Every little (insight) helps – research on a budget in the public sector

06/01/2015 By Jacqui Banerjee

Insight has a crucial role to play in driving value for citizens and taxpayers, ensuring that decisions taken by publicly funded bodies are evidence-led. Well thought through research can ensure that money is well spent – in other words, it goes where it will do most good.

Of course, budgets are under constant pressure, so you have to work smarter with what you have. Our experience in research is that there are often great value ways to gain the insights we are after. This blog suggests some ideas to help.

Online research

Online research can be quick, cost effective, flexible and innovative. Most private sector organisations accept its limitations and embrace its benefits as a data collection tool. We are finding it of increasing value to our local government and other public sector clients, something we will be addressing at the 2015 annual LARIA conference. Online research is an innovative means of connecting with audiences that are increasingly engaged by digital technology, and a channel for collection of real behavioural data. This significantly reduces the potential for respondent error that can exist with traditional research processes. It also makes insight budgets stretch further.

Some groups are hard to reach by online, even allowing for the ‘silver surfers’ trend and may need conventional approaches.

Sweat the assets

Make the most of what you already have. A review of all current projects can check if they are working hard enough for you.   If they offer quality but are under-utilised is there a way of raising their profile? A one-page infographic for the chief exec, for example. Online panels can add value beyond their original investment for regular tracking as well as one-offs such as workshops.

Sometimes, primary research may not even be needed. Do you have research data available that can be mined again? Reputable agencies such as BVA BDRC will normally be happy to audit existing research resources for you. This helps you derive best value without further investment before embarking upon new primary research.

Be open-minded about methodology

Even when research is needed, you may be able to save costs on quantitative analysis. Just reading open-ended comments can reveal much about what the respondents actually think. They don’t always need to be coded (quantified).

Can any work be done internally? Data collection is often the biggest external cost. Perhaps inbound call centres can be used to make outbound calls at quiet times. Free tools can be used for scripting and running online surveys, and Google Alerts and Facebook Insights are also helpful.


Written reports can be expensive to produce and all too often end up gathering dust. We find sometimes that a clear set of interpretive charts illustrates findings just as well and is easier to follow up on. It may also help to allow more creativity from the agencies you use when sending a brief and requesting a quotation. Over-prescription can limit the potential for cost reduction as well as the success of the research.

When in doubt, just pick up the phone and call an agency.   Most researchers love problem solving and would be happy to talk things through.