Primary research involves getting original data directly about the product and market. Primary research data is data that did not exist before. It is designed to answer specific questions of interest to the business - for example:
What proportion of customers believes the level of customer service provided by the business is rated good or excellent?
What do customers think of a new version of a popular product?
To collect primary data a business must carry out field research. The main methods of field research are:
Face-to-face interviews - interviewers ask people on the street or on their doorstep a series of questions.
Telephone interviews - similar questions to face-to-face interviews, although often shorter.
Online surveys - using email or the Internet. This is an increasingly popular way of obtaining primary data and much less costly than face-to-face or telephone interviews.
Questionnaires - sent in the post (for example a customer feedback form sent to people who have recently bought a product or service).
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Focus groups and consumer panels - a small group of people meet together with a "facilitator" who asks the panel to examine a product and then asked in depth questions. This method is often used when a business is planning to introduce a new product or brand name.
In most cases it is not possible to ask all existing or potential customers the questions that the business wants answering. So primary research makes use of surveys and sampling to obtain valid results.
Advantages of primary research and data are that it is:
Up to date.
Specific to the purpose - asks the questions the business wants answers to.
Collects data which no other business will have access to (the results are confidential).
In the case of online surveys and telephone interviews, the data can be obtained quite quickly (think about how quickly political opinion polls come out).
Disadvantages of primary research are that it:
Can be difficult to collect and/or take a long time to collect.
Is expensive to collect.
May provide mis-leading results if the sample is not large enough or chosen with care; or if the questionnaire questions are not worded properly.
Secondary data is data that already exists and has been collected by someone else for another purpose. Secondary research involves the investigation of secondary sources of data.
Internal sources of secondary data (come from within the company itself)
Every department within an organisation will have its own records that represent a potential source of valuable data. For instance, records of past advertising campaigns within the marketing department can be compared with copies of invoices held in the sales department in order to judge their effectiveness and get ideas for future campaigns. Past sales figures can also be used to spot trends and forecast future figures.
The increasing availability and use of loyalty cards has given retail outlets the chance to gather a wide range of valuable information on customer buying habits, allowing them to target promotional campaigns more effectively.
Internal sources of data should always be considered as a first line of enquiry for any investigation because they are usually the quickest, cheapest and most convenient source of information available. Internal data will also be exclusive to the organisation that generated it, so that rival firms will not have access to it.
However, internal data may be incomplete or out of date, and, if a project is new, there may be no relevant data at all. In such cases, an organisation may need to consider using external sources of secondary data.
External sources of secondary data (has been published by other organisations)
The Government (www.statistics.gov.uk)
Trade Publications - e.g, the Grocer
National and local press / magazines
Published company accounts (CompaniesHouse)
Professional institutes and organisations
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using secondary data?
Secondary data sources should always be considered by any firm conducting research. No firm can afford to waste time and money conducting expensive surveys to gather data that already exists!
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However, secondary data may have been collected some time ago and, therefore, be out-of-date. Because it has been collected for another purpose, it may be in the wrong format or incomplete.
The advantages and disadvantages of using secondary data will vary from source to source. Government data, for example, is usually cheap or even free to access. It is likely to be accurate and updated regularly.
However, it may be too general and, because it is available to everyone, it is unlikely to give an organisation any competitive edge. Some information on competitors may be easily available via company reports or websites, but these are unlikely to contain sensitive information or data that gives the firm a negative image.
Questionnaires are one the main tools in the use of field research. A questionnaire contains a series of questions which gather primary marketing research data for the business.
Questionnaires need to be designed carefully. The design of the questionnaire depends on the following:
Objectives of the questionnaire
The information which is required
The people who the questionnaire is aimed at (easy to understand? etc)
How the questions will be asked (if it is face to face then questions can be rephrased if the participant does not understand).
The types of questions that can be asked can be split into three groups:
Simple yes/no answers - e.g. have you seen the new advert for cornflakes
Multiple choice - a number of options are available to the answer
Sliding scale - a value is placed on an answer e.g. how do rate the performance of this product - less than satisfactory, satisfactory, excellent (or could use a scale of 1-10 with 10 being excellent and 1 being dreadful!).
