5 steps to better research
✏️ Time and again, decisions made during a research project come back to haunt us. Square up to the usual suspects and take 5 steps toward delivering better research.
We deliver better research when we:
- Have conversations early
- Let the experts do the recruitment
- Check the calendar
- Use a balanced ratio of research and analysis
- Share the journey
Have conversations early
Shaping a research study properly is crucial for good results. Early conversations draw out learning objectives, assumptions, recruitment criteria and potential methods. Involving researchers in these discussions help to develop a solid project foundation and save time later on. Agency researchers benefit by receiving early indications of a client’s research maturity and helps frame future conversations and identify where the best value lies for the client. In-house researchers benefit by providing the inside knowledge of recent and related studies that can offer existing actionable insight, helping to avoid repeated studies at the cost to the organisation.
For both, there is an opportunity to start refining the research goals from day zero so there are no surprises or sudden u-turns at the project kickoff. Likewise, getting an early understanding of the research audience sets us up for a head-start on recruitment.
Let the experts do the recruitment
Recruitment is difficult and time consuming. Although it offers an opportunity to start learning from our audience from day one, the reality is that practitioners seldom have the time. Recruitment is often overlooked and under-resourced as an activity which ultimately impacts the project as a whole.
This underestimation of effort also exists when clients take on recruitment, remarking “I never thought it would be this difficult!” after exhausting their entire panel in the first week with little to no progress. This is not due to a lack of effort on their part, rather the complexity and success ratio that goes with the territory.
Actionable insights hinge on a careful selection of pre-screened and representative sample of incentivised participants. When we cut corners or “just make do” the resulting drop in quality is embarrassingly obvious. Garbage in, garbage out.
Recruitment is a job, unless there is a dedicated role in-house or have the privilege of extra resources, bring in a trusted professional.
Check the calendar
When the research is conducted can occasionally have an undesired and negative impact on results. Each sector has its own peaks and troughs of activity. For instance, the travel sector trading period peaks over Christmas and new year. During this time the stakes are high and there is little room for experimentation. Higher education institutions almost completely shut down over the summer holidays making it difficult to gain access with stakeholders and students.
It’s also worth considering whether other calendar dates might impact participants behaviour. For example, grocery shopping behaviours will differ over bank holidays and other seasonal dates. Likewise, family behaviours will be different over term time and school holidays.
These key dates are often overlooked or not discussed as part of early conversations, whenever planning research activities, it’s always worth asking “why are we specifically conducting the study during this period?” “what might impact our research during this period?”.
Use a balanced ratio of research and analysis
Rich insight comes from spending quality time with the research observations we collect. When the ratio of research collection to analysis is out of balance we compromise on the quality of the outputs. At the very least, we should follow a 1:1 ratio. For every hour we spend talking to participants, spend the same amount of time with our observations.
When it comes to recall our memories are fallible. As time passes we remember events less accurately and become more susceptible to our own biases. This is problematic when we schedule long, concurrent days of research with little time or opportunity to gather thoughts and discuss observations. Shortening the time between research and analysis and introducing activities for sense-making helps us to maintain the integrity of our insights and avoid bias creep.
Share the journey
There’s no doubt that research is a team sport and the value it creates through collaboration. Involving teams across different departments and areas of the business increases awareness and encourages discussions. Together we break down siloed structures within organisations.
Encouraging a broad range of team members across the business to attend research sessions is a step toward creating internal research evangelists. Session attendees invariably find value in what they observe and bring this enthusiasm back into the business. Not only does this encourage cross functional collaboration and the dissemination of customer insight but, more importantly, amplifies the volume of the customer voice and drives the shift toward a true customer centric culture.