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IRF Update: Melissa Van Dyke Charts Future Industry Research

The Incentive Research Foundation has just completed one of its most successful Invitational and Education events ever in terms of attendance, fundraising and general response, the first one run by Coulter/MCI USA’s association management company. We thought it would be a good time to catch up with IRF President Melissa Van Dyke, who by all accounts has taken the IRF to the next level through the publication of dozens of studies that have identified some of the most important trends in the business.
Q: Tell us a little about the recent organizational changes at IRF and why they were made.
A: In 2015, as part of the IRF's 5-Year plan, Vision2020, the IRF laid out its vision to continue to lead the global incentive and recognition industry with actionable research and education by focusing on unification, universal tools and university alliances. To meet those goals, we knew we needed to expand the current IRF infrastructure, partnerships and research network. So in 2015 we accredited our education with SHRM and CIC (Convention Industry Council), launched a new website and restructured and expanded our management support by becoming part of Coulter/MCI USA’s nonprofit association management company. It has proved to be a very positive move for us.  
Q: Please explain your personal role under this reorganization.
A: I still remain the President of the Incentive Research Foundation. But I now have behind me an extensive set of resources to assist with expanding our efforts and tackling our vision. It also means I took on an additional role as Vice President for MCI USA. Being a part of the MCI USA team means I have the opportunity to sit with client leaders from multiple other high-caliber nonprofit organizations to both learn from their expertise and to share my expertise on the value of non-cash awards.
Q: What is the mission of IRF going forward?
A: To continue to lead the global incentive and recognition industry with actionable research and education by focusing on unification, universal tools and university alliances
Q: What key research is currently in the pipeline?
A: We have almost 20 studies in various stages of completion for this year. Next on deck you’ll see research about the U.K. Market, Behavioral Economics and How Planners Are Dealing with Disruption and Risk, as well as continued information on trends in incentive travel, merchandise awards and gift cards.  
Q: What are your plans to get this research into the hands of the corporate marketplace?
A: As of our last board meeting, the IRF will be hyper-focused on three things: expanding university alliances, focusing our international efforts and enhancing how we get our message to end-users in the U.S. This year we’ve crafted stories for the American Management Association's Journal, and continued to do education through associations where end-users are present – at the American Health Quality Association, Human Capital Institute, etc.
Q: What do you think are the key needs of the marketplace in terms of research?
A: There is always a need for re-establishing the business case for all forms of non-compensation based awards. But I think there’s also a need to begin shifting the industry research to new and different tools and techniques. For example, looking at what outliers and top performers do differently (as we’re analyzing in an upcoming study), or applying advanced research techniques such as scenario-moderated conjoint analysis or biometric studies, which we’re also doing. These are both sophisticated marketing research techniques and tools that use choice architecture and/or measure physical response to various scenarios. 
Q: What are you most proud of at this point?
A: The dedication of our board to truly raising the level of quality information in our industry – over 60 papers and studies in six years alone, each with its own insights and focal points on what makes what we do so important to modern business.
Q: Thanks for your time.
A: My pleasure.
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