Schottler Consulting Social and Market Research Knowledge Centre
What type of social or market research do we need?
Designing an effective research methodology is both an art and a science. In general terms, if using a research company, it is advisable to encourage the company to provide a suggested methodology, rather than narrowly specifying a research scope.
This allows you as a client to tap into the company's expertise with no cost involved. All consultants will generally prepare a research proposal free of charge and will use their expertise to develop a research design.
While a specific methodology will be dependent on the project, the three main methodologies used in research are qualitative research, quantitative research and desktop research (also called secondary research).
Major methodologies in social and market research
The following provides a general overview about when three different research methodologies may be useful or appropriate.
1. Qualitative research - Qualitative research includes methods such as interviews, intercepts (where people are intercepted at a given location to answer questions) and focus groups.
Qualitative research is good for understanding the contextual factors that determine why a subject (e.g., stakeholders, consumers, or customers) behave and think as they do.
A research protocol or discussion guide is typically developed to guide the questions to be asked. This ensures that there is an agreed approach to research questions. Groups are typically 1.5-2hrs and qualitative interviews are typically anywhere from a half hour to 1.5 hours.
Focus groups are typically conducted with between 6-10 participants. They can be a little more costly than interviews, as recruitment costs and incentives are involved, along with use of a focus group facility and catering.
However, the benefit of focus groups is that they allow participants to discuss a topic in a group format. This has the benefit that new issues may be raised and participants can express opinions based on issues discussed during the group. A skilled facilitator is also important to make sure all key questions are covered. This is also because many groups have a tendency to go 'off topic'.
Qualitative research, however, is much less useful if there is a need to estimate or quantify a trend. If you needed to determine the percentage of people using sun protection, for instance, you may gain some understanding of the broad trend after a number of focus groups or qualitative interviews.
However, a more specific percentage would not be possible. However, you may gain a very intricate understanding of the barriers and factors affecting sun protection use.
2. Quantitative research - Quantitative research is useful for quantifying trends in large populations. Prevalence studies are a specific type of quantitative study, where there is a focus on developing highly accurate estimates of a behaviour, event or other characteristic in a large population.
Quantitative surveys can be undertaken using Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI), via online surveys using consumer and business panels, face-to-face surveys or a mix of methodologies.
CATI involves trained interviewers conducting interviews in a call centre type setting, with strict supervision of interviewers.
As a population is only sampled, a quality approach will typically use data weighting to ensure that important segments in the population contribute to overall trends in a way that matches the real population of interest.
Quantitative research is often useful to complete after qualitative research, as it allows qualitative findings to be tested in a large sample of the population.
3. Desktop research - Desktop research has great potential to add insight into many research topics. With the internet and thousands of scholarly papers and grey literature available (e.g., Government reports, commissioned research studies), there can be great value in utilising PAST research to understand a research topic.
It is also common that many organisations will conduct research, without first exploring what other researchers have found in scholarly literature or grey literature. This often leads organisations to miss out on insights.
Significant research insight can be gained by analysing publicly available data. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), for instance, has extensive data sets available, along with the Census, that can provide insight about any number of consumer, social or health research topics.
In addition, there is often great benefit in conducting an internet scan to examine and learn from practices, policies or programs in other jurisdictions. This can help organisations generate many new ideas and encourage innovative in policy, program and service design.
Tips for success in selecting the best social or market research method
In designing a research method for your next step, it can be useful to:
1. Ask research consultants for a proposal - This may help generate new ideas about how to best to conduct the research (if keen for a proposal, feel welcome to email email@example.com for an obligation free discussion and proposal)
2. Think about what insights can be learned from scholarly literature or grey literature and review these first
3. Explore the potential to use qualitative with quantitative research. Both is often best practice and will result in the most insights
4. Consider what you can learn from other organisations. Just about every organisation has a similar organisation in other jurisdictions, so why not learn from them. You may be able to pick up some really innovative ideas!