In order to develop effective business or management decisions, we need to know what people know (or think they know). They also need to know how consumer feel. And finally, we need to know what is likely to encourage them or inhibit them from their the demand.
How can this information be obtained? One could look into a crystal ball. One could guess. It could be useful to look at past experiences. Talking to others involved in the field would be a good idea. What about simply asking consumers, or potential consumers, themselves? But it would be impossible to speak to everyone. So how can one be assured that the information obtained from a limited number of people will be worth anything? Will they be representative of all potential consumers?
Surveys are useful when it is necessary to learn about the attitudes, values, motivations, predispositions, and likely behaviours of large numbers of people. Surveys are also useful when the results need to be generalized to some larger population.
With very small numbers of people – say, a few dozen – it is often better to use more qualitative, in-depth forms of research such as focus groups that allow people to speak at length about their feelings. Then, one can simply review the transcripts of the group discussions to learn their thoughts and attitudes. Focus groups often provide great insight into a topic. The richness of such transcripts is very difficult to quantify, but with a small number of cases, quantification is often pointless.
It is important to realize, however, that focus groups are not simply any meeting or unstructured conversation. Focus groups employ a specific methodology with respect to the selection of people to be in the groups. Groups should be as homogenous as possible, and the groups should be structured to reflect the key differences of potential interest. One group might include all young male first-time voters, for example, and another might include all young female first-time voters. Insight comes from both the carefully facilitated conversations in each group, as well as the differences between the groups. The insights generated from focus groups are often useful in order to identify key issues to be addressed in a larger quantitative survey, or to investigate questions unearthed by such surveys in more depth.
This discussion is intended to aid two types of people. First, many people might want to undertake a survey on their own and thus might find this a useful guide, or blueprint to all the key steps that they will have to work through. It would not, however, provide a sufficient “user’s manual” to take you through each step in depth.
Some detail has been included in these sections so that a person interested in the subject will have a complete guide to what may be one of the most expensive parts of a national voter education programme. Other readers may wish to ignore the technical information that follows.
The various dimensions associated with a survey are often beyond the capabilities and resources of any given individual or -organisation. Thus, many -organisations would more likely want to hire a professional research firm experienced with surveys to do this work for them. At no point, however, should control of the process be relinquished. This description is intended to enable election authorities to maintain critical control in monitoring the project.
Thinking your way through a successful survey consists of a series of steps:
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