Nov 262008

Before you start out on a journey you’re usually clear on three things: where you’re starting from, where you want to end up, and what you’ll do when you get there. Without answers you may end up where you don’t really want to go!

It’s pretty much the same with research, you need to know where you are now, what you want to know, and what you’ll do with the information you get.

1.    How does your project fit into the big picture?

If you’re a hands-on project manager, it’s easy to get so engrossed in the detail that you forget to stand back from time to time and check how it fits into the bigger picture.

Whether you want to research the feasibility of a new project, evaluate the achievements of a two year project, or something in between, it’s essential to step back and check how your project fits into the bigger picture of your organisation, and any project partners, and any other key stakeholders.

Funding and co-operation from within your organisation, and perhaps from partners, depend on your project contributing to their aims or policies. It’s a good idea to update yourself on their current policies/aims so you keep your project research aligned with this bigger picture.

Knowing where your stakeholders are heading, will influence the questions you want the research to tackle.

2.    What questions do you want answered?

Next you need to get a clear picture of the questions you want the research to answer. Broad questions like: ‘Would it be feasible for us to move into our own premises?’, or ‘Has the training pilot been a success?’ are often the start point that initiates the research.

However, they need to be broken down into a series of more specific questions. For the premises idea, these might be:

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of buying, renting and leasing premises?
  • What are the capital and running costs of each option?
  • Would there be scope to earn revenue?
  • Overall, would it be feasible for us to have our own premises?

For the training pilot:

  • To what extent did the training pilot meet its original objectives?
  • What improvements were made to the programme during its two years of operation?
  • How could it be developed for the future?

3.    What will you do with the answers?

When you initiate research it’s easy to get waylaid by the statement ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to know…’ Committee members, who will probably comment on your research proposal, often come in with suggestions from their varied agendas.

If you want to avoid your research growing from a molehill into a mountain, you need to be very clear how the information will be used. That clarity will help keep the research focused.

Broad uses of project research include:

  • justifying stakeholder funding and support (feasibility studies)
  • getting a profile of project clients (baseline studies)
  • learning from the project so it can be improved in future (evaluations)
  • learning from a pilot project, to develop future policy
  • reporting back to funders (evaluations)

The bottom line: Getting clear on the big picture, the questions you want answered and how your research will be used provides a firm foundation for moving forward  to commission research, or develop your own research plan, or obtain funding for your research.

© May Johnstone, 2009, Project Please feel free to circulate this article provided it is used in its entirety, including this acknowledgement.

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