Once the questionnaires are complete, the data is gathered and analysed through the use of graphs, charts, figures and percentages.
Data obtained through surveys
Generally in a large volume so statistics can be made
Answers are "hard" and numerically measurable
Data obtained where detailed answers can be given e.g. interviews
Personal and individual answers
Answers are "soft" and cannot be made into statistics easily
Research is about creating new knowledge, finding ways of testing its validity, and sharing the knowledge for the specific purposes. In action research terms, those purposes are always to do with learning and personal and social growth.
Evaluating research always sounds rather daunting for the inexperienced but it can be broken down into a number of simple steps.
Firstly, it is worth reminding yourself why it is important to evaluate research.
Perhaps the most important reason is that it enables you to decide the value or worth of a piece of research, given the purposes for which you wish to use it.
If you are going to use research to inform and shape practice or policy then the research needs to be reliable and rigorous.
Having decided that a piece of research needs evaluating, it is worth asking yourself the following questions about the article and its method:
Sure Start has been at the centre of recent reforms of children's services. It represented a large-scale attempt to apply the findings of international research, particularly from the US, that shows intensive family support provided for families could make a significant difference to outcomes in later childhood and adult life. It signalled an attempt by policymakers to integrate economic and social welfare policy in that Sure Start was based on a belief that if the UK was to remain competitive economically internationally it needed to reduce levels of social exclusion. It represented an attempt to promote both an economic but also moral case for family support.
When Sure Start was established in 1999 the government also expressed a commitment to basing the project on a robust and continually evolving knowledge base. It therefore funded one of the biggest evaluations ever in the UK.
In the early years Sure Start was based on local programmes, providing intensive support to families in deprived areas. However, the evaluation has followed the initiative as it transformed into children's centres after 2005.
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The overall aim of the evaluation has been to measure the way that Sure Start has changed services that have led to improvement in both the delivery of those services and the outcomes of children living in areas covered by Sure Start. This study is part of the impact study within the larger evaluation project. This focuses on the difference services delivered through Sure Start makes to children and their families' lives.
We often warn that the research we are reviewing is of limited size and restricted timescales. The National Evaluation of Sure Start is, by contrast, impressive in both the size of the cohorts of families who have been studied and in its longitudinal nature. The methodology is a complex one and has to take account of substantial changes in policy, most notably the transition to children centres and the changed geographical and eligibility criteria.
The authors provide a set of caveats alongside their findings taking into account "the greater exposure of children and families to better organised and more effective services as Sure Start local programmes have matured over time". In the impact study, researchers focused on more than 9,000 children living in areas covered by Sure Start at nine months and at three years. They were compared with a cohort of 1,879 children/families who participated in the first and second sweeps of the Millennium Cohort study, and who did not have Sure Start local programmes (SSLPs). The data were collected by specially trained field workers during home visits between spring 2005 and summer 2007.
As reported in Community Care earlier this month, the findings of this phase of the impact study were much more positive than were the case in the previous phase, the findings of which were published in 2005. This phase reported potentially disappointing outcomes. Although in the areas covered by the SSLPs being studied there were early signs of improved outcomes, for families in the most socially excluded circumstances child level outcomes seemed worse. This set of findings helped risk the stereotyping of SSLPs as dominated by the middle classes.
Although this was something of a caricature, there was an element of truth in it. For example, young parents and people with learning disabilities, mental health problems or substance misuse problems needed enhanced support to access services effectively and they did not always get it. Such enhanced routes into services were less likely to be intimidating than the traditional drop-in mechanism which was used widely in the early design of programmes. At the same time there was a lack of awareness of the contribution other (non-SSLP employed) workers, including social workers, could make to increased access for families in the community.
This phase of the study found, however, that outcomes for all children showed positive signs of improvement. It showed that parents of three-year-old children showed less negative parenting while providing their children with a better home learning environment. Three-year-olds in SSLP areas had better social development with higher levels of positive social behaviour and independent self-regulation than children in similar areas not having an SSLP.
