Recently I was involved in a conversation about the cost of data collection and whether or not associations should invest in research expertise as part of their staff. There are several considerations before doing this.
Regarding the cost of data collection, there is data collection just for the sake of data collection (“We are data-driven!”) and there is data collection to support decisions. It’s not necessary that every association decision be supported by research. But many decisions should be supported by research.
In general, the higher the stakes (financial and human resources, reputation, future health of the profession and association), the more it is necessary to support those decisions with data – secondary, qualitative or quantitative. It’s a false economy to pinch pennies or rely on the lowest-cost here’s-the-info-we-have-internally when the stakes are high. There is just too much to lose.
I work with many associations that do not have the internal capacity to do the kind of research needed to support big decisions. Hiring and onboarding people with those skills is a long-term expense that many associations can’t justify. Strategic outsourcing makes sense. And often the right research partner can bring a breadth of understanding and experience to a research assignment that an internally-focused staff researcher can’t.
Regardless of who does the research, it is critical that before spending the first cent on research there should be a clearly defined purpose, whether it is to make a decision or to understand the member/customer or what is going on in the environment. In my e-book, I explain basic design questions of research strategy every CEO will want to know the answers to BEFORE research is undertaken:
1. What decisions do you want to be able to make?
2. What information will you need?
3. What will be the sources?
4. How will it be collected?
5. How will it be tabulated and analyzed?
6. How will it be interpreted and reported?
Even biannual member surveys should have a focus based on the current realities and the decisions ahead. The days of science fair research for businesses and associations are over.
Read Robin’s e-book on Decision-Focused Research.