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June 8, 2015

Putting Research Within Reach

Think about the last time you tried to deduce what someone close to you was thinking or feeling, or why they did something or didn’t do something or reacted in a certain way. It’s easy for your assumptions to be way off, even with someone you know well. Now imagine trying to do this for a group of people that you don’t know. This is an all too common situation for many of us working on social change and trying to inspire audiences to get involved.

There’s a better solution than honing your mind-reading super powers. Research can help you discover what your audiences care about, what is holding them back from taking action, what they’re willing to do, and what would make it easier for them.

Move to End Violence recently finished a research project with Lake Research Partners that included focus groups and an online survey to better understand what we as a movement can do to inspire stronger support that translates into action. They designed this round to reflect broad diversity, including a look at voters, nonvoters, people who are highly interested in civic and political issues (i.e., the “attentive public” in research lingo), and the African American, Asian and Pacific Islander, Latino/a, Native American, and White communities.

Then I worked with Move to End Violence and Lake Research Partners to develop a Research into Action Guide that highlights the most important findings from the project and suggests ways to use them in your day-to-day work. The guide is organized around these key concepts:


The research looked at similarities and differences in the motivations of five communities to take action to end violence against girls and women. It found that there is a lot of common ground among communities: The majority of all adults believes violence is a problem, thinks ending it should be a priority, and has hope that ending it is possible. More than eight in 10 adults across all communities believe preventing violence by starting young and teaching respect for women is critical. And the most attractive asks were consistent across communities—talking to children about healthy relationships and signing a petition were two of the most appealing and least risky proposed actions.

Of course, there are also some differences among how communities perceive violence against girls and women that will impact your efforts to engage with your audiences. As a starting point, the guide includes detailed information on the five communities we included in the research, including what we learned about their personal experiences with violence, their willingness to get involved, and the support they need to act.

However, one study could never say definitively what every member of a community thinks or feels. So we invite you to do additional research within your own community to tailor your engagement strategies. The number one question I get from my clients when I suggest research is how to do it effectively with limited time and money. Here are three suggestions for making research possible for your organization:

  • You can gather members of the audience you need to learn about for a listening session at your organization or a local community site. Less formal than an official focus group, a listening session is a great opportunity to ask questions and hear directly from your audience. Providing food and child care can make it easier for people to attend. Having someone lead the session who is a member of the same community as the audience members and speaks their language will help people feel more comfortable being candid.
  • Sometimes it’s more effective to interview members of your audience individually, especially if you are talking about sensitive subjects or if attending an event would be challenging for them. Aim to interview a minimum of six people within a particular audience so that you have a better chance of seeing trends in their responses. Offering a small incentive, such as a gift card, makes recruiting people to participate easier. Keep questions open-ended (rather than yes/no) so you can learn as much as possible. And ask permission to record the interview (DropVox is a great, low-cost app) so that you can listen closely without the distraction of needing to write down every word. As with the listening sessions, conducting the interview in the language the person is most comfortable with is ideal.
  • If you need more formal research but are on a tight budget, try contacting your local college or university. There may be opportunities to partner with social science undergraduate classes or graduate students to get the research you need at minimal or no cost using more formal focus group, survey, or poll techniques.

Whether you use the guide or conduct your own research, we hope these tools and tips help you connect with your audiences and inspire them to act.

Art by lizar_tistry