So, you have a research or evaluation project ready to put out to tender. How do you know what information you need to know? How do you know what approach to take in order to address your questions? A capable and skilled consultant can work through this for you or with you, but in the first instance, it is important to ask yourself the following three questions:
What do I intend to do with the findings?
This is the most important and fundamental question you will need to answer, yet it is often also the one that can be overlooked. The clearer you are about why you are doing to research, the easier it will be to identify what information you need to collect in your project. For example, if you are hoping to be able to use evaluation findings to attract further funding it will be important to collect evidence to suggest the investment in the program so far has been worthwhile. Perhaps this will mean sourcing data or other evidence that demonstrate tangible outcomes of the investment made so far. On the other hand, if the purpose of the research is to explore levels of satisfaction amongst your stakeholders, you will need to be sure that as many key stakeholders as possible are interviewed.
Is my objective qualitative or quantitative?
If you are interested in the opinions, perceptions or ideas of stakeholders, program users, or a broader cohort of people, it will be important to include a major qualitative component in your project. This may include in-depth interviews, focus groups, paired interviews, observations or other techniques depending on your situation. But if you need numbers, data, percentages, statistics or other tallies, you may well be looking at a quantitative study. It is important to remember, however, that if your cohort base sample is too small, it will be misleading to represent findings in percentage terms and you may need to work with small raw numbers. A consultant can work through all of this with you and determine the most valuable way to gather this information and show the findings.
How wide do I want to throw the net open?
It can be difficult to know how far your consultation should extend. If your questions involve a specific cohort of stakeholders, staff or community members, the limits to the extent of your research may be obvious. But if you are also interested in exploring broader community awareness of an initiative or testing concepts or ideas amongst the wider community it may be necessary to conduct broad community consultation. This may involved online surveys, telephone surveys or intercept interviews.
It is not uncommon to feel daunted by the range of research and evaluation tools, techniques and options available to you. A good evaluation or market research consultant will consider a range of options for you to address your questions and suit your budget.