Angela Browne, research manager at QA Research, was praised by the judges for demonstrating the huge impact research can have on decision-making and shaping policy through the agency's 'Breaking the Cycle of Offending' study.
Financial services campaigns were also praised at the awards for their central role in helping organisations to manage the current economic downturn.
The team of Krishan Lathigra from the COI and Nancy MacDonald of 2CV Research were recognised for their innovative approach to understanding young people's financial needs as a joint winner of the new Financial Services award.
The other winner was Opinion Leader.
This year's Research Awards, hosted by the Market Research Society at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London, saw the debut of the New Consumer Insights category.
The winners were Andy Moore of Vodafone and Fiona Blades of Mesh Planning for developing a new product to tackle the challenges of an increasingly fragmented media.
Nunwood succeeded in taking the Best Agency crown from FreshMinds, which has won it for the past two years.
It was praised for taking return on investment to the core of its client work at a time when proving value for market research is crucial.
The night also saw MRS president Jeremy Bullmore receiving an Honorary Fellowship from MRS chairman Rowland Lloyd.
Professor Michael Thomas, chair of the MRS award panel, said: "It is encouraging to have seen such an appetite for the new categories we introduced this year.
"Awarding strategic research projects which bring competitive advantage to businesses operating in a struggling financial services sector or seeking share of voice in an increasingly fragmented media helps to demonstrate the valuable role played by research in responding to changing industry pressures."