My prior post revealed some of the guiding principles and purpose of Contextual Research vs. other methods and resources analysts leverage when examining various business, organizational and IT trends. In this post, I wanted to share some of the high-level data points on how this particular field research study was conducted.
CR projects are approved by Burton Group management. Analysts leading CR projects are trained on the methodology and are mentored by other CR project leads as needed. A project proposal to conduct a CR field research project on the topic of social networking within the enterprise was submitted for internal review. After approval, this particular CR project was conducted in three phases.
Phase 1: Call for Participation
An open “call for participation” was made public on August, 19, 2008. To raise awareness of the project, notifications were published on Burton Group blogs, analyst blogs, and Twitter. E-Mail invitations were also circulated to Burton Group clients, industry mailing lists (e.g., knowledge management communities) and vendors. Several points in the call for participation phase are worth noting:
- The project was open to clients and non-clients alike, and there was no charge for participation (e.g., any necessary travel expenses were borne by Burton Group)
- Representatives from business and IT areas were asked to participate
- A combination of face-to-face and telephone interviews would be used to gather the data
- Confidentiality and review procedures were addressed
- All participating organizations would receive the resulting research and have the opportunity to discuss its findings with Burton Group
The goal for Phase 1 was to have 25 organizations involved in the study. Each participating organization was asked to make one to three people available for interviews. Burton Group was looking for representatives from line-of-business groups, human resources (HR) department and IT organizations. If desired, group interviews were allowed but it was strongly recommended that non-technical and technical participants be interviewed separately. As the effort moved into the next phase, the plan was to have one-third of the interviews conducted on a face-to-face basis with telephone interviews rounding out the study.
Although 25 organizations did agree to participate initially, 4 later dropped out, leaving 21 study sponsors. The industry breakdown (guided by industry sectors assigned to company profiles by Yahoo! Finance) was as follows:
Industry Sector Description Number of Study Participants Basic Materials Aluminum, chemicals, oil & gas, steel & iron, etc. 1 Business Services Accounting, legal, and other types of professional services 2 Consumer Goods Appliances, electronics, offices supplies, paper and paper products, etc. 3 Education Academic institutions 1 Financial Banking, investments 4 Government-related Federal, state or quasi-governmental agencies, as well as non-US government-related entities 2 Healthcare Biotechnology, drug manufacturers, health provides, hospitals, etc. 3 Services Consumer services, discount and variety stores, electronics, home improvement, medical equipment, travel agencies, etc. 3 Technology Computer-related 1 Utilities Electric, gas, water 1
Note: Sometimes the industry sector was raised up one level to avoid study participant from being identified if they were the only one in a particular category. For example, consumer goods is a subset of services but since there were three sponsoring firms, that category was broken out. Basic Materials is a broad category but since there was only one study participant in a sub-sector under Basic Materials, the higher-level grouping was used.
Phase 2: “LEARN”
Phase 2 concentrated on a sequence of steps referred to as “LEARN”, which stands for logistics (e.g., defining schedules), engagement (e.g., conducting the interview sessions), assessment (analyzing and consolidating interview data), review (e.g., allowing organizations to fact-check information) and next steps (e.g., creating the study deliverables). This phase of the study was carried out over a two month timeframe from September 15, 2008 through November 7, 2008.
The high level of sponsor interest in social networks was reflected by the large number of people involved in the actual interview process:
- 8 firms provided a single person to be interviewed
- 13 firms providing multiple people to be interviewed
- 65 people (roughly) participated in interview sessions across 21 sponsoring organizations
These larger commitments were handled either in group sessions or through a series of one-on-one interviews:
- 30 interview sessions averaging 90 minutes each
- 45 hours of conversation with study participants
Interview sessions were fairly equally divided between representatives of business and IT areas:
- 13 interviews with line-of-business and HR personnel (27 people)
- 17 interviews with representatives from IT organizations (38 people)
Each interview produced roughly 15 pages of notes. These notes formed the baseline for subsequent “interpretation sessions” with Burton Group analysts on the CR team. Interpretations sessions provide a forum to review data collected during the interview. An interpretation session was held for each interview session and tended to average 90 minutes each. These review meetings served two purposes. First, it allowed the CR project lead to socialize interviews with team members to develop a shared perspective. Second, they were a “sense-making” process that allowed the CR team to immerse themselves in the data, assess data collected from the interview, and co-create a series of stand-alone observations (referred to as “affinity statements”). Affinity statements reflect not only the stories shared by participants but also include Burton Group’s analysis of those stories. The approach created an enormous amount of information:
- 60 affinity statements created on average per interpretation session
- 1700 individual affinity statements (approximately) created for use during the consolidation session
After completing all interviews and interpretations sessions, the focus shifted to analyzing individual affinity statements to identify underlying patterns in the data (regardless of organization). The project team met over a four day period to analyze each affinity statement. Using a bottoms-up approach, “like statements” were sorted, filtered and clustered into groups with each group receiving a label summarizing its key point. Groups of groups, with a second layer of labeling, were then shaped into a three-layer hierarchy with the top layer assigned a key theme for that hierarchy. Sequencing the collection of themes into a coherent storyline completed the exercise. Analysts then examined the narrative created and provided a final set of comments to complete the consolidation session.
Phase 3: Analysis
The last phase of the project began in December, 2008 and will likely continue into April, 2009. Providing deliverables to participating organizations and to Burton Group clients will occur through a series of documents that analyze study findings, formulate research positions and provide strategic recommendation to organizations regarding social networking within the enterprise. Non-clients will be offered the opportunity to discuss study findings. Burton Group clients can exercise their normal interaction options (e.g., telephone inquiry or onsite briefing) to discuss the study as well.
In the next post, I'll provide some additional reflections along with some snapshots of the team taken during the consolidation session.