The research phase of consulting, commonly called assessment, is usually designed to reveal organizational trends, patterns of behavior or opinion, and points where action could be taken to make a productive difference in desired results. With a little advance planning, research can also promote buy-in among the people who will later be called upon to 'be the change.' Engaging key stakeholders in participatory research can reduce resistance and promote collaboration in planning and practicing new ways of doing business.
Here are three research methods that can help you build participant buy-in:
1. Interviews– Because interviews involve one-to-one communication, they are a great vehicle for developing relationships as you gather information about the organization and factors affecting its success. Inviting people to share their thoughts indicates respect and willingness to work together on solutions. Active listening and accurate summaries of what is said can build trust in the assessment process.
Given the time investment required, the number of people you interview will be limited. Choose interviewees with care, so that you hear the voices of a range of stakeholders, and build relationships that support productive change at various levels of the organization.
2. Focus Groups– Because Focus Groups engage small groups in interactive discussion of specific questions, they can help you get beneath the surface of organizational issues and understand stakeholder perspectives and concerns more deeply. Be prepared to observe interaction as well as record comment, and guide the conversation gently so that participants talk with one another rather than the facilitator. Limit questions or subject areas so that the group has time to discuss each in depth. And, as you analyze results, remember that Focus Groups are great at revealing shared concerns and differences in perspective, but do not statistically represent the whole unit or group that you are researching.
3. Surveys– Surveys allow you to gather information from a large number of people in a cost-effective way. Because they can give you a broad sample or statistically valid response to key questions, they can be an excellent complement to interviews or Focus Groups. How can you adapt survey research so that it is participatory? Personalize the delivery of the survey, sending it out with the endorsement of organizational or opinion leaders. Introduce the purpose of the survey and how information will be used, stressing benefits to those who are invited to respond (all members or a random sample of members in your group of interest). Make your survey easy to fill out, focusing on a limited number of questions that parallel those you use in interviews and Focus Groups. And be sure to include a way for respondents to find out about the results of the survey.
Follow-up is key to building buy-in through participatory research. Once you have collected and analyzed data, be sure to share the results with those who provided information. Demonstrate how the assessment results will be used to fuel planning and action, and request further feedback from your research partners. You, and the leaders who have engaged you as their consultant, may be surprised at the power of participatory research in greasing the wheels of change.
Susan Berry and Randy Thomas