Jessica Fletcher helped me through a lot of my DPhil study. Many a lunchtime would find me watching reruns of Murder She Wrote, following Jessica around Cabot Cove - or any other location she found herself in - as she solved often outrageous crimes. We're obviously not detectives here at Lucidity, but we often work on projects that need us to gather different types of evidence. And while I might not be in Jessica's league when it comes to extracting the clues, I do really enjoy our own type of sleuthing. Here's how we normally go about gathering our evidence.
Our first task in any project is always to understand the context. This means thinking creatively about what might influence a client's operations. As we normally work with universities, we usually start with government policy in related areas, as this drives the bulk of decisions, from research funding to student recruitment. From there, we'll move to other sources of information: EU policy, the OECD, think tanks, charities, and any other places that might give us useful information. This might include looking at how other organisations are performing. We use all of this to build a picture of the background context and to inform our thinking about opportunities.
As well as looking at what's happening outside an institution or organisation, it's obviously important to consider what's going on inside, and we do this by examining data about past and current performance. The type of data will depend on what we're being asked to do. If we've been asked to develop a research strategy, for example, we'll start by looking at postgraduate student numbers, grant applications and funding, and research impact. If it's a process review, we'd look at any data that's already collected about that process. If possible, we'll also look at trends over time, to identify any patterns and make sense of any changes. And we'll benchmark the data where we can, against comparator groups or a national average.
Our final piece of the evidence jigsaw comes from consultation, reaching out to relevant people to get their opinions. We think that talking to people is an essential part of the sleuthing process! We have five steps in our consultation process. First, we work with the clients to identify who the stakeholders are, often drawing on our desk research. Then, we group the stakeholders according to the most effective ways to communicate with them. Some, we'll want to keep informed on the project and invite their input; others we'll want to interview to understand their perspectives in depth. Third, we design a set of questions - to use in surveys and discussions - to make sure we get insight into the right areas. Then, we carry out the consultation, using an appropriate mix of formats (such as online survey, web pages, interviews and focus groups). Finally - and this a really important step - we collate the responses we've had and provide feedback on the consultation. Experience has shown us that this is a great way to keep people interested and engaged in the work.
This approach might not make us the next Columbo, or even get us a bit part in Cabot Cove, but it works well as a framework for our projects. And while each evidence-gathering process is a bit different, tailored for the project and the client, this is usually a good start. So if you need some super-sleuthing to uncover the evidence for your decisions, please do get in touch.