Avoiding "Original" Research

Back when I was a young whipper-snapper in 1995, I was charged with developing a media advocacy campaign to combat negative images of youth and the resulting punitive policies resulting from those images. Funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation with partnership from Mayor Daley and City Hall, I had access to infinitely greater resources than I had had in my previous position as head of a small non-profit youth organization.

research.jpg But just as folks with money often have the least tasteful homes and interiors, access to money almost launched my project into the misstep of original research. A prominent Chicago-based university journalism program was only too willing to craft an extensive (read: expensive) media-analysis which I narrowly avoided upon realizing that existing research could easily provide informational elements required to set strategy.

Fact is, original research just FEELS GOOD. You get to send it out with a press release and maybe even have it covered in some obscure journal. And, Lord knows, what I call the “research development industrial complex” needs all the support it can get!

Call me crazy, but I like to see programmatic development driven by both gut instinct and data, first and foremost from target audience members. Then I like to see a “fail fast” approach in which leaders discontinue efforts when they don’t appear to be working (first big clue: nobody is showing up!)

Driving this is a performance measurement v. longitudinal evaluation approach. Define what success looks like and then start measuring. Make sure you know who needs the information (managers, media, donors) and make sure what you are gathering is actually compelling for those audiences. Go wide, move beyond the pen and into video including user-generated content from your constituents, Zoomerang surveys and blog formats poised for ready feedback.

It’s a new day and I like it!

Susan Herr

Posted at 9:55 AM, Dec 11, 2007 in Accountability | Philanthropic Strategy | Permalink | Comments (2)


Am I missing something, or is everything you mentioned original research? There's nothing that says that evaluation can't be dovetailed with something publishable to gets media attention. I think there are many ways to make original research applicable and interesting to a broad audience, and it doesn't have to be expensive or take forever. If organizations share the findings of their own research (including evaluations) we can all learn how to improve our programs and processes.

Posted by: Amanda Chablani

Yep, that stuff is. And I am encouraging donors to spend time with it rather than doing their own.

Posted by: PhilanthroMedia