OPINION21 August 2017

Research for passion, not profit

Charities Opinion Public Sector

A lack of budget doesn't mean an interesting project should pass you by; being smart with resources and client involvement could make it viable. By Jack Miles of Northstar.

Heart passion crop

As an agency researcher, you sometimes receive a brief that you feel passionately about responding to, but the budget attached to it means that a response isn’t always commercially viable.

The brief could be for an organisation with a purpose you believe in, contain a truly unique set of objectives, need to be conducted among an extremely niche audience or require a distinctive set of outputs.

Despite whichever mix of intriguing attributes such ‘passion projects’ include, too often you are forced to apologise to the issuing business with a ‘no’ based on budget.

However, sometimes the desire to meet a brief you are passionate about requires you to look at the typical research working model and find ways it is feasible to conduct research for passion, not for pounds.

But how is this possible?

Involve More Business Units Immediately

Some of the means of making passion projects possible involve clientside teams taking on roles a research agency would typically undertake.

To make this possible, you will need to make sure a much wider spread of clientside business units are involved than a typical project.

For example, you may need your client’s operations team to carry out fieldwork logistics or the digital marketing team to manage online research. Such scenarios are only possible if these teams are fully aware of the research parameters and purpose from the very start.

Utilise In-house Capabilities

Often, existing IT systems that are used clientside can aid research and reduce the cost. Whether it be mail-out software or questionnaire programming, using client’s existing IT platforms makes for notable budget savings.

This mechanism extends also to people. Training clientside staff to conduct research tasks such as recruitment, questionnaire programming and interviewing means that not only are research tasks made possible in the now, but that your client has the skills and know-how to perform these tasks in the future.

Mine Existing Information Sources

Before you generate new data for your passion project, find out what knowledge your client has in-house already. This can ensure you aren’t wasting your limited budget asking questions you already have the answer too, albeit hidden away.

It is important here to think beyond ‘data’ as an information source, as client’s employees can often be the holders of valuable information too. Speaking to employees with notable experience ensures you don’t ask questions with predictable answers and that you identify where real knowledge gaps lie.

A combination of these means that the research you design is as streamlined as possible in terms of content and cost. It is here that winning clientside support immediately comes into play as this is essential to breaking down internal silos needed to access valuable budget saving data.

Feedback as Motivation

Keeping clients in the loop on projects is a research hygiene factor. However, when using clientside staff to fulfil research tasks it is important that feedback loop extends beyond the research team to allow those supporting you to know a) where their input fits into the bigger picture and b) how they are contributing to the overall success of the research. Most importantly, this should extend into the actions taken because of research and the business impact generated. This will show everyone involved the higher order value of what they’ve generated and maximise the chance of gaining their support in the future.

Utilise Personal Networks

Expert opinion can go a long way in research. Unfortunately, it is often highly expensive. If your passion project needs expert input, look at who you know before you invest your limited budget in recruiting externally. With Generation Y being known to often be driven by purpose rather than profit, expert opinion from this social cohort is given willingly and freely.

Develop New Currencies

To ensure a fair exchange of services, you will sometimes have to think of how a potential passion project client can acquire your research agency’s services, to ensure that your internal management approve the project. Replacing monetary payments for allowing work to be spoken about at conferences, used as industry award entries or as a training ground for younger researchers will allow you to prove the worth of a passion project to your own internal management.

Jack Miles is a research director at Northstar Research