The “Push-for-Story” Approach to Research
Last week when we took Google Surveys for a test drive, we did not mention one disturbing aspect of their tool. It does not affect how you would use the tool, but it is worth talking about because Google unfortunately perpetuates the false notion that technology and tools can generate insights at the mere click of a button. “Push this button, and voilà, your story! Click this tab for actionable insights!”
When you look at the results from a survey question, there is an “insights” tab right there next to the “results” tab. It is cleverly labeled with a light bulb icon, and it has a number next to it showing you just how many insights are waiting for you when you click that tab. In the survey I reviewed, the tab told me that I had 27 insights ready for me to review, and when I clicked on the tab I was informed that a total of 436 insights had been investigated. Wow! That’s a lot, especially for just one survey question! Here are two of the insights it offered:
- Among people earning $25-49K, those in the US West answered higher on the scale than those in the US Midwest.
- Among women, those earning $50-75K answered higher on the scale than those earning $25-49K.
Hmmm, do you consider these to be insights? Do you think a collection of 436 statements like this would be useful? Fear not. You are not always deluged with mountains of insights like these. Another insights tab had this to say: “Nothing to see here [frowny face emoticon]. There are no insights because differences between demographic segments are not statistically significant.” Apparently “no gender differences” would never qualify as being insightful.
Tools and technology can give us faster and more powerful ways to do our work, but they can’t deliver insights or meaningful stories at the click of a button. Real insight requires a lot more, namely: (1) a strategic assessment to determine which questions need to be answered, (2) an understanding of how to answer those questions with appropriate methods to gather data, (3) skillful deployment and management of fieldwork, (4) knowledgeable analysis and presentation of data using multiple statistical techniques, and (5) the ability to turn all that data into a story.
In short, successful research requires more than an “insights tab” or a “push-for-story button.” It requires smart, thoughtful, experienced people who are thinking about your questions and creating compelling ways to answer them. Need help with that? Click here.
–Joe Hopper, Ph.D.