An intentional series of one-on-one conversations can be a great source of information and insight. Even though it is among the cheapest forms of research, conversation surveys often are only an afterthought.
Unlike telephone or online surveys that center on questions with multiple-choice answers, one-on-one conversations are based on open-ended conversations. The whole idea is to start a conversation, not get an answer.
Skilled researchers guide the conversation through a series of pre-determined questions, but allow the conversation to find its own parameters and depth. Skillful conversation guides know how to keep the conversation going without skewing it in any particular direction by inserting their own views.
One-on-one conversations fall on the qualitative side of research, along with focus groups. They aren't intended to produce statistical renderings of data. Instead they generate the context and perspective behind the data.
While sample sizes can be small — usually 10 to 25 interviews — they can yield valuable and reliable insights if the sample is representative of the larger group you are researching. For example, if you wanted to gauge the reputation of a law school, you might want to converse with current students, former students and HR managers at law firms that interview graduates from the school.
The discussion guides used for conversation surveys are similar to those used in focus groups. The difference is there is more time to probe specific issues or follow up on comments than is possible in the focus group dynamic where the value comes from interaction among participants.
Best uses of conversation surveys include:
- Testing the alignment within an organization on mission, goals and strategies.
- Pre-testing questions for telephone or online quantitative surveys.
- Obtaining reactions to the language and images in print and digital media.
- Evaluating an organization's reputation with internal or external audiences.
- Assessing the impact of a major event or incident involving an organization.
Many organizations recognize the value of solid research, but think it is unaffordable on their tight budgets. Conversation surveys are a relative bargain, especially in light of the beneficial information and insight they deliver.
Conversation surveys are the richest form of research that organizations cannot afford to pass up.