Research Tip: Watch Your Fieldwork
For all the high level intellectual work you do in research (statistical work, design work, analysis, or writing) there is just as much brute force effort you need to put into fieldwork. That means finding the people to interview, convincing them to participate, asking them questions, and recording their answers. Even if you outsource, keeping tabs on the fieldwork process is an essential step in getting to that beautiful abstraction called “the data” from which you begin discovering answers to your research questions.
In January we released a Versta Research video about Making Research Matter. It explains how to design and execute research to ensure that it gets heard, understood, and put into action by your business partners. The video outlines three tips, the second of which is to develop a fieldwork watch list.
A fieldwork watch list is a dashboard that you update every day as you are collecting data. It gives you essential insight into what is working, what is not, and where you need to adjust and strategize. Here is what we put on our watch list, and, if we are working for you, the information that we share with you every day:
- Who are we getting? We always specify ahead of time multiple nested quotas, including demographic or firmographic dimensions that could skew our data. We make sure that our quota cells are filling at similar rates, and hold our sample or fieldwork providers accountable for implementing rigorous best practices.
- How long is it taking? Going into a survey, we always have a good estimate of (1) how long it will take respondents to complete the survey and (2) qualifying incidences that affect how long it will take to field. And then we monitor these numbers every day. It’s not just about timelines and cost; it is also about finding errors and correcting assumptions so that we can adjust our sampling, project plan, or questionnaire from the start.
- Where are we failing? We also need to know how many people are terminating on screening questions, how many people are starting the survey and then quitting, and if they are quitting, where in the survey they do it (make sure you have this data!) Surprises always happen, and usually they point to errors in sampling or programming. Surprises send us on that all-important search for disconfirming evidence to ensure that what we’re getting is right.
Remember, the data that you collect will never speak for itself. It will not reveal hidden insights without you knowing the details of how it was collected and all the protocols (and problems) involved. Doing research that truly matters involves careful, painstaking monitoring of fieldwork. It is an essential part of turning data into stories.