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Commissioning cultural research

A straightforward guide


Research can help cultural organisations plan their future direction, as well as supporting proposed policy and practice. It can provide evidence of need for a project, suggest ways of reaching an audience segment, or assess the effectiveness of work you’ve already done. This is a straightforward guide to the process of planning and commissioning cultural research.

Commissioning cultural research

Š Institute of Cultural Capital, 2011

Planning your research project Before you set out it’s always worth asking yourself:  Is this research necessary?

 Is there a practical, tangible benefit from doing it, and if so, who for?  Do I need to commission someone or can we do it in-house? 1. Start by agreeing the aims and purpose of your research: exactly what questions are you aiming to answer, and what will you do with the results?

2. Identify the key stakeholders who have a vested interest in the outcomes (e.g. your staff, board, trustees, supporters, other networks, etc) 3. Look at what research has already been done in this area – to avoid reinventing the wheel 4. Work out how much you can afford to spend on the research

5. Think about collaborating with other organisations: is there anyone else who might benefit from the information and evidence you’re looking to collect?

6. If the work is particularly significant, long-term or involves partners, think about setting up an advisory group who can work together to plan and manage the project.

M yna T rust ram Research Manager, Renaissance North West

Commissioning cultural research

Consider whether it's actually new knowledge you're seeking. Perhaps a recorded conversation between experts could give you the answers or ideas you need.

The commissioning process You’ll need to decide on how you’re going to commission researchers. There are three main ways: 1. Directly appointing someone

2. Inviting a shortlist of people to submit bids 3. Inviting competitive tenders.

Commissioning cultural research

Bear in mind that funders may require that research is openly tendered, and that your organisation may already have procurement guidelines in place. Whichever method you choose, you’ll need to draw up a research brief.

Drafting a brief This will typically include details about:

 Your organisation and your audiences  What’s prompted the research

 Your aims and objectives for the research: what you’re trying to find out, and why it will be useful to you

What audiences you’d like to see involved or specifically targeted in the research  What methods you’d like to see used (if you’ve got any in mind)

 What outputs you’re looking for – e.g. a report, set of recommendations, presentation, toolkit, etc.

 What timescale you’d like the researchers to work to  What budget is available

 Details of how to apply, deadlines for applications, and interview dates.

S a ll y F o r t Cultural Consultant

Commissioning cultural research

Your brief will be appealing to researchers if you’re as clear as you possibly can about what you want, and any parameters such as budget, timeframe, alreadyidentified focus groups or areas of study. If you have a budget in mind, include it. In that way you’ll be able to see exactly what a provider is giving you for that money, although bear in mind the number of days work included is not always the best measure. An experienced researcher can deliver good quality results in half the time of a less experienced one.

Choosing a researcher

When you’ve shortlisted researchers from their proposals or applications, it’s usually a good idea to invite them for an interview and get a feel for their approach. It’ll be easier to choose the right researcher(s) for your project if you’ve already agreed clear criteria against which you’re going to measure them. Additionally, if you ask a standard set of questions at interview, it’ll be easier to assess their responses. Some key points to consider:

 How far do they understand your organisation and what you’re trying to do?  Have they grasped your aims and ambitions for the project?  Are their proposed methods clear and appropriate?

 Have they broken down their costs (and included all extras, like VAT and travel and accommodation expenses)?

 If they’ve got specific experience of working in the cultural sector, can they can offer any testimonials or references from other organisations?

Commissioning cultural research

Make sure you (or someone on your panel) know enough about your subject area to not be ‘blinded by science’. Make sure you get on with the researcher – nobody likes working with people with no personality – but equally, don’t just be fooled by charming people – check they can do what they say they can do. Do your research on your researcher! Make sure you know as much about them as possible (check out their references, past work, word of mouth and so on). If it's a big contract it will pay to do a little more digging.

A d e y i n k a O le s h u n d e Partnerships and Development Coordinator, Liverpool Arts & Regeneration Consortium

 Is it important for your researchers to have local knowledge and be based locally or is it more important to have national/international knowledge and expertise?

 Have they considered how the research findings could be communicated?

 Have they shown an awareness of data protection, intellectual property and ethical issues?

 Have they outlined exactly who’ be carrying out which parts of the research, and what their specialist skills are?

 Is their timescale clear and workable?

 Have they proposed how they’ll keep in touch with you throughout the project?

After interviews, you might decide to take up references before making a final decision.

Commissioning cultural research

Drawing up a contract

It’s important to draw up some kind of written agreement to clarify what the researcher is expected to deliver, and when. This contract should include confirmation of fees and when they’ll be paid. Make sure to include any changes which have been agreed since the brief stage.

Managing the project Even when you’ve appointed someone to carry out your research, you can’t just sit back and do nothing until the day they’re due to deliver their final report. It’s important to keep in touch with your researcher(s) – ideally through planned meetings of the steering group or with your project manager. Agree a timetable of interim reports or updates, and keep an eye on whether deliverables are being met, and interim payments being made as agreed.

Commissioning cultural research

Don't let the researcher take control. It's very easy to find yourself being guided by consultants down a road that they feel comfortable with (or for which they have already some work, perhaps for another client). And don't fall into the trap of answering their questions for them – you're paying them, remember! Br uce Ben nison Head of Cultural Policy, Cumbria County Council

After the research is completed There’s nothing worse than research which just sits on a shelf gathering dust, and is never Text acted on. Make sure you communicate the findings of the research as widely as appropriate. Think about internal and external audiences for the research, and how you can use it to inform policy and practice, raise your profile, and forge new partnerships.

Research findings can be complex, contradictory and easily misunderstood. Therefore, it’s advisable to spend the extra time and effort to ensure the messages you wish to communicate are easily accessible and understandable. Involving colleagues with marketing and media expertise is highly advisable at this stage. A series of summaries tailored for different audiences (e.g. the general public, the media, senior executives, practioners, fellow researchers) can help get your messages across. Different target audiences may require different presentational styles, for example busy chief executives are unlikely to read a lengthy document and will require a succinct overview.

An accessible, attractive and readable final report or summary is essential, and a launch event and aligned conference can be a good way to maximise publicity and generate debate. Martin Thompson Policy Officer, Liverpool City Council

Commissioning cultural research

The Institute of Cultural Capital is a strategic collaboration between the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University in the UK. We aim to improve policymaking around cultural innovation in Europe, drawing on the city of Liverpool’s experience in delivering and researching major cultureled regeneration programmes of international significance. Through critical interdisciplinary cultural research and its holistic synthesis with cultural policy and practice, we’re encouraging and unlocking cultural potential and creativity to promote social inclusion, health and wellbeing, economic innovation and urban regeneration.

Commissioning Cultural Research  

A straightforward guide to commissioning cultural research.