We live in a world where, when we wonder why something is the way it is or want an answer to a relatively trivial question, we have the ability to find the answer rather quickly. Our expectation is that these curiosities can and should be answered almost immediately. This has contributed to expectations around market research that may be both unreasonable and expensive. In fact, these current trends have led to the reality that, often, the first step in the research process has become a thing of the past. The first step in conducting research has traditionally been to determine what business question we want to answer. Here are a few examples:
- How important is it to know this answer?
- What financial costs are associated with gathering it?
- What financial and other benefits are associated with knowing the answer?
- What are the options in gathering the information to provide the answer?
Research should always answer a business question. The temptation always exists to conduct research to answer a curiosity. However, the real question ought to be “what am I going to do with information if I have it?”
Research costs real dollars. In an environment with unlimited resources, this would not be a question for discussion. However, for Christian schools time, personnel and money impact the feasibility of finding answers. Questions to ask in deciding what to research include:
- What will I do with this information?
- How else could I get this information?
- Who else may have this information?
- How important is this information in comparison to other information needs?
As part of this process, it is important to assess what data may already exist and how might new data be used to answer the questions at hand. Asking these essential questions help determine whether to do research and, if so, what approach to use.
However, there is a a flipside to this discussion that should not be overlooked. In other words, what are the costs of not finding an answer to a particular business question? What are the opportunity costs of going uninformed into a decision making process? By not knowing the answer, what will I not be able to offer? What might I not be able to launch? Who might I not be able to serve? How might I not be able to resolve a problem? These questions are equally as important to ask when determining the right research approach for your school.
In our consulting work with Christian schools, my partner, Dave Urban and I spend a lot of time talking with school leaders about the business model in which they operate. There is often a good amount of misunderstanding around using this business model language with Christian schools. However, research is one element of a business approach that can provide a good amount of comfort to those we lead and serve. Using research to answer questions and then, in turn, either save money or secure new revenue opportunities is a great way to use market forces and business practices to help us accomplish our mission.
I am always curious to know what business questions school leaders are having difficulty answering for lack of data. If you are willing to share any of those, it would be interesting to see who else may have faced a similar challenge or who may have thoughts on a solution. I welcome your comments.
Paul T. Neal (paul.neal@cace.) is Sr. Vice President for Marketing and Enrollment at Cairn University and co-founder of Charter Oak Research where he serves as Principal and Chief Research Officer. Charter Oak Research is a marketing research and consulting firm focused on resourcing and supporting Christian schools and colleges, other Christian ministries and for profit organizations. Charter Oak brings marketing research to bear on the strategy and tactics of enrollment and advancement needs of clients to improve brand awareness, perception and sustainability. Paul has presented and been published on: the use of normative data in analysis, respondent motives, trends in education and online communities and respondent quality. Prior to founding Charter Oak Research, Paul was a Principal at Olson Research Group for 15 years as well as serving as the Associate Director of the Center for the Study of Federalism at Temple University responsible for qualitative research on political culture and U.S. Public Policy. Paul has served as an adjunct faculty member at several Philadelphia area universities. Paul is a graduate of Eastern (B.A.) and Villanova (M.A.) Universities and attended Temple University for further graduate study.