The SSLPs' positive impact on social behaviour appears to be a consequence of their effect on parenting (a SSLP influences parenting which influences the child). The three-year-olds in SSLP areas had higher immunisation rates and fewer accidental injuries than children in similar areas without an SSLP. Families in these areas used more child and family-related services than those living elsewhere.
The effects associated with SSLPs appeared to apply to all the resident population, rather then suggesting positive and negative effects for different sub-groups as detected in the earlier 2005 report.
James Blewett, Social Care Workforce Research Unit, Kings College London
Extended Schools Pathfinder Projects Colleen Cummings, University of Newcastle; Alan Dyson, University of Manchester; Liz Todd, University of Newcastle with the Education Policy,University of Brighton
Extended schools offer a wide range of services and activities, often beyond the traditional school day, in order to meet the needs of pupils, their families and also the wider community. The White Paper Schools Achieving Success recommended that legislation be introduced to remove the barriers schools might face in seeking to provide such support. As a result, extended school demonstration projects were set up in three areas of England, to find out how schools wishing to adopt this approach could do so effectively and thus better meet the needs of their communities. A further 25 extended school pathfinder projects were then funded during the academic year 2002 to 2003. Evaluation of these extended school projects and research undertaken by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) to examine the extent and efficacy of the 'extended school' model in England, found that the approach was believed to impact positively on pupils and their families, as well as on schools and their communities.
The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) recently announced that funding would be made available for all areas to have at least one full service extended school by 2005/06 in each local education authority (LEA), providing a full range of community services by 2006. Extended schools have also been a feature of more recent government policy, for example, the Green Paper Every Child Matters, which referred to them as being the most likely bases for a range of services. The Government's five-year strategy for children and learners reinforced the Green Paper commitment to develop more extended schools and set out the expectation that increased numbers of primary schools will offer 8 am to 6 pm wrap-around childcare. A childcare offer for school-aged children featured as part of the government's recent Childcare Strategy.
Studies have mainly addressed the benefits for existing extended schools, together with the challenges they face in achieving those outcomes. This research, which also provides a consultancy element, represents a unique opportunity to follow a number of schools in the UK through the process of actually becoming an extended school as they expand existing family and community services and/or develop new ones, offering an opportunity to extrapolate from this experience valuable lessons and guidance for other schools wishing to pursue this route.
CfBT's Education Committee commissioned this project in September 2004 following their interest in the concept of what schools can become and what adequate learning will look like in 21st Century.
The aim of the proposed research is to acquire and disseminate practical information and models, based on an action research methodology, which will be of help to schools aiming to become the central point for a range of family and community services (more widely known as 'extended' schools). This aim would be achieved through the following associated objectives:
to acquire and disseminate information and evidence about the processes involved in becoming an extended school
to identify the potential challenges and possible solutions to becoming an extended school
to acquire and disseminate evidence regarding the impact and possible benefits for schools, families and communities of adopting such an approach.
Design and methods
The methodology will involve three phases of research team and consultant activity:
phase one: set-up phase
phase two: implementation phase (early impact)
phase three: bedding-in phase (impact over time).
.The evaluation of extended schools pathfinder projects has just reported back to Government and it is clear that out-of-school clubs will form the lynchpin of extended schools.
Overall the researchers concluded that extended schools have important positive effects on families, children and communities. However, in order to work successfully, extended schools need dedicated management structures and team leaders.
In light of this, it is clear that there is much that the extended schools project can learn from out-of-school clubs. Those clubs based in schools, of which there are approximately 5,000, have been run with the support of the school but with their own management team for several years. So, schools which already have an out-of-school club are well on their way to becoming the extended schools of the future.
The researchers also found that the extended school is an important catalyst for enhancing collaboration between education and other agencies.
Key to the success of the extended school, according to the report, is the ability to respond to the community's needs. Once again extended schools can learn from out-of-school clubs, which have found that in order to remain viable they must respond to what families need rather than imposing their own professional view.
Not all successful out-of-school clubs will be in schools - nor should they be - but out-of-school providers have long recognised the benefits of access to schools for out-of-school provision. Now it seems that schools too are recognising the benefits. The challenge will be to ensure the development of out-of-school programmes in schools that build on out-of-school childcare to offer the opportunities needed.