This document is a commentary that critically examines the research proposal for Milestone’s Glamorgan’s Living History Museum, investigating how the museum can attract more family visitors. This commentary looks at the rationale for carrying out the research and how the research methodology was derived.

Before embarking on any research project Zikmund (2000) suggests managers should  conduct a cost-benefit analysis and ask themselves.

a) Will the pay off or rate of return be worth the investment?
b) Will the information gained by business research improve the quality of the decision to an extent sufficient to warrant the expenditure?
c) Is the proposed research expenditure the best use of available funds?

In the case of Hiraeth the cost of the research is £2 000 plus the researchers` time. If the research identifies ways of attracting more families to the museum then this should generate more than sufficient payback. However the museum is run by the local authority and the objective of attracting more families is not solely based on commercial imperatives, but on social criteria such as education and inclusion.

Proctor (2000) asserts, “market research dispels uncertainty”. If the management at Hiraeth have a view of why they are not attracting families in the numbers expected, then market research should clarify whether their views are correct and give them evidence on which to base future decisions.

2. Defining the problem

As Smith and Fletcher (2001) point out “ a problem defined is a problem half solved”. The nature of the problem at Hiraeth is one where the symptom is known i.e. a lack of family visitors, but the underlying cause needs to be established. It could be a basic lack of awareness of Hiraeth as Mintel (2000) identifies a “pent up demand for family friendly leisure alternatives” or that families are aware of the museum, but do not associate it with somewhere they would want to spend a day out.

Therefore the issue may be a simple communication problem or a more complicated issue about the product and the branding. Locally Hiraeth is referred to as the ‘Transport Museum’ because of its collection of specialist vehicles. This name may be undermining the branding of Hiraeth as a ‘living history museum’. Fisher (2000) suggests, “ research exerts a force on museums to express their ideas in a form which visitors can grasp”

3.  Hierarchy of information

Primarily it is important that the research gives the museum staff an understanding of how to communicate with families effectively and how those families make their decisions about where to go for a day-out. Secondly if the problem is more to do with product and branding then information needs to be gathered, that explores what interests families in museums.

4. Research Methodology

Market research can broadly be split into two types, quantitative and qualitative research. Quantitative, as the name implies, is used for collecting numerical data and for looking at problems which ask, how many? Qualitative research is more concerned with asking the question why? Many market research projects employ a combination of both methods.

A quantitative study would be able to determine statistics such the level of awareness of Hiraeth or satisfaction levels, but what is required from this research is a more depth understanding of behaviour and motivation of the family visitor. Smith and Fletcher (2001) state that qualitative research is good for:

a) Mapping the customers overall range of behaviour and attitudes

b) Pinpointing the motivations behind peoples’ behaviour

c) Examining the linkages between attitudes and behaviour

d) Stimulating new and creative ideas

e) Providing a forum for fresh creative thinking

Chisnall (1997) also suggests “ for all its limitations qualitative research is able to provide unique insights to inspire and guide the development of marketing strategy and tactics”

Hague and Jackson (1998) assert that qualitative research has the “emphasis on understanding rather than simple measurement”

Qualitative research is both the most appropriate approach given the nature of the problem and the most cost effective within the budget. Once it had been decided that qualitative research was to be employed, then it was a matter of selecting suitable techniques. The budget of £2 000 was a limiting factor in the decisions.

4.1 Desk Research

Insights into the problem facing Hiraeth can be gained from many different angles. Firstly a thorough analysis of the marketing and management information available at the museum should take place. Secondly local authorities have been carrying out ‘Best Value’ reviews of all their services over the last 3-4 years. The results of these are available on the Audit Commission website. Other museums may have encountered similar problems. Similarly professional journals market reports and even psychological studies of family interaction may shed light on the problem.

Desk research may also provide some quantitative background data such as the  number of visits to museums and attractions and what percentage are by families.

4.2 Observation

Observation research can take many forms, scientific, visible, hidden and direct. In this situation direct observation has been chosen, where the visible  observer is simply recording how long families stay at specific exhibits and how they interact with the display, whether they are passive or they interact with objects, demonstrators and each other. It is important to take account of observer bias in this type of research. This can be done to some extent by limiting the observations to factual information rather than judgemental observations. Also it is important to be aware of potential ethical issues if hidden observation is employed. To overcome this visitors could be told when buying their tickets that they may be observed for research purposes.

Proctor (2000) suggests that one advantage of observation over interviews or focus groups, is that it “records events as they actually happen” rather than relying on people’s memories of what they did. Similarly if information had been sought by survey then it too would rely on memory.

4.3 Depth Interviews

Zikmund (2000) suggests that depth interviews can help to “understand the ‘why?’ of consumer behaviour”. They can be used to understand issues in the same way as a focus group, but some people respond much better in a one to one situation. The interviewers role is important and they need to be skilled in putting people at ease, gaining their trust and then probing their responses.  Proctor (2000) believes that “depth interviews are dependant on the skill of the interviewer and on correct interpretation”.

