Research is no longer the preserve of academics and professional consultants. It’s now everyone’s business. Whether you commission, conduct or participate in research or use the results, one way or another it’s a part of your job description (or it soon will be!).
With user-friendly tools so readily available, its easy to get swept into DIY fieldwork before you can say ‘SurveyMonkey!’. But how well are we doing it?
There is plenty of good advice about questionnaire design and programming, but are we putting the cart before the horse?
Here are three simple rules for DIY research, which we often forget in our haste to capture data. Whether you’re new to research or a survey maestro, its worth taking a moment to ensure these are on your shopping list before plunging head first into any DIY research project.
The fundamental starting place for any and all research is curiosity. A desire to learn something, be surprised or find answers. Why do people leave our venue as soon as the curtains fall? What do our artists really think of our new commission structure?
Adopting a curious, questioning mindset is an important start to any kind of research. If you already know all the answers, then its probably not research. And if you just can’t cope with new information at this time (and that’s okay), save it for when you do. But if you’ve got that little tiny fire somewhere between your heart, and your gut that wants to know more, you must go on, fearless researcher!
Curiosity is also what drives us to ask ‘why’ and ‘so what?’ when analysing results, so we can deliver results that are meaningful.
Have a plan
The second ingredient of research is a plan or design. This means mapping out what you are going to do, before you do it.
Depending on your situation, you might define your research question or research objectives. You probably have a list of steps or a methodology. An organised researcher will have a timeline, a budget (of time or money, or both) and some desired outcomes. A truly value-oriented researcher will also have a stakeholder map, a risk register and a dissemination plan for sharing the results.
Your plan can be as big or small as you need it to be. Remember its never too early to start planning, and you can always change your plan if you need to.
Lastly research seeks balance. Balance in terms of the research design, and in drawing your conclusions.
When identifying people to survey, remember to include those that like your product, and those that don’t. Selecting the right sample can make or break a project.
When it comes to analysing, remember to consider all viewpoints, and aim to reach a balanced position.
Its important to ask oneself, what am I missing? Is there any bias in my results? Who am I not talking to? Do I have the full story?
Research techniques have a proud history, and have been tested and refined over generations of practice. But before using any particular technique, make sure you have these fundamental qualities front and centre.
I think research can sometimes get overcomplicated, and it needn’t. As long as your project has these three ingredients, its in good shape to deliver rich knowledge and real value to all involved.