Puzzles can be fun and games. If you run a business, they can be serious business. If you want to do what’s best for your clients, they should be.

David G. – CaptureISG Public Policy Director

When I was learning the research trade several centuries ago, I spent some time working on a political campaign. While there, I learned 3 very important things: 1) if you think you are ever really going to change things for the better working inside the political system, well, good luck with that; 2) many campaigns get sold down the river by consultants providing either poor services or at best, providing a level of service that doesn’t help the campaign make the best decisions; and 3) when dealing with polling or other consultants, you need to treat it like a gunfight and make sure you go in armed, preferably to the hilt. In other words, make sure your team has enough knowledge to provide valuable input into the process, and don’t just sit back and do what the consultant tells you to do. Failure to do that often means getting burned and minimizing or losing any competitive advantage – not a good thing whether you are talking about a political campaign or a company trying to make money.My personal goal at the time was to learn as much about polling and political research as possible and I was invited to be part of the strategy team. So I’m sitting there 2 hours into a meeting with our pollster discussing our latest poll results and I’m hearing a lot of speculation about why people responded the way they did – what sounded like a lot of uncertainty. And I’m thinking, I may not be the brightest bulb on the planet, or even in the room, but shouldn’t we be getting more definitive answers after spending $20,000 to find them?

When I couldn’t take it any more and asked a couple of questions regarding why we didn’t have better info, my boss gave me an incredulous look, as if to ask, what, you think you know more than these guys. We just paid $20,000 for this and we’re paying you $15 per hour.

Leaving the room, I turned around and asked the pollster if I could get a copy of the raw data, whereupon my boss gave me another incredulous look and reminder that he wanted me spending more time trying to fix his computer (ignoring my constant suggestions that he get one of them Apples). I won’t mention what the pollster’s reaction was, but here’s a free tip – if you ever want to aggravate a researcher, ask for the raw data. I wasn’t sure if I would find anything, but figured I could get some practice on analyzing actual polling data.

I understood enough about polling to know that even the best polls can leave questions unanswered or raise questions. But my concern was two-fold during our meeting: 1) In some cases, we hadn’t asked the best or right questions (and in a couple of cases, hadn’t asked the question in the best manner possible); and 2) We hadn’t done enough analysis. Some of the results seemed to raise more questions that further analysis might have provided answers to.

As for the former issue, I realized that while you have to consider time and cost limitations when designing a survey, some questions aren’t worth asking so much for the direct answers they provide, but for their ability to help compare results from different segments of the sample. In our case, a couple of additional questions would have provided very useful and much needed info, especially as it pertained to a potential ad strategy we were considering.

To cut a long story short (including details about my boss lecturing me about priorities), further analysis provided some useful information that not only helped with our ad campaign and overall campaign strategy, but helped design future polls that we conducted with a new in-house polling operation (we fired our pollster, or actually, never called him back). Modesty prevents me from touting the fact that my “unique” (a kind term from my boss) analysis and in-house operation was credited in some part with winning a campaign in which we were behind by more than 10 points 3 weeks out. I only bring this up to make a point – an important point for anyone seeking to make the best use of research for their company, nonprofit or political campaign.

It’s all about solving the puzzle. That may or may not sound clever, but what does that mean? First, it’s about making sure everyone thinks through and agrees on the decisions that must be made using the research, and the goals attempting to be achieved. What is it you are trying to accomplish with the research? While this might seem like a no-brainer, many companies fail to think through all decisions that would benefit from the research. A company might want to conduct a customer satisfaction survey to assist with developing a customer assistance program, without realizing that other marketing related or business decisions might benefit from such a survey and adjusting things accordingly to provide the necessary information.

Second, careful consideration must be given to the information being collected – from the process being used to the specific questions being asked. Customization is important here, ensuring the best possible survey that best meets the needs and budgets of clients. Programs off the shelves or standard questions might prove helpful but often prevent optimal decisions from being made or goals from being effectively reached.

Third, it means analyzing the data until you are comfortable you have the best information possible. This means going beyond standard frequencies, cross tabs and other basic analysis and digging down deeper to get everything you can from the data. It means using initial analysis to determine and perform future analysis. Solving the puzzle means that the analysis many firms would use in total represents only the first step in producing the best information possible.

It’s important to remember that unlike “fun and games” puzzles where there is usually a definitive end to the process, you need to realize when your search is complete and additional analysis isn’t worth the time or money, something that’s not always clear. Solving the puzzle means it’s not just about scientific analysis and running stats, but creative thinking and flexibility in approach that leads to generating optimal information.

The puzzle concept isn’t something applicable only to political campaigns, but to all businesses and nonprofit operations. When it comes to any research, it should be about making the best decisions and ensuring you have the best information to accomplish that. This is a philosophy that encompasses everything we do at CaptureISG – every aspect of every project is geared to providing the best information possible for clients to make the best decisions possible. We work closely with clients and spend a great deal of time determining needs and exploring options when customizing a program for clients. Many of our projects combine both standard and newer, state of the art techniques.

It is our “solving the puzzle” philosophy and solution orientation at CaptureISG that, among other things, sets us apart from much of the competition and makes us your best choice when it comes to effectively fulfilling your survey and research needs. While solving puzzles may mean fun and games in some cases, at CaptureISG it’s serious business. We realize that taking our business seriously allows clients to do the same for theirs.