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Non-Profit Research Tips (3 of 5): Defining a Population

When conducting a research study, not everyone’s opinion has equal relevance.  It is important to define the population, or target group, for your study before getting started. Here is Step 3, defining the population.

 A population is defined as “all people in a group sharing some common set of characteristics”.  Your job from a research perspective is to identify the “common set of characteristics” and what attributes will have the greatest relevance for your study.  Some of the attributes you may want to consider include age, gender, income, ethnicity and other attributes unique to the people your organization wants to study.

 For example, one organization wants to conduct a study on services for people with autism.  Their purpose is to understand how satisfied their clients are with the services they currently receive and what service needs they anticipate having in the future.  The organization provides services to adults and children of all ages, gender, income, ethnicities and various disabilities.  However, for this study, they will limit the “population” to those clients with autism, without regard to other defining characteristics. 

 Another question this organization will need to consider is “Who is a valid respondent?”  In research, we typically place the highest value on the opinion the person who is closest to the question.  In this case, the person who receives the autism services.  However, since our population includes people under the age of 18, parents will need to be acceptable respondents as well.  In addition, since people with autism are not always comfortable talking with people they don’t know, we may want to include other people as valid respondents, even if the client is over age 18.  Determining who is an acceptable respondent is an important part of defining your population and will impact the quality of the results of your study.  Be sure to consider all options and their impact.

 Sometimes a population has more people than are needed.  In this case, you may want to consider selecting a “random sample”.  As the term implies, this is a randomly selected sub-section of the population.  There are a variety of ways to determine if a sample is “random”, so talk to someone with research experience to ensure that the integrity of your population and the results of your study are maintained.

  Once you and your team have answered the questions about 1) definition and scope, 2) Methodology & Analysis Plan and 3) defining the population, you are ready to move to the next step in the process – the Questionnaire Development.

Posted in Client Satisfaction, Market Research, Quality Improvement.

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