New guidelines for the intrepid development researcher


Conducting high quality research is an essential aspect of programme design, evaluation and communication. Here Martin Walsh, Global Research Adviser, introduces our research guidelines, now with three new topics, to set you off on your research journey.

Our research guidelines, first launched three years ago, have proved to be very popular. And today’s exciting news is that we’ve added three more guidelines to the set: Conducting focus groups, Planning survey research, and Writing an executive summary.

The guidelines were initially written for Oxfam staff and our partners, but since we made them public they have proved to be among the most popular of our online resources, used by academics and their field assistants as well as by development workers commissioning, managing, and undertaking research themselves. Our guideline on Conducting semi-structured interviews has even been cited a number of times in academic papers and reports.

Focus groups and surveys are among the most widely used methods in development research and evaluation at community level. The studies undertaken by Oxfam and its partners often involve one or the other, and sometimes both. Our research on Women’s Collective
, for example, included rigorous household surveys and focus group discussions in different local communities and agricultural sectors in Ethiopia, Mali and Tanzania. A mixture of methods including these two is also being used in our ongoing WE-Care (Women’s Economic Empowerment and Care) initiative

Where possible, our Effectiveness Reviews are based on survey research. The first of our in-depth follow-up studies of one of these impact evaluations, which was about a disaster risk management programme in Pakistan, made extensive use of focus group discussions.

These are, of course, not the only research methods that we use. Some are already the subject of research guidelines; others will be added, including a guideline on sampling for surveys (currently in draft). 

As well as methods, the guidelines cover different aspects of the research process, including the communication of research. Writing an executive summary comes under this heading. We are also planning to expand the series to include guides to understanding important research concepts, together with a sub-series of short case studies of research practice that illustrate different methods and processes.

Here is the full list of published research guidelines, some of which are also available in French and Spanish:

• Writing terms of reference for research
• Undertaking research with ethics
• Reviewing the existing literature
• Conducting semi-structured interviews
• Researching human interest stories
• Conducting focus groups
• Planning survey research
• Creating killer facts and graphics
• Writing for impact – lessons from journalism
• Writing an executive summary
• Oxfam style guide for notes, references and bibliographies

Read more

Photo: An Oxfam focus group in Douentza, Mali, 2013. Credit: Habibatou Gologo/Oxfam

Author: Martin Walsh
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.