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Conducting Research on a Shoestring

Research for the purposes of advocacy doesn't have to break the bank.

It's true that detailed research projects that require the collation of multiple data sets and complex modelling followed by checks and re-checks can run into the tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, research for the purposes of advocacy doesn't have to break the bank.

Many organisations have been very successful at integrating smaller, simpler research papers into their advocacy campaigns at a fraction of the cost. Groups like the Institute of Public Affairs, Oxfam and others are able to generate valuable media coverage and engagement with decision makers without having to produce doorstop-sized research papers. Here's how.

They keep it simple

It doesn't take much for research projects to rage out of control. They can tangent into areas peripheral to the original purpose of the project or become bogged  down in one component at the expense of other areas. Planning is therefore essential. Know exactly what you're trying to find, for what purpose and how it fits within your broader strategy.

They tailor it to their targets

The key to making research successful is to make it red-hot- relevant to those you're trying to influence. Instead of researching an issue in the national or state context, it may be more effective to target individual regions, electorates or even postcodes.

They product it in-house or peer review

Most organisations have the internal resources to do basic research projects that don't involve multiple datasets or intensive economic modelling. The key is to have the work 'peer reviewed', verified by an expert source, such as a qualified professional or academic in the relevant field - at a relatively low cost.

They use it as media fodder

It's highly likely that research pieces on any given issue will be of interest to the media. It's a rare journo who won't bite when offered 'new research' as an exclusive. This can be a great way to spotlight your particular issue before you present it to the target audience you're trying to engage.

A word of caution: while desktop research projects can be cost effective, repeated use of overly 'light' research can be damaging in the long term. Some groups, like The Australia Institute have been relatively successful at using quick-fire research papers to attract media attention. However TAI's repeated use of this strategy has attracted deeper scrutiny of their work.

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