Hands on facts and figures
The capacity of an organisation to acquire strength and
influence will often depend on its ability to produce reliable data
with optimal efficacy in the collection, analysis and
High standards of research provide the foundations upon which
trust among ordinary consumers, and credibility towards businesses
and state authorities can thrive. Without the capacity to do 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.
Once a consumer problem is identified, the questions to which
research should provide answers to must become clear. Further
explanatory research may be needed when too little is known about
an area or to familiarise the researcher with a new subject. In
this respect, establishing a well-functioning documentation service
will enhance greatly the capacity of an organisation for carrying
out solid preparatory research.
At the stage of planning the organise must make crucial
decisions to determine in the most exhaustive manner the objectives
and scope of the research, select the appropriate research methods
and stipulate a time table for research activities and delivery as
well as all direct and indirect costs involved. Bear in mind that
to be most effective the preparation and implementation of the
research is intimately linked to what the organisation intends to
use the research findings for.
Types of research
To ensure that 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.
Correlative and explanatory research will seek to
establish whether a correlation or link exists between two
variables. An example of this type of research would be to
demonstrate a correlation between the lack of clear and
comprehensible information of food labels and 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 specific variable (the lack of clear
and comprehensible labelling) causes the effect highlighted and
measures it up against other variables (failure to understand
labels due to illiteracy).
Evaluative research can be used to evaluate and
assess the design, implementation and usefulness of social
interventions and programmes. For instance, evaluative research
will seek to assess the effect of the implementation of a national
loans register on the level of consumer over-indebtness.
Participatory and active 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 solution to a particular problem a community faces.
Research and data collection methods
The methods used by researchers to collect information for
translation into data will be determined by the types of variables
and relations thereof the research seeks to investigate.
Data can be differentiated 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 take the form of cross-sectional
research. Data collected through cross-sectional research
is collected simultaneously with the occurrence of the events
researched and therefore relatively easy to collect. On the other
hand, longitudinal research involves data
collected over time and through it researchers may be able to prove
that there is a predicable trend.
Observation, communication and experimentation are the three
main data collection methods.
There are three main forms of data collection
through observation namely: non
participant observation when the recording of events, actions or
behaviours are observed by the researcher as an outsider and
participant observation when the observers hide the real purpose of
their presence by themselves becoming a participant. Mystery
shopping is of particular relevance here. The third type of
observation is done under laboratory conditions and is mainly used
in product testing research.
Communication - both oral and written - is the
form adopted by data collection through a survey process. Personal
interviews and group discussions (semi-structured or unstructured)
are mostly used to collect qualitative data and require a very
experienced interviewer. Telephone or written surveys offer
the possibility to collect a tremendous amount and variety of data
with a reduced margin for errors by the interviewer.
In the experimental method the researcher
introduces an independent variable, such as price, on a dependent
variable such as sales volume. This method is very effective to
measure cause-to-effect relations between two variables.
Consider that all the elements of the data collection methods
will be part of the process for substantiating, clarifying and
supporting any aspect covered by the research should any questions,
queries and challenges be raised about the research afterwards.
Putting the research findings to good use
The last part of conducting research is the
interpretation of the 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. Tabulation 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 issue press
releases; arrange interviews with the media; inform policy
statements and make submissions to legislative reviews.
Even uncontroversial reports call for an post-mortem evaluation:
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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