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How to commission the best researcher

March 29, 2011

Sometimes you know that you need to get some research done, but it is difficult to know how to go about employing the best researcher for the job.  Maybe you don’t know what you want to do, or how you want to do it – and so the whole process seems daunting and it is difficult to choose between one and another. 

Either way, the commissioning stage is vital because if you get the commissioning wrong you could end up with a researcher that doesn’t fully meet your needs.

So what do you need to do to commission the best researcher?

Issue an ‘Invitation to tender’

The first stage is to either call some researchers or agencies and ask if they would like to tender for your contract, or issue a public ‘Invitation to tender’.  To do this you just need the briefest of outlines (a paragraph or so) saying what you want to do and post this on your website, or in industry e-bulletins / job boards / forums.  Those who think they are suitably qualified to take part in the process will let you know.  You should then send interested parties a full written Brief explaining the research that you need and they will respond to this with a proposal outlining methodologies and costs.   

You might already have a relationship with a researcher or agency, and you might know that you want to sub-contract them.  If so you might choose to go directly to them with your Brief rather than undertaking a tendering process (unless you are required by some authority to ask for quotes).

Issue a Brief

A Brief should be a few pages long, and in it you should tell the researchers as much of the follow as you can:

  • The background to the project (about your organisation, product and/or service)
  • The aims and objectives of the research (what you want to get out of it)
  • The required methodology (but only if you have one in mind – they will propose a methodology)
  • The required outputs (report, presentation)
  • Your timescales for the research (when does it need to be complete, relevant key dates such as Board meetings, launches or events)
  • Your budget (this helps the researcher to gauge the scale of the project and means you are judging all submissions against the same metric)
  • Your contact details
  • Your timescales and submission requirements for the tendering process (give them at least a couple of weeks)

Things to think about:

  • It might seem like a great idea in theory to receive 10 quotes, but consider whether you have the resources to appraise these.  3-5 would be more manageable.  If you want to pre-select your suppliers, ask colleagues for recommendations based on cost and quality. 
  • If you issue a public ‘Invitation to tender’ you might receive 30 proposals back, so it may be better to add in an ‘Expression of Interest’ stage.  In your public notice, ask interested parties to explain their relevant skills and experience in one page and get back to you by a specified date a couple of weeks in the future.  From those who get back to you, select 3-5 whose skills and experience appear most relevant, and forward your Brief to them.
  • The full proposals that you receive back could each be around 30 pages long, so consider whether this is what you need and if you have the time to read them all.  If not, ask for a word limit or page limit on the proposals.

Select a researcher

When you have received your proposals, you can use these to select a researcher to do the work.

Things to look for:

  • Does the style and tone of the proposal fit in with your organisational ethos?
  • Does the style and tone of the proposal make you think you can personally work with the researcher?
  • Does the proposed methodology make sense?
  • Is the proposed cost within your budget?
  • Are you being ‘tied in’ in some way? (Will you be using a copyrighted methodology, meaning that you will have to go back to the same supplier in the future?)
  • Which researcher is offering the best methodology (the most interviews, the most senior staff, the least compromises)
  • Which researcher is offering the best project management (frequency and type of contact, number of meetings)
  • Which researcher has professional memberships (Market Research Society, Social Research Association, Association for Qualitative Research)
  • Which researcher assures you of the best quality standards (sign offs, archiving, back checking, MRQSA or ISO accreditation)
  • Which researcher assures you of the best ethical standards (treatment of respondents, disclosure status, data protection)
  • Overall, which researcher will add the most value to the project?

If you find it difficult to choose between proposals, or if it is important to you to meet the researchers in advance of selection, it is acceptable to invite potential suppliers in for a short face-to-face interview.

It is also acceptable to go back to a potential supplier and ask for a revised proposal if the original does not fully meet your needs.  However, normally this would be done after the researcher has been contracted after an initial Briefing meeting.

If you would like to search for specialist researcher agencies, or researchers in your area, the Research Buyers Guide is a good place to start.  Alternatively, do a google search or ask around (or ask me!) for freelance consultants.

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