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Are Research Participants Stakeholders?

Decision making is vital to business success. It is necessary to continuously drive business forward and encourage both growth & development. Many techniques can be used to help businesses make and enforce decisions but the research behind the decision is imperative to help the business make the correct one.

Market research plays a large role in business development — concepts and products are tested with focussed samples of individuals so that businesses can use the feedback for development (i.e. how to develop an idea or product, how to brand or market a product etc.). The voice of the customer (VOC), or in some cases the voice of non-customers, gives valuable information about how aspects of the business are viewed through the public eye — essential for any business to survive.

Behind the drive for market research we often have stakeholders investing in and commissioning market research on behalf of the business. A stakeholder is someone who has a stake in a program or organisation and who has the power to change it. Area of interest within the business will vary from stakeholder to stakeholder but they all have a common interest in the businesses success. Although they have the ability to make decisions that directly affect business direction, they often seek the help of research participants when doing so.

A research participant is defined by the MRS as “any individual or organisation from or about whom data are collected.” Participants take part in research for many reasons, recent research showed that:

  • 84% took part in research for the incentive reward
  • Offering more smaller prizes compared to fewer large prizes was preferred
  • 74% took part because they were curious or interested in the research topic
  • 70% took part so that their opinion would be heard
  • 54% have a desire to improve brands

Many organisations will use an incentive reward as the main selling point to recruit participants for research and also encourage them to provide feedback. However, research has shown that only 41% would be put off taking part in research if the incentive was not high enough and if too many questions were included in the research (47%).

41% of research participants would not take part if the incentive was not considered to be high enough.

In research, samples of participants are often chosen as a representation of customer base or target audience, in lieu the wider population. Therefore the perceptions and interpretations of the select group can help businesses unlock the key to the masses — this alone is enough to demonstrate the importance of participants when conducting market research.

Early and regular research can identify potential gaps within a business or product that may otherwise be overlooked. Research can also help businesses measure progress, success and pitfalls.

Using market research, collecting data and analysing the results to make decisions could be seen as the business shifting responsibility to detect potential within the business onto the research participants. Through giving feedback, the power is given to participants as it is ultimately them who will determine the outcome or direction of a decision. Therefore, it is important to receive the most natural and realistic view from participants — bias or leading research could lead to false results. This, in turn, could lead to a potentially harmful decision for businesses future.

These factors can be controlled or improved by effective research design. By focussing on objectives and participants’ emotional experience whilst taking part in research, researchers must also remain a factor in the research design and how the research is conducted. It is hugely important to make the participant experience as positive as possible so that they feel valued and give authentic feedback. By creating a positive experience, you will also optimise the likelihood of them giving future feedback and investing more time helping to develop the business.

Participants not only aid and influence research context, it appears they are the key to business decision making and are ultimately the people or wider population who are affected by these choices. Conducting market research and listening to VOC programmes has the ability to make or break a business. However, as previous research has shown, participants are more often than not taking part in research for incentive rewards primarily, alongside their interest in the topic or brand.

Participants do not have control over the area of business under investigation or how results are analysed.

Stakeholders ultimately have the power to approve and conduct the research initially. This gives them control of what areas and topics are discussed as part of the research so although it appears the participant is in control, the stakeholder will always have the ability to influence business decisions and direction based on the areas and specifics they choose to research.

In conclusion, research participants are not stakeholders by definition but they are the most valuable aspect in leading the direction of final decisions made within a business. Any business that makes decisions without listening to research feedback is bound to make a few wrong decisions along the way that could negatively impact the future of that business.

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