It is increasingly well recognised that Web 2.0 has dramatically changed the way that development research results are being both assembled and disseminated. A recent i-Guide from the IDRC called What Are Web 2.0 Tools and Why They Should be Incorporated into the Research highlights the use of Web 2.0 tools in all aspects of the research process:
“Research that ignores web 2.0 not only loses potential partners and existing research inputs available in web 2.0 universe, but also loses on audience, possibilities of impact on public policies, but eventually also attention of partners and funders who like to support ‘visible’ projects with visible effects.”
Social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, etc) and other web 2.0 tools (wikis, Google Docs) have now become spaces where the key research recipients have their ears to the ground and, when made accessible online and presented properly, evidence and research conclusions can reach a global audience within hours.
But not only can Web 2.0 help researchers reach an audience, it can also provide tools and opportunity for them to learn more about that audience and their prior knowledge, their expectations and, importantly, their wants and needs.
WHY CONDUCT AUDIENCE RESEARCH?
‘Audience research’ naturally brings to mind commercial market research initiatives conducted by marketing departments or product development teams. There is also a common misconception that research on audiences is too cost-prohibitive or that without expertise to conduct an effective survey the results will be useless. In actuality, there are many ways to gather feedback and information that may support and broaden your research.
The uses of audience research extend further than simply demonstrating that there are people out there willing to read your work. A planned out and structured knowledge of the audience base for your research can:
- Add focus and identity to your research
- Enable development research to reach the right people be of use and value
- Target niche audiences made up of specific organizations and groups for development research on a particular topic area.
- Prepare your work for skeptical audiences by finding out about the nature of their reservations in order to address these from the outset.
- Allow you to find out what expectations (if any) your audience have about your research and their prior knowledge and understanding of a topic.
The statistics and data collected through audience surveys not only feeds back into your research by making you more aware of your audience demographic and knowledge base but it could also provide compelling evidence for the need of further investigation into your subject area. The Strategic Content Alliance’s Guide to Researching Audiences contains some very clear instructions for planning and undertaking audience research and states that the results do not have to be perfect to be useful.
There are different types of audience research:
Quantitative Surveys –allow you to learn more about the demographic of an audience and what they are looking for from information being shared. Surveys can be disseminated through Social Media platforms in order to ensure lively and productive responses.
Qualitative responses – Interviews and focus groups allow you to discover more anecdotal evidence and ask specific questions of particular audience groups.
There are numerous web-based survey tools available. Some of the most easy to use and accessible are:
- Survey Gizmo: “Create surveys, landing pages, polls, quizzes, contact forms, ticketing queues and mobile marketing campaigns.” Free, with Pro accounts available; web-based
- Survey Monkey: helps you to create online surveys, with tools to design the survey, collect responses and analyse results. Free limited version, with premium service available; web-based
- Zoomerang: online survey tool; includes “advanced reporting, PowerPoint charts, skip logic, custom branding and more”. Commercial, web-based
- Question Pro: online survey software with analytical tools and data export functions. Student and academic offers. Commercial, web-based
Please share any experiences, good or bad, you may have of using audience surveys to enhance or further your research.