Once your organization has approved the commissioning of a marketing research survey you are in a position to design an 'action learning' programme for yourself. This is done by using Chapter 11 to ensure that a good research organization is commissioned for the survey. As each stage of the survey in action unfolds, practise your new-found research skills by making 'shadow' decisions and comparing them with those advocated by the research agency. For example, set out in writing your research objectives and survey objectives drawn from these. In commissioning the research programme from two or three agencies, discussions with research professionals may cause you to revise your list of objectives. As you do so, take note of your reasons for the revision and what you can learn from them.

The next stage will be the choice of research method. Prepare a research design plan independently from the agency and, when they return with the research proposals, compare them with your own. Did you suggest the same research design as the professionals are suggesting to you? If not, why not? Whose are more likely to achieve the stated research objectives most effectively and most efficiently? You may decide that the research agency's suggestions are better than your own, in which case you will have learnt why in analysing the basis for your decision. The possibility exists, however, that you may believe your own suggestions would improve upon the research design suggested by the agency. In this case, you have the basis for an extremely constructive discussion with the research agency.

The next stage is questionnaire design: repeat the process. In either case you win. Either the agency's questionnaire is better than yours and you can learn from that, or you have suggestions that would improve the questionnaire produced by the agency, and your company gains better research from that.

When it comes to fieldwork, spend a day or two in the field with interviewers to get the feel of the raw data gathering process. You will learn something about interviewing techniques, but you will learn even more in terms of insight and understanding which will be of great value to you in interpreting findings at the end of the research survey. At the data analysis stage visit the agency and discuss their systems for data preparation, processing, editing, coding, tabulating and statistical analysis. Talk through with the researcher what tables and statistical analysis will be most appropriate and most helpful in dealing with the data they have generated.

Finally, sketch out for yourself how you would write the report on the research and, before the actual report is written, discuss with the research agency executive his or her own approach to report writing. Once again, you will either learn from the agency's experience or be in the position to improve what the research agency is about to do for you.

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