I’ve recently joined the ICG (Independent Consultants Group), an association of around 400 freelance researchers. We had our summer party last night, and what a fun event it was. I found it refreshing to talk to people who were extremely hands-on and provided straightforward, easy-to-describe services like field recruitment and data processing, and great to be part of a group which is so mutually supportive.
The issues for survey data reporting for independent researchers are a little different from larger agencies. For example, an independent researcher may not know what her or his next project will involve, in which case it becomes much more difficult to justify the purchase of software tools. Unless you need it for every project, for example as a data processing specialist would, you would probably be much more interested in a per-project arrangement so that the costs can be justified as part of a single project.
Each independent researcher will of course have a limited range of competencies, so will be putting forward proposals and costings based on collaboration with other service providers, for example recruitment and field agencies. For something different to happen at the reporting end, this would really need to be included into the research proposal right at the start, and the proposer would need to justify why any additional cost is there. So they would need to be clear about what, for example, an interactive online visualisation of the research results will add in terms of value to a particular project. Factoring in additional spend once a project has been commissioned would be extremely difficult, and of course this is also true of larger agencies.
As sole operators or small partnerships, independent researchers are vulnerable to workload build-ups, and could benefit from simple processes which reduce the amount of manual time needed for a particular task. Report automation of one kind or other might therefore be attractive on any project where there is likely to be significant charting. But again it would often need to be something which could be costed on a per project basis: the purchase of a tool is only justifiable for those researchers who can be confident they will be needing it again. Project-specific solutions can be developed using VBA at fairly low cost, such as fast auto-charting or significance formatting, which could save a great deal of time. Having said that, there are some great crosstabbing, analysis and charting tools out there like MarketSight and Q, as well as SPSS of course, which would be exactly the right thing for some researchers.
There is a massive range of work carried out by independent researchers, but it’s fair to generalise and say that many independents are qualitative researchers and that the quantitative work tends to be ad hoc rather than the large-scale tracking variety. So the relevant kinds of reporting solutions would often be those which are low-cost enough to be justifiable for single ad hoc projects. This calls to mind options such as a simple online interactive developed with PowerPoint like the examples I have here, which can be entirely customised, are costed on a project-specific basis, and will not break the bank either.