Another advantage of depth interviews as indicated by Malhotra and Birks (1999) is that “they are easier to arrange than focus groups”. Families at Hiraeth can be stopped at the exit or in the café and asked to take part in the interview which is likely to be much more convenient than coming back later for a focus group.

From depth interviews Hiraeth will have data about what the families liked and disliked about the museum and why. Also marketing research data about where they found out about Hiraeth as well as who decided to take the family to the museum and why.

Researchers could have conducted exit surveys of families or even self-completion surveys, which are done at many leisure facilities. Both methods can be good for collecting user profile data, but do not allow enough time to go into depth about people’s real opinions.  Self–completion surveys tend to attract the extremes of visitor satisfaction, both complaints and compliments and little in the middle.

4.4 Focus Groups

Two types of focus group are to be used according to the proposal. One with adults who have not necessarily visited Hiraeth, but who take their families for days out and who live in the catchment area and a second with children to look in detail at areas of Hiraeth from the perspective of a child.

Malhotra and Birks (1999) believe that “ the value of the technique (focus groups) lies in the unexpected findings that emerge when respondents are allowed to say what they really feel”.  It is therefore important to ensure the focus groups are well run with a moderator who allows and encourages all participants to express themselves. Proctor (2000) points out that, “influential or dominant characters within a discussion group can lead the group off on tangential discussion or bias the group view”

Smith and Fletcher (2001) also point,” The interaction that takes place between group members can spark off new ideas”. Group dynamics are not always positive. Conflict within a group can be counter productive. Occasionally there is also pressure within the group for some members to conform to social norms to which they privately do not subscribe.

Quantitative research, such as a survey carried out within Hiraeth’s catchment area, would be able to gauge the awareness of the museum and may also be able to ask families why they have not visited Hiraeth, but a survey can only ask ‘why?’ at a superficial level, it cannot probe for reasons. Normally in this type of survey there may be multiple-choice answers with respondents choosing from a list of pre-coded answers.

The catchment area consists of a 1 hour drive time to the museum and encompasses a population of 15-20 million people. The budget of £2 000 would not be adequate to survey more than a very small sample. An in-house postal questionnaire may just be affordable, but it is unlikely that the return rate would be high and the budget cannot stretch to offering worthwhile incentives.

If the budget had been greater it would also have been worth considering doing more focus groups. This would ensure that a wider cross-section of the population were represented. Having more than one group would also help to  assess the validity of the findings. If the findings were consistent across two or more groups then they are more likely to be accurate.

Research with children obviously requires specialist professional input both because of ethical and moral considerations, but also because children express themselves in different ways to adults and their comments and non-verbal communication needs very careful analysis. However there is also the potential to gain a good insight as to how children perceive what is on offer at Hiraeth.  The moderator of the children’s group may use of techniques such as role-play and projective techniques in order to get the children to speak freely about their feelings.

This area of the research is the most costly part of the proposal, in order to ensure it was done professionally and ethically.

4.5 Staff Interviews

Frontline staff often have an understanding of problems and simple solutions that mangers are not aware of. These interviews are designed to be confidential so that all issues can be raised without fear of reprisals and to see if there is any insight to the problem among staff at Hiraeth. Information could be gathered by survey or focus group. In a focus group people may be less forthcoming in front of their colleagues. A survey is not able to widen the scope in the same way an interview can and explore issues raised.

 5. Analysis

Marks (2000) states that qualitative research can in no sense be statistically valid, but there are ways in which the validity can be checked. One way is internal consistency i.e. results consistent within the project and another is external consistency i.e. findings consistent with other similar studies.

Because qualitative research does not generate numerical data that can be statistically analysed it is necessary for the researchers to define how they will analyse their results.

Proctor (2000) suggests a systematic approach:

  • Immersion Data Collection
  • Reduction
  • Categorisation
  • Synthesis Evaluation

Another approach developed by Glaser and Straus (1967) is called ‘Grounded Theory’. In this case the researcher compares each new observation or finding with categories they have already developed to decide whether it fits or whether a new category needs to be created. This analysis is then constantly evolving.

Smith and Fletcher (2001) have developed what they term a ‘Holistic’ approach. This takes a mixture of inductive i.e. top down, theory led and deductive i.e. bottom up, data led methods, develops a partial theory at an early stage then tests the theory using each subsequent finding or observation. This approach attempts to assimilate all types of data quantitative and qualitative into the analysis.

Malhotra and Birks (1999) suggest that however the analysis is done that what is required is “marketing understanding i.e. appreciation of how decision makers will use the qualitative research findings”

6. Conclusions

The nature of the problem and the constraints on the budget suggest that exploratory and diagnostic qualitative research may yield the most useable results. The wide range of qualitative methodologies chosen will give the museum data relating to users and non-users, adults and children. However, being able to conduct more focus groups may increase the validity and reliability of the research.

The results should give the museum managers insight into their target group and practical suggestions for developing its marketing strategy. However what the research will not do is give findings such as ‘x% families in the catchment area would consider visiting Hiraeth’. The findings will not give a market assessment, but should give insight into family behaviour, which can influence and guide the marketing strategy for this target group.