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Psychopaths, population pyramids and online panels

In this issue:

  • What classes as a ‘friend’ these days?
  • Can you pick a criminal by their brain size?
  • Our graph of the month highlights the extent of our aging population dilemma
  • Online panels – the next “big thing” for local Council engagement?

What exactly is a ‘friend’?

There’s an old joke that says a friend is someone you can call at 3am to bail you out of jail.  A true friend, on the other hand, is sitting beside you in your cell saying, “Wow, wasn’t that AWESOME!”

But how many of your Facebook friends would you invite to a dinner party – let alone to bail you out of jail?

I was pondering that question recently, while reading some international statistics on Facebook usage. This suggests that half of all Australian Facebook users happily admit they have ‘friended’ people they don’t know in real life!  And 23 per cent of Aussie Facebookers claimed to have over 200 friends. This surely makes the term ‘friend’ a bit rough and ready these days.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that we have recently had considerable success in recruiting “hard-to-reach”  workshop attendees via Facebook. For government work especially, this may prove a useful top-up tool to the more traditional CATI recruitment methods.

So while I may be less than enamoured with the way Facebook has changed the way we view a friend – let along how much time my teenage son spends on the bloody thing! – its potential as a research tool cannot be ignored.

In passing, I would thoroughly recommend watching this short video of US marketing expert Seth Godin (remember the Purple Cow?) discussing how to tell the difference – in a business context – between a friend and a real friend. And thankfully, you don’t even have to end up in jail to find out.

Are some people just born bad?

Some interesting research has emerged from a University of Pennsylvania criminology professor, suggesting that at least some bad behaviour is biologically programmed.

Prof. Andre Raine, who has been studying the brains of murderers, psychopaths and  other anti-social types for 35 years, has uncovered a link between the volume of the brain’s pre-frontal cortex (which among other things governs impulsive behaviour) and a tendency towards anti-social personality disorder.

Likewise, by scanning the brains of 27 psychopaths, Prof Raine discovered an 18 per cent reduction (to “normal” people) in the volume of amygdala – that part of the brain dealing with emotions and conscience.

While Prof Raine admits there is no direct causal link between cortex/aygdala size and the likelihood of violence, he hopes the research may one day provide impetus for treatments to try and help those on track for a criminal career.

(My thanks to ABC’s AM progam for alerting me to this research – for more information, see http://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2013/s3742079.htm)

Online panels – the next big thing?

We have been receiving a lot of interest recently from Councils keen to establish a randomly appointed online survey panel. These “invitation only” panels allow councils to conduct quasi-representative surveying simply, quickly and cost-effectively. What’s not to love about that?

While each panel is different, the ones we are presently working on have a few characteristics in common:

  • Invitation only – panelists can only be appointed via a random telephone call or other similar method. This avoids panels being stacked with ‘axe-grinders’ and other vested interests;
  • Typically 600-800 people in size, with a robust mix of ages, genders and locations;
  • Restricted to those residents who access emails at least once a week. (So may discriminate slightly on age or economic status).

As noted, subsequent online surveys are termed (by me at least) “quasi-representative”. That’s because while panel selection is random, participation in any individual survey is self-selecting (or “opt-in”).

So in terms of how results can be extrapolated to the general population, that places online panels roughly halfway between random CATI surveys (still the “gold plate” option) and online or mail-out surveys – which represent only the views of those who complete them.

Once created, panels need to be carefully managed, and periodically topped up. They are suitable for most topics, but probably won’t replace CATI for the “big ticket” polls such as customer satisfaction surveys.

Jetty Research can assist with any or all aspects of online survey panel creation and subsequent online surveys. For more information, please give us a call on 02-6650 9175, or email us here.

Australian population pyramid

Australian population pyramid.
Click to enlarge.

Graph of the month

With Australia’s population having passed 23 million, and given a birth rate that is well ahead of most other developed countries, I’ve been idly wondering just how bad this “ageing society” problem really is.

Luckily our friends at the ABS have come to my aid, with a wonderful interactive population pyramid that compares profiles over  80+ years. The following three pyramids – with males in blue and females in purple – show the number of Australian residents by age in 1973, 2013 and (predicted for) 2053:

(The heavy black line indicates the number and proportion of people in each instance aged over or under 60. Total populations: 13.5 million in 1971, 23m in 2013 and 34.7m in 2051.)

These graphs suggests the bulge in our collective waistlines is about to be matched by a bulge in our number of retirees. And suddenly, I’m sure you’ll agree, the extent of any health funding dilemma becomes perfectly clear as well.

To play with this fascinating and highly interactive graph yourself, simply Google “ABS Population Pyramid 2012”.

Final Words

Thanks so much for reading – for further information on any of these articles, please don’t hesitate to contact us. And if you have the time, constructive feedback is always welcome.

Otherwise, keep an eye out for our next newsletter in August.