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As a follow-up to Ellie's last post and my "Five Key Ingredients for a Winning Community Panel" series in the summer, I thought I'd spend my next 5 posts showcasing each of our Community Panel of the Year finalists and providing examples to illustrate why they exemplify excellence. In these posts, you'll read about our market winners: the Institute of Directors in the UK and Kimberly-Clark Australia, and our North American finalists: Allure, Guitar Center, and our global winner - Discovery Communications.

Every year we see an increase in the number of qualified community panels being nominated, and the decision process gets harder as well. I also get asked for reasons why clients are chosen and what Ellie said is exactly right - it's not about size, brand affinity, industry - it's about having heart, taking risks, and embarking on the longer term journey.

Let's talk first about the Institute of Directors (IoD), our European Community Panel of the Year.

It's pretty easy to tell that the team managing the IoD Policy Voice community panel has heart. In fact, the "team" is really Mike Harris, Head of Policy Development with the IoD, who assumed responsibility for running Policy Voice earlier this year from Alexander Ehmann. Alex originally launched the community panel in 2008 to supplement telephone research, but the panel soon became the primary research tool. Today, the Policy Voice team maintains a consistently high level of quality in panel management, and continues to raise the bar with the help of comments and suggestions from members - which, by the way, are all read personally by Mike. No surprise when I asked Mike for his single-most important learning in the past year, and he said "You get out of something what you put in. More attention nets more reward".

Policy Voice is unique and powerful in that it gives individual businesspeople the opportunity to have their voices heard in the highest levels of government and the media. Surveys done on the Policy Voice panel have directly influenced policy and generate considerable media coverage.

Mike takes this all very seriously and monitors all aspects of the research calendar for Policy Voice, including measuring the pattern of survey responses with survey design, time of deployment, completes by day, number of reminders sent, etc. The Policy Voice team has also used the Member Satisfaction survey to help understand how members feel about different aspects of the community panel, and they have made tangible changes to the experience in response.

Mike and Alex's teamwork has resulted in senior executive buy-in that is also very valuable for Policy Voice. The Chairman of the IoD - himself a member of Policy Voice - plays an informal role as "ambassador" for the community panel in his speeches to IoD members, and the Director-General of the IoD has also become a strong advocate, having personally drawn upon Policy Voice research when giving evidence to the Business Select Committee of the House of Commons.

Last month in fact, the Director-General and Chairman both went to a business event at 10 Downing Street armed with key Policy Voice findings on what members were saying were the key barriers to business growth. These findings grabbed the direct attention of the Prime Minister. So the next time the Chairman is talking to members about the panel, he can personally attest to its value, which is extremely powerful.

As far as taking risks go, I think the IoD Policy Voice community panel does that every day given the nature of their business, the subject matter of their surveys and the audience for the results. Even making the choice to forego telephone research and make the panel their primary source was risky, but that decision has paid off, as the Policy Voice panel has enabled the IoD to do more frequent research of greater depth and better quality.

The Policy Voice team has always embraced new ways of managing their community too; experimenting with new visual question types, improved their newsletter design and introduced new channels for communicating results, offering members privileged access to "money can't buy" events such as political party conference dinners, business events, and breakfasts with the IoD Director-General.

The IoD Policy Voice was the first of its kind and still leads the way for community panel management in the B2B space. As the winner of European Community Panel of the Year, I expect we'll see more innovation and development from the IoD Policy Voice community panel in the future.

In my next post, I'll showcase another company that took big risks and broke new ground in their market - our Australasian Community Panel of the Year winner, Kimberly-Clark Australia. Their Huggies Online Panel has changed the way they design and develop new products and consumer promotions.

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