Schottler Consulting Social and Market Research Knowledge Centre
How should we select a social or market research company?
There are two main types of social and market research companies in the market. These are data collection companies and research consultants.
All research consultants will typically either collect data or have a data collection company to collect data. In many cases, however, companies that only collect data (field companies) do not provide research design or analysis and reporting services.
This implies that data collection companies should only be used if an organisation is seeking to just have data collected and are happy to design, analyse and report data independently.
There are many factors that should be considered in selecting a social or market research company. While many companies exist in the market, it is of most importance to ensure that consultants working on the project have expertise in conducting social or market research.
For this reason, it is always important to ask a research company exactly who will be conducting the research. Be wary of social or market research companies that get senior staff to sell the project and then have junior staff complete all the work associated with the project.
Even with new staff it can take around 5 years of experience for a staff member to be able to independently design and manage a research study.
Tips for success in selecting a social or market research company
The following questions may help in selecting a good social or market research company.
1. What staff will work on the project and what social or market research projects have they personally led or have had major roles? (look for experience at a researcher level)
2. How many years of research design, analysis and reporting experience have they had?
(Look for a minimum of 5 years and 10 years to get an expert)
3. Can I see a past report that has been personally prepared by these staff or by the lead social or market research consultant? This may not need to be an identical study.
4. What approach and method do you use for designing social or market research?
A good social or market research consultant should have a clear conceptual framework to explain why they are selecting certain survey measures. Avoid consultants that just seem to throw survey questions together in a 'shopping list' like manner.
Effective approaches to survey design may involve reviewing scholarly research literature prior to designing research, reviewing past approaches to research design or conducting expert interviews and developing a conceptual framework to provide a rationale for the research design.
Where relevant (e.g., health, social research) also look for the consultant's knowledge of validated scales in the field. Also explore whether they have qualifications in a field that is relevant to the conduct of social or market research. For instance, Psychology is a discipline that trains students to be professionals in the design, conduct and analysis of research.
3. Is social or market research fieldwork conducted in line with accepted quality standards? (ISO20252 or is there evidence of other similar quality standards applied).
4. If fieldwork is being conducted - What approach do you use to follow-up of non-response in surveys?
Social and market research studies can have very low rates of participation (sometimes 10-15%), which raises concern over the representativeness of data.
Most companies are also not motivated to increase the rate of response, as this can increase fieldwork costs (as the cost of converting every refusing respondent can be higher).
While data weighting can help adjust for sample distortions, it cannot make up for low rates of response.
Million dollar health studies will aim for response rates of 50%+ for this reason. However, this type of response rate is typically not achievable in low budget social or market research studies.
Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to ask a research consultant their approach to maximising rates of response and likely rates of response expected for the budget they have quoted.
4. What approach would you recommend for this study?
Assess proposals to look for innovation in social or market research methodologies. Try to avoid looking for the cheapest approach, as that may not be best for the project.
While many consultants may use similar methods, look for innovative in the overall approach to research design and/or measurement.
5. What broad budget would you recommend for this study, given this approach?
It can be useful to ask for a budget recommendation to know where you stand. It's also useful to give consultants a budget for the research, if you have a very limited or specific budget. This will avoid you getting proposals that are way in excess of what can spend.
The only situation where you wouldn't give a budget is where you know EXACTLY what you want. In this case, consultants could be asked to quote a fixed scope.
6. Ask to meet the consultants. If you like a proposal, it's often useful to talk to the consultants face to face and ask them to describe the research methodology they have proposed.
7. Ask for a referee. Sometimes it can be useful to talk to a referee who can speak about their past experiences working with a consultant.
8. Ask about the social or market research company approach to ensuring data privacy and information security. Make sure that they are aware of privacy regulations and have appropriate approaches for data security and back ups.