1 Research proposal

You will find it easy to establish the broad area you want to conduct your research in: youth unemployment in your area, or concerns that local members of an ethnic group have about using local health services, for example.

Example: A community group has identified the need for a space for groups to meet and deliver activities.  The existing community centre is old and run down.  They need to decide what sort of things people would want to use a space for and whether they should plan to adapt the existing centre or develop a new one. This example is followed step-by-step.

2 Purpose of research

Think about what outcome you expect from your research – will it identify a specific need that you plan to remedy? Or suggest changes to your project?

Or highlight gaps in local service provision that you want to campaign around? This is the research purpose.

Are you starting with an idea that you want to test – and find evidence to prove it?  Or are you trying to find out what people think about an issue that is of interest to you?

  • To establish whether there is a need for additional space for community activities.
  • To find out what other facilities exist and who is using them.
  • To find out what particular resources people will need, such as additional outdoor space, storage facilities, catering facilities, etc.
  • To identify people who might want to get involved in developing a new centre.

3 Issues to be studied

Where does the need to do this research come from?  Identify the issues you are trying to explore, using anecdotal statements made by members of your group. Brainstorming sessions may reveal that different people involved in the research group have different ideas about the actual issues, so this stage needs to involve as many people as possible.

  • Members of the community group have experienced the lack of spaces to meet and run groups.
  • Long term dissatisfaction in the community with the lack of investment in the community centre.
  • Concern that some members of the community are unwilling to use the existing centre because it serves alcohol.

4 Defining your research questions

The next step is to make your research both meaningful and manageable by thinking of the specific questions you are trying to address.

These questions should closely relate to the issues identified above. These are the questions that will form the basis of your analysis. Phrase them carefully as this will help narrow down your research. Be sure to include boundaries for your research by adding in phrases such as ‘in this estate,’ ‘by young people aged 16 to 25,’ wherever appropriate.

Resist the temptation to ask about lots of things that ‘it would be interesting to find out’  Only collect data that you need and will use – this is ethical and in line with data protection laws

  • How many groups currently use the existing centre?
  • Is there space capacity in the community centre or other facilities?
  • How many groups in the community are looking for additional space?
  • Would organisations from outside the community be willing to use a new space?
  • What would individuals and families from this community use additional space for, e.g. family parties, weddings, etc. and what resources would the space have to provide?

5 What data will you collect? What research already exists in this area? 

You might only need to do a review of what already exists

This is the stage at which you begin to select a strategic approach. If you are asking ‘how many’ or ‘how big’ you are taking a quantitative approach. If you are asking questions beginning ‘why or ‘how’ you are taking a qualitative approach. Remember you can combine different approaches and methods.

  • Records of use of the existing community centre.
  • A survey of local residents.
  • A list of contacts for other community spaces.
  • Interviews with representatives of different community groups.
  • Focus groups with local residents.
  • Getting data for your community from a previous council survey of which community groups are active in the district.

6 Where will this information come from?

By identifying the type of information you need and the people or other sources able to provide it, you will be creating the right mix of methods. Think about whether you need a broad overview or an in-depth response.

Are you looking for factual information, opinions or personal accounts?

  • Lists of local groups from the local authority and the local council for voluntary services.
  • Residents’ knowledge of local spaces and resources.

7 Who will collect this data?

One member of the management committee and volunteers will form a team of community researchers.

8 How will the information be recorded?

  • The questionnaire with local residents will be entered on to a spreadsheet.
  • Interviews will be recorded by a note taker – this could be the interviewer taking notes or recording the meeting.
  • Focus groups will be recorded on the facilitator’s phone and transcribed afterwards (the recordings will then be deleted).

9 How will the information be put together or analysed in order to answer the above questions?

Do you have the skills and resources to do this on a computer – or can you find someone who know how to do this?

  • Community researchers will bring their findings together and  plan how to prepare a report.
  • All the findings will be analysed to help the research team understand the answers to their questions.
  • One member of the group has worked in market research and will lead the analysis.

10 How will the findings (the answers to the questions) be presented, disseminated, used or passed on?

  • A presentation at the annual community get together.
  • An exhibition to be lent to local community groups, the branch library and local schools.
  • A written report.
  • Funding applications.

Fig. 5