How to conduct effective research
29 Oct 2013
The capacity of an organisation to acquire strength and influence will often depend on its ability to produce reliable data with optimal efficacy in its collection, analysis and interpretation.
Without good research a consumer group will be unable to take companies to courts, call credibly for legislation changes or advise the public about which best products to buy.
The research process can be divided into four stages:
- Select your research methods
- Collecting the data and information
- Putting the research findings to good use
Stage 1: Preparation
Once you have identified a consumer problem you will need to carry out preparatory research. If little is known about an area, further explanatory research may be needed so that you can familiarise yourself with a new subject.
At this stage, your organisation will need to make crucial decisions on:
- The objectives of your research
- The scope of your research
- The research methods you will use
- A devised timetable for research activities and delivery
- The direct and indirect costs involved
Remember, the preparations and implementation of your research needs to be strongly linked to what your organisation intends to use the research findings for.
Stage 2: Selecting your methods of research
To ensure the facts and information collected are the most meaningful for the goals of the research, the organisation must decide what type of research is best.
There are many different types of research which can be used for varying purposes:
Correlative and explanatory research
Correlative research seeks to establish whether a correlation or link exists between two variables.
Example: Demonstrating a correlation between the lack of clear and comprehensible information on food labels with the rise in diet-related non-transmissible diseases as a result of consumers’ misuse of the products
Explanatory research goes one step further by seeking to establish why a variable causes the effect highlighted and measures it up against other variables.
So using the above example, we need to consider another variable to explain why a lack of clear and comprehensive labelling causes a rise in non-transmissible diseases; perhaps the failure to understand labels due to illiteracy.
This can be used to evaluate and assess the design, implementation and usefulness of social interventions and programmes.
Example: assessing the effect of the implementation of a national loans register on the level of consumer over-indebtness.
Participatory and active research
Participatory research encourages the active participation of the people whom the research is intended to assist. Its other benefit is that it can be used as a tool for action through investigation, education and collective action.
Active research goes one step further in the sense that the research initiative will come from the community itself and aims at finding lasting solutions to a particular problem a community faces.
Stage 3: Research and data collection methods
The methods you use to collect your information and eventually turn it into data will be determined by the variables and relations in your research.
Data types can be divided into two main categories:
Primary data is collected and targeted specifically for the research project
Secondary data is additional data gathered for other purposes but with some application in the research
Data collection can also be done in different forms:
Cross-sectional research iswhere research is collected simultaneously with the occurrence of the events researched and therefore is relatively easy to collect
Longitudinal research involves data collected over time and through it researchers may be able to prove that there is a predicable end
Observation can be further broken down into other methods:
Non-participant observation occurs through the recoding of events, actions or behaviours are observed by the researcher as an outsider.
Participant observation is when the observers hide the real purpose of their presence as a participant, as an example ‘mystery shopping’.
Laboratory observation is used mainly in product testing research.
Communication – both oral and written
Oral – personal interviews and group discussions (semi-structured or unstructured) are mostly used to collect qualitative data and require an experienced interviewer.
Written – questionnaires or surveys offer the possibility to collect a tremendous amount of varied data, with a reduced margin for errors by the interviewer.
Experimentation is when the researcher introduces an independent variable, such as price, on a dependent variable such as sales volume. This method is very effective in measuring cause-and-effect relations between two variables.
You will need to consider all the elements of each of these data collection methods for substantiating, clarifying and supporting aspects covered by the research – should any questions, queries or challenges be raised about the research afterwards.
Stage 4: Putting the research findings to good use
The last part of conducting research is the interpretation of your results. Editing involves assessing the correctness of the raw data, in respect of adherence to standards of accuracy and consistency.
Unsatisfactory data may be discarded completely or corrected, providing time and money allows for data collection tools to be redesigned and replaced.
Coding is a process whereby the responses are allocated a ‘code’ according to a category to tabulate the data. This ‘tabulation’ of the data enables the researcher to find out how the data is distributed, what is typical, how much it varies and whether there is any significant relation between different sets of data.
The research findings can then be used to feed into further actions and outputs such as: issuing press releases, arranging interviews with the media, informing policy statements and making submissions to legislative reviews.
Even uncontroversial reports call for a post-mortem evaluation. This is a review of what went well and what went wrong during the research and how successfully the published report met the stated objectives of the research project.
CI's 'A Research Manual for Consumer Organisations' is a step-by-step guide to the theory and practice of consumer research that can also be used as a training guide, plus it includes some workshop exercises.
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