What can I learn from small-scale research?

You should be aware that small-scale research only gives you insight into the diversity of needs, contexts and concerns of your target group. So you need to be clear about what you can conclude from your small-scale research. Two issues are central: (1) Are you able to answer your questions? (2) Will the answers represent your target group as a whole?

(1) Some questions may be difficult to answer because people:

  • may not understand or may misunderstand your questions
  • don't know clearly what the answer is (for example, what their motivations are)
  • may not want to tell you everything (because they are polite, because they want to protect their privacy or self-image, because they want to influence your conclusions, etc.)
  • may be more enthusiastic about energy saving in principle than in practice, because they haven’t actually experienced all the problems and barriers yet.

The more you spend time with people and the closer you get to them (for example, both interviewing and observing), the better you will be able to judge whether you are getting proper answers to your questions. Then, of course, you cannot do this with a large number of people. 

(2) Will the answers represent your target group as a whole?

  • A survey is the easiest way to get a ‘representative sample’, for example if almost everyone in your target group responds. But even most surveys also include ‘self-selection’, which usually means that the most energy-conscious people (or people with some other particular agenda) will respond most eagerly.
  • Personal interviews and field studies are rarely ‘representative’. You should go for as much diversity as possible. If you expect certain kinds of people to be problematic, try to make sure you talk with them as well. You cannot conclude how well these people are represented in your total target group, but you will have an idea of what kind of variation to expect.