Top Tips | Commissioning Research and Evaluation

A tick list of top tips for making sure you’re getting the most for your money when putting together a brief.

Recently Dan Cowley, our Research Manager, was invited to be part of the panel at the Visitor Studies Group Masterclass about commissioning audience research. Whilst some arts organisations have teams who commission external research, we know that when it comes to learning and engagement projects, it can often be down to individuals to create the brief and find the right consultant to work with. Here are some of Dan’s top tips.

How much time and money do I need to do good research or evaluation?

Research and evaluation don’t need to be expensive – and if you’re on a budget, we’ll often suggest cost effective and DIY methods. Be aware that these may involve a significant time investment on your part, and some elements of your research will probably require specialist skills.

Ultimately, the depth and breadth of what the work can achieve depends on a mix of time and budget. If you’re not sure if what you want is realistic given these constraints, we’re always happy to give some indications of what might be doable, and you can give consultants or agencies a call if you want to get a sense of if you’re heading in the right direction.

What makes a good research or evaluation brief?

The three areas which have the strongest influence on how we respond to a brief are the aims and objectives of the research, the budget, and timings – so it’s worth making sure you’re really clear about these.

  • What do you want the research to achieve and what will its impacts be? Try and boil this down to the essentials.
  • The budget will help us consider the most effective way of meeting your brief within the resources you have, so don’t be shy to include it. We don’t use the budget as a target price to come in at, rather a guide to the upper limit of what you can spend.
  • Timings may have a big impact on the methodology, and how we measure the impacts of your work.

The process

Allow enough time for people to respond effectively – at least two-three weeks but ideally a month. This will help potential partners pull together a proposal that considers your needs and allows for people being on holiday or having their heads down finishing other projects. We always like to have a think about how we might approach a project, rather than give generic responses

If you can, include an email address for any questions people might have about the brief. It’s also helpful if all questions and answers are collated and distributed to all those pitching, so you don’t keep getting asked the same question. If you do this, make sure you mention the closing date for questions, and when you’ll need responses by.

Some final tips…

  • Try to be open about the methodologies you want the research to use, if at all. For example, questionnaires might seem like a good idea, but your evaluation might benefit more from a series of in-depth case studies. Suggestions can be useful, but the main thing is explaining what you need the research to achieve – and then we can suggest how you might get to this point.
  • Think about what the research ‘Must’, ‘Should’ and ‘Could’ achieve. Being clear about this in the brief will help us prioritise the most important elements.
  • It’s easy to forget but saying whether the budget includes VAT or not is really helpful.

Written by Dan Cowley, Research Manager at The Audience Agency.
Featured in the February edition of The Learning Diaries. Aimed at those working in learning, engagement or participation in the cultural sector, this newsletter will share updates from our team on sector events, ideas from some of our projects and links to new research. To receive The Learning Diaries, visit the sign up page.