Author: Paul Kennett
From: Activate , no. 6, March - June 1999 p.13-15
When Bruce Lee, the famous martial artist, said ‘take what is useful’, he was talking about the plethora of fighting styles available to martial artists.
His statement is eminently pertinent, however, to research and information gathering.
As an agency attempting to learn more about your clients, ie, your members and players, or about potential clients, there are any number of questions you might like to ask.
The best way to approach information gathering is to start with Bruce Lee’s advice and ask yourself what will be useful.
What effect would knowing specific information have on how your business operates?
If, for example, you wished to know when, during the week, your clients are most interested in playing your sport or activity, you might ask yourself:
* What would we do differently if most of our clients wish to play on the weekend?
* What would we do differently if a large portion of our clients wish to play on weekday evenings or mornings?
* What would we do differently if their preferred times were spread evenly throughout the week?
If you decide that the information collected could have the potential to guide significant changes in the way your business operates, then it's probably worth pursuing.
Always let your clients know why you are asking them questions. For example, perhaps you wish to describe your clients to prospective sponsors. If so, you may be asking questions that are not obviously related to your services and your clients will think 'Why do they want to know that?'
Always explicitly state what level of confidentiality will be maintained. Information that identifies people or their agencies should be left out of reports wherever this is possible.
When designing surveys, keep your primary objective to a few priority issues. Don't attempt to learn everything all at once.
Sometimes people send questionnaires to everyone on their membership lists, or to everyone in their region, hoping to gain a good response. Even good questionnaires often get a poor response rate, however - often less than 10%. In this instance you should endeavour to follow up a sample of your 'non-respondents' in order to see if they provide characteristically different answers to those people who responded immediately.
A better strategy might be to start out by selecting a manageable sized sample of your target group then apply yourself to getting a high response rate from that smaller sample.
You can gain some useful information from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). A range of demographic information from the 1996 Census is available on the ABS web site at <www.abs.gov.au>. Access this data through the statistics button on the web site and then explore the section on 'Community Profiles'.
The ABS web site also has some information about participation in specific sports and other activities.
Aside from the ABS you may find that your local council has demographic information about your community that you can access.
Cross-reference your data. For example, do males and females answer questions the same ways? Do your older clients give different reasons for their participation in your activity or do they express different expectations of your services?
Compare your clients to the general population. If 30% of your clients are DINKS (Double Income - No Kids) but only 10% of households in your vicinity are DINKS households, then it would appear that there is something particularly attractive about your services for this group as compared with other groups.
Wherever possible do a pilot test. That is, give your survey to a small group - perhaps a dozen or two people, to see whether the have any difficulty answering your questions and whether they provide the kind of answers you anticipate.
Types of information collection
Most clubs or agencies will have a registration form. Consider the extent to which it may be possible to add pertinent questions to that form without creating too much inconvenience for your customers.
Generally, postal surveys are good for collecting simple information from a lot of people. Face-to-face interviews and discussion groups enable researchers to probe behind people's initial responses and tend to gain more qualitative information but involve fewer people. Telephone interviews generally fall between these and postal surveys and are good where available time is limited.
When should you call a professional?
The simple answer is whenever the information you are seeking is complex or particularly important and when you can afford professional consultants. While research consultants (including market and social researchers) are listed in the yellow pages, you may also wish to contact other lubs or service providers, or your state or territory department of sport and recreation to see whether they have used consultants.
Ambiguity - Ask several people to read your questionnaire before you send it out. You'll be amazed at how many different interpretations people have for the words you use.
Representation and generalisation - While you may do your best to select a sample group that accurately represents all the people you want to know about, remain aware that your data only you what these specific respondents are saying. In generalising the findings to the larger population there will inevitably be some degree of estimation and even guesswork. Repeated surveys or larger sample groups will increase the confidence with which you can generalise.
Correlations do not always infer cause and effect. For example, if you reduce your fees and get an increase in membership, it is not necessarily the fee reduction that led to the membership increase.
The membership increase may have arisen from other factors such as a seasonal change, a new program at the local school, another new service you offer, or some other factor.
Leading questions - Think carefully about the way you order your questions. Topics covered by one question may 'lead' a respondent's thinking in subsequent questions. If you ask people about wanted to know how fees, transport and timing of games or events and then ask them what sort of things discourage their participation they may well say money, or it's too difficult to get here, or the time is wrong.
Loaded questions - Respondents will often give the answer that they think you want to hear, or the answer that they feel is most socially acceptable. Avoid questions that have an emotional charge, such as 'Since volunteers are so important to our club, shouldn't they be allowed a discount on membership fees?'
Double-barrelled questions - Make sure you're only asking one question at a time. Don't ask, 'Do you think that people at your school or in the local community are aware of our club?' People at the school may be aware, while people in the community may not.
Researchers like to think scientifically and logically and we like to feel that our findings represent the truth!
However, in the real world beyond white coats and laboratories life is organic, complex and always changing. What's more, the research we design, implement and analyse is invariably tainted with our own subtle or overt biases.
* What ages are they?
* Which area do they live in?
* How many of your clients live within one, two, four, six kilometres of your club or centre?
* How many of them get to you by private cars, bicycles, public transport, walking etc.?
* Are males and females evenly represented?
* How many people are in their households/families?
(Do you attract a lot of family people, DINKS, singles etc.?)
* Why do they wish to participate in your activity?
(Social interaction , relaxation, fitness, health, excitement, achievement? What relative importance do they give these various factors?)
* What sort of occupation do they have (full time, part time, casual, clerical, consultant, managerial, executive, unemployed, full-time parenting ...)
* What sort of educational attainment do they have?
* What sort of newspapers, magazines, television or radio do they use?
* How were they introduced to your club or activity?
* What else do they play?
* What expectations do they have of your services?
* (At the conclusion of a season or term) Were their expectations fulfilled?
* When are their preferred times to play your sport or activity?
* Were clients inspired to join as a result of specific promotions you ran (such as a program at a local school)?
This is a web version of an article that originally appeared in Activate (Canberra, Aust.) no.8 Nov-Dec 1999 pp. 10-11. All copyright remains with the publisher.