Each year, we work with a great number of clients on their research studies. We survey donors and prospective students and alumni. We talk to faculty, staff, and community residents. The breadth of our research is quite amazing.

And while we may survey a number of different audiences for our clients, the analysis of the data typically involves our asking three questions:

  1. What?
  2. So what?
  3. What’s next?

When analyzing the data for our first question, we want to answer: What are the most important things we learned as a result of this study? This requires both thoughtful analysis and the clear presentation of the findings. Our goal is to avoid the minutiae and focus as directly as possible on the major questions that served as the prime motivator for the study.

The second question is a little more involved. Not only are we interested in what the research is telling us, but we want to explain why it is important, why it matters, and why the client should pay attention. As we address the question, we are much like John Madden when he would add color commentary to the play-by-play on Monday Night Football. In many cases we bring in data and perspective from other studies, or our experience base, to enrich the commentary.

The third question is much more involved. Not only are we addressing the data, and adding a “why this matters” dimension, but we are asking the next question: What do we do with what we found out? In other words, based on the data: What modifications should be made to the website or the communication flow? How should the financial aid strategy be refined? What changes should be made in our annual fund?

Ultimately, it is the third question that matters most. However, to provide the necessary context, the first two questions must be asked, and answered, as well.

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