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  • The authors are Steve King and Carolyn Ockels. Steve and Carolyn are partners at Emergent Research and Senior Fellows at the Society for New Communications Research. Carolyn is leading the coworking study and Steve is a member of the project team.

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August 05, 2008


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Term Papers

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Franz and Dawn: Agreed, caution is required. We see a lot of studies where the survey work simply doesn't come close to supporting the study conclusions.

And Dawn you are right about the media. They often don't differentiate between formal and informal surveys, so informal survey results get treated the same in the press.

This is a topic we talk about a lot at Emergent Research. Our background and training is in formal research methods. At first we skeptical of informal methods. We now see the value and use them, but still use formal methods for most of our work.


Dawn Rivers Baker

Scott, I can certainly see the value of those less expensive, potentially less accurate survey methods for something like helping you to design or to evolve hypotheses for further research.

The problems comes in when these kinds of results are made public. From what I have seen, the folks in the media simply assume when they are provided with such survey results that they are accurate and that they can be extrapolated to apply to the population at large. Even when they are published responsibly (with appropriate disclaimers), journalists often skip those caveats and indulge in the kind of verbal shorthand that gives people an inaccurate idea of what the research means.

There is also the critical issue of the way research is often used as the intellectual justification for all sorts of public policy initiatives. If the goal is fact-based public policy (which is, I think, a laudable goal), then it is all the more critical that the facts involved are generated from rigorous, accurate research. 'Net-based research can be fun and can make for great sound bites but people should not be drafting legislation based on such sloppy stuff.


This is not unlike the trend in the 90s, of doing your own analytical work. More data, cheaper and easier methods, ease of publishing. The trend is there, unstoppable, there is no doubt about it.

During that time I also saw some very poor attempts at getting deep results from scant evidence.

So there is room for caution here. I support more people utilizing and understanding these kinds of studies. You just need to make sure that you have a clear view of the object of your study. Is it an attempt to understand the territory, or doing something predictive? There is a big difference. What is the cost of making an error? I would at least talk to someone with experience in the analysis domain before charging forward.

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