Research Can Turn Skeptics, Mavericks into an Army

 If you are stymied by skeptics or puzzled by a complex challenge, quality research can help by producing data that leads to discipline – and disciples.

If you are stymied by skeptics or puzzled by a complex challenge, quality research can help by producing data that leads to discipline – and disciples.

Through quality research, you can convert skeptics into believers and mavericks into disciples.

People will fight to the death in defense of ideas for which they may have only flimsy evidence to support. Talking them out of their view can be difficult and even acrimonious. Research findings can provide a bridge for them to retreat.

The point of research is to point the way forward based on something more solid than a hunch or an opinion. A hunch or an opinion may be right, and research can be the vehicle to provide it. Research also can expose an idea as off base, even counterproductive. Think of research as idea intervention.

There is no better place to witness this dynamic than a political campaign. Candidates or ballot measure proponents gather a group of key advisers, including important financial contributors. They come to the brainstorming table with a range of ideas, many rooted in the successes or failures of previous campaigns. That is valuable experience, but not a substitute for fresh, robust research into the current circumstances and voter attitudes that will face candidates or ballot measure advocates.

Mark Nelson, a legend in the realm of Oregon lobbying and political campaigns, was unequivocal in his reliance on solid research. A pollster himself, Nelson told candidates and campaign committees that if an idea hadn’t been tested in polling, it was unusable. (His actual phrasing was blunter.) His track record of success in defeating or passing ballot measures is unmatched in Oregon.

Nelson understood that credible data trumps impulsive ideas or even past experience. He would say research findings provided the discipline for a campaign to stay on message, and his triumphs proved him right. He would agree that research can convert skeptics into believers and mavericks into disciples. Winning can have that effect.

The Nelson approach applies to more than politics. Business decisions, marketing campaigns and strategic planning can benefit from a richer understanding of the competitive playing field, consumer preferences or management priorities. Knowing what gels and what thuds is invaluable in selecting a message or designing a product or service.

While some challenges require sophisticated polling, many can get by with less complicated and costly research techniques, such as well-conceived one-one interviews and roundtable discussions, especially if target audiences are smaller and relatively discrete. A representative sample remains vital to reliable findings, but the task at hand should shape the form of research. The people, businesses, nonprofits and public agencies that get the most of out of their research investments are knowledgeable research consumers.

Research won’t resolve every difference of opinion, but it can inform your actions and enlist skeptics and mavericks in your army of followers.