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5 tips to help scope your research project

Good decision-making should always be informed and shaped by a cool, balanced view of the evidence. But how do small charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups gather this evidence on a shoestring? Here are 5 top tips to help you design the scope of your research project:-

1) Always start with a clear understanding of the key question your research is trying to address. If you can't summarise it in one sentence, then it's probably too vague. You can then have 'sub themes' you can also explore; but having a clear headline question will mean you can always come back to your core reason for conducting the research.

Examples of this might be:-

  • How can we encourage more parents at school to join the Parent-Teacher Association?

  • Which activities would our volunteers be most keen to stop doing and why?

  • Which groups from the local community should we prioritise when we're thinking about new services?

2) Once you have your research question clear, think about who you need to listen to in your research in order to get a balanced view. Consider voices both inside and outside your organisation.

In the previous examples, this might mean:-

  • Listening to parents who are already involved, those who aren't involved, and perhaps other local Parent-Teacher Associations who have tackled this question before.

  • Listening to a wide range of volunteers, and also ideally those who have already stopped volunteering

  • Listening to those internally who make decisions about prioritisation, listening to other internal stakeholders, and to those representing groups from the local community

3) Now you have thought about who you need to listen to, consider how you will get a balanced view. Don't be too ambitious (time is limited, and sometimes it's not possible to talk to certain groups) - but think realistically about listening to a balanced range of contributors. Think about getting a good balance of age, gender, location and background appropriate to the sphere of influence of your organisation.

4) Of course, an important question here is how you'll listen to your respondents. You'll need this to be both appropriate to their needs, and also appropriate to answering your research question. If you're conducting a Facebook poll, it might be easier to get a large number of participants. If you're having in-depth conversations with everybody, a smaller number of interviewees will be better. As a rule of thumb, a survey (online or on paper) will provide an 'indication' whereas a conversation can provide an 'explanation'.

5) Finally, whether you are approaching your research as a survey or as a series of conversations, it is equally important that you have ways to bring consistency to your approach. Decide a set of questions for a survey or for your conversations, and keep these the same for all respondents wherever possible. Similarly, make sure you have the ability to capture their responses fully (rather than just the parts you remember). For interviews, this might mean using a Dictaphone and listening back afterwards. For surveys, this might mean using a (free) provider which will put all responses into a spreadsheet for you.

Once you've worked your way through these five steps, you're ready to design your research study and find other reliable sources of evidence..