In an earlier Blog I offered 11 tips for doing more successful online surveys. Tip 2 was:
- Get the research question right. Know what you really want to know and how you will use the information in decision support.
Two of the marketing texts I have on my bookshelf quote the same adage on this topic. So, I will continue this potentially plagiaristic tradition and quote them: “a problem well defined is half solved.”
Think back to the research papers you had to do in high school and college, and you’ll get a sense of how the research question should work. First it needs to capture the specific information need for your organization. But it also needs to be narrow enough to focus the research so your survey doesn’t end up taking 30 minutes to complete and generate data that confuses the issue at hand.
In my last Blog I discussed an imaginary case in which a not for profit organization’s donations were going down. We determined that our research needed to identify which scenario was drying up funding (fewer funders, funders giving less, fewer new funders, etc.), and once we’d determined that, we would do research with the right group to determine why their behavior had changed and what we needed to do to get them to give at previous or higher levels.
I’d like to point out that the first part of this research–determining which scenario was responsible for the loss of funding–would almost certainly be research into the data the organization already has. It would be applying analytics to the organization’s receipt records. So this wouldn’t be an external survey but would generate information essential to asking the right research questions and creating a successful survey. This is an important principle: we should take advantage of all the data we have to enrich our understanding of business situations.
So the research questions we would want to address in our followup research are:
- “Why are funders no longer giving the same amounts they used to (or why are fewer funders giving)?”
- “What can we do to turn this around?”
We’d probably want to start with some one-on-one interviews to get a list of reasons why and actions we could take to reverse the situation so we could then survey the right target and determine which reasons and actions are most important to respondents. The answers to these questions likely will be rife with both policy and communications implications.
While we are at it, we might add the question
- “What communications channels are most appropriate for reaching funders?”
The Right Questions Focus the Research
So we have three questions that will focus our survey. We’ve also done background research to ensure we know which set of stakeholders we should be doing our research with. By formulating clear research questions we have given ourselves a solid base for a successful survey.