November 2020

Client research principles


Some years ago I drafted four principles to guide the research I do for clients. They’ve stood the test of time.

1. Interesting isn’t enough

My clients need to make decisions.

I start to worry if the only thing people have to say at a presentation of findings is: “That’s really interesting.”

To be genuinely useful, I need to work as hard on understanding the decision-making context as I do on understanding the people the research is with.

2. Big ideas don’t need big words

Research is worthless if it’s not well communicated.

That often means cutting the same research in different ways for different people, using stories and quotations to bring findings to life, or turning presentations into interactive workshops or conference speeches.

It rarely involves jargon, neologism, or tables in 8pt text.

3. Methodology is not a religion

I believe the qualitative and interpretative methods I’m an expert in deliver genuine insight and value.

But I also know they’re not the answer to everything, which is why I love working on mixed methods projects and in interdisciplinary teams.

If the methods I use won’t answer the question being asked, I’ll say so.

4. Fieldwork is the job

The kind of research I do is all about seeing the world how other people see it.

I am not entirely convinced you can do that unless you look them in the eye and hear what they’ve got to say.

That’s why I like to do at least some of the fieldwork on any research project I’m involved in.