mostly survey design and analysis, but like everyone else, we’ve become so much more agnostic on where good social science evidence comes from. Bringing together multiple sources of evidence is the best way to fully understand people and issues – and social sciences put us at the centre of that.

Why did you decide to pursue a social-science focused career?
BD: For the reason above really – I’m fascinated by people and how we interact, it’s the social bit that makes us human, and there is always more we can understand about what we think and how we behave that can make a practical impact on our lives.

How have your social science skills benefited you in your career?
BD: It’s given me a clear framework to understand these key issues – not just the practical skills, but a way of approaching these very complicated questions of why we think and act the way we do. That’s obviously useful way beyond the research questions we’re actually looking at – that way of questioning why things are as they are is useful in many aspects of a career.

What motivated you to join the Campaign Board and what do you hope to achieve?
BD: I completely believe in the central value of social science approaches and evidence for making better decisions, individually and collectively. There is definitely a sense of risk for evidence-based views of the world, with the rise of post-truth and identity politics trends. But I also think it’s overblown and the distrust of experts is overplayed – and even if it is a risky time, we need to stay positive and optimistic about the role of evidence. Otherwise it will become self-fulfilling

What are some interesting upcoming projects you’re working on?
BD: Well, I’m currently finishing writing my book on how and why people are wrong about key social realities, like the proportion of the population that are immigrants, how many teenage girls give birth each year, whether murder rates are going up or down, and so on. And people are often very wrong – but it’s the explanations for why that’s most fascinating to me. It’s not just what we’re told – we can’t just blame the media, politicians, fake news etc. – it’s also how we think, the biases and heuristics we all have or use, for example, how negative information is processed differently in our brains, and shapes our views more than it should. It’s a really rich and important phenomenon to understand, and not jump to conclusions on – facts still matter. But more on this in the book – it’s out September, with pre-orders on Amazon now!