Waiting for the right time to find answers usually means you find few. We live in an imperfect world. So how can you work with that and get the information you need to make progress?
What was missing?
When I started my career much of my work was focussed on understanding homelessness. One of the first research projects I worked on was to understand the reasons why young people were registering as homeless in a large town in South Wales.
To understand this we employed a presenters survey - a simple survey that logged the applicants details, where they had come from and their reasons for being homeless. It was deployed for 2 weeks in council offices and also to other service providers in the area. The results were then analysed.
The results were far from a perfect picture. A snapshot based on a two week sample might give a skewed picture based on uncontrollable events.
However, the results did give an insight into patterns and processes of who was homeless and where they were seeking help that would otherwise have been invisible to those with responsibility for addressing homelessness in that area. It shed light on the previously unknown.
I have deployed that same method with great success in other local areas and later on in the development of regional homelessness strategies in England. In every case the exercise has shed a much needed light on issues that official statistics and data collection methods were unable to.
The weaknesses of these methods in terms of their perceived robustness were overshadowed by those insights. Recognising the weaknesses enabled these “quick and dirty” surveys to develop actions to address homelessness in ways that had previously not been on the radar.
On one occasion the presenters survey caused a disagreement (by a government adviser) about whether an issue it highlighted - in this case “sofa surfing” - should be regarded as homelessness or not (the adviser described it as "a right of passage"). Make of the specifics of the discussion what you will. But without the insights from the survey this discussion could not have taken place.
Time for progress
Often the perfect solution is just not an option. So rather than give up and do without, why not try a method that can get you part of the way?
Quick and dirty has a place in all research.
It enables you to move forward effective, efficiently and quickly with information and intelligence that is easily obtainable. These methods are underused and over criticised.
As long as any weaknesses of the methods are acknowledged (cases that might be missed, people who might not be willing or are unable to engage with the method) these tools provide another piece in the jigsaw of the picture you are needing to build.
And when used together with other methods to build a more complete picture there is no reason why you cannot utilise such simple tools more frequently and find what you need to make a difference more often.
You miss 100% of the shots you don't take
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