Help Wanted: Smart Researchers Who Interpret Findings
How far should you go when reporting your findings, into the territory of interpreting your findings? An excellent researcher never stops struggling with that question, and the better you are, the more intense the discomfort every time you stretch away from the data to advise on what it all means.
The importance of stretching beyond the data—and how hard that is—was clear to me as I collaborated with a new colleague just out of graduate school with a Ph.D. in psychology. After sixty hours of in-depth interviews, transcriptions, summaries, and a synthesis of what we learned in a nicely written draft report, I asked her, “Now tell me what you think. What should they make of this? What should they do?”
Yikes. How should she know? We are not privy to their highest organizational priorities, nor do we see all the constraints within which they work. We’ve told them what we found—now it’s up to them to apply it, right?
She was partly right. It is up to them. Our hunches, insights, and recommendations may run up against barriers we do not yet know. We may be dismissed as fools.
But remember, I said, our clients are not buying little “google insights.” They are buying me and you—our brains, our expertise. After four weeks of intense immersion in this data, nobody knows it more deeply than you, a super smart researcher. Our clients will want and they deserve to know what you think. Indeed, who better to turn all that data into a meaningful story for them?
Extrapolating beyond our data is difficult precisely because we have such deep knowledge of, and commitment to, the truth of what it says. But that is precisely why our ideas and perspectives matter, and why they are so highly valued by our clients.