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  • Tony Jones

Inclusive research methods: how Wavehill takes a person centred approach to survey design.

High quality research and data is the cornerstone of our work. Through our collaborative approach, through industry best practice and accreditations, we continually strive to improve our processes and develop methodologies to ensure the best outcomes for our clients. One aspect of this has been to focus to ensure a more inclusive approach to research methods.

Why is inclusive research important?

We are increasingly focused on incorporating inclusive research practices across different aspects of our work. This stems in part from an internal ED&I focus on developing an inclusive culture and work environment for all our colleagues. A recognition that not all disabilities are seen, so taking a more inclusive approach to our communications and our outputs enables our work to be more widely available. It also comes from our work with our clients. Acknowledging that the organisations, stakeholders, and communities we work with as part of our research and evaluations may not otherwise be adequately represented. This is particularly important as better representation though our research can impact future project and programme design, determine funding allocations and impact on policy development.

We therefore continually review and seek out best practice to ensure, where appropriate, we can take an inclusive approach to design to improve our research methodologies. This ensures better outcomes in terms of data collected, which leads to more insightful analysis through greater representation of differing views.

Surveys and primary research; what are the barriers?

In England it is estimated that around 1 in 6 people have poor literacy skills, whilst government guidelines recommend that all communication should be aimed at an average reading age of 9 year olds. Yet the language used in many survey tools often exceeds this. It is therefore important to understand not only what our clients’ expectations of a project outcome are, but also the needs of the people we are surveying. At Wavehill these include considerations around language, format, and accessibility.

Importance of language.

A key part of our research design process is making sure that we engage at the right level for the interviewee. In some cases, survey questions use complicated language that for example groups who use English as an additional language or young people not in education, employment, or training (NEETs) may find difficult to understand let alone answer.

Our research team adapts and changes the language used, depending on the cohort they are engaging in. We worked for example, with a group of refugees and migrants to gather their views of a service provider, where in many cases English was their second or third language. We made a number of adjustments including using translators from their local communities to build trust, which in turn better supported the survey process. We also developed an easy read privacy notice and documents to support several workshops we hosted. Typically used for those with a visual impairment, easy-read documents use short, simple sentences and images to explain the content. In this case it also helped our facilitator uncover key insights for the client.

Choosing the correct format to ensure accessibility.

To ensure we get the best possible data from our surveys we need to be mindful of the format a survey takes. Some cohorts that we work with do not have the skills to use online tools to share their views. Others may lack access to IT equipment, data or broadband. So reasonable adjustments need to be made to support these individuals. Others may face physical barriers or experience poor mental health that might otherwise preclude them from sharing their views.

Each delivery method requires a bespoke approach. In a recent project for example, we found that Teams video interviews were the most effective with people who have Autism as some interviewees had anxiety about leaving the house but needed to see the face of the person who was interviewing them.

Continual improvements; the Wavehill approach

Our in-house Research Team completes over 1,000 interviews annually and speaks with a wide range of people from different sectors and industries, from academics and businesses to underrepresented groups, characteristics, and communities. As noted, we use a variety of methodologies as each cohort requires a different approach when gathering their views. This includes a combination of tactics from street interviews, face-to-face interviews, phone interviews, Teams interviews or online surveys, as well as workshops and group sessions. These approaches aim to get the best responses from the different cohorts of people we are interviewing or surveying.

We are always looking at ways to raise the quality of responses from surveys conducted. In a recent internal knowledge share session with the whole company, the Research Team highlighted common problems with certain questions or language used, and how this can impact getting good data. This type of continual feedback loop ensures we maintain standards and have a consistent approach. When planning a survey we therefore consider a range of factors appropriate for the group we are interviewing and what the project requirements are. This can include:

  • an internal review to screen and evaluate surveys before they are agreed with a client. This looks at the language used and whether it is right for the people we will be interviewing. it considers if the language used is jargon free, appropriate, understandable and easy for people to take part.

  • considerations regarding format and delivery method of the target cohort. This includes consideration of how best to achieve qualitative insights through survey design and quantitative outputs considering appropriate online approaches.

  • options to role play the survey before it goes live. This allows the team to identify any problem questions and possible solutions. It also enables better planning that considers for example survey timings and duration, language, and issues around accessibility.

Taking the time to ensure our processes are more inclusive has resulted in better quality responses. This makes for more efficient analysis once the data has been collected. It also leads to more insightful reporting for our client. Those we interview have their views better represented and a stronger voice in the evaluation process. This gives clients a more accurate view of the impact of their project, programme, fund, or policy initiative.


This process does not necessarily require big changes to be made. By taking a person centered approach, we have found that making small adjustments in our work that are mindful of the end user can have a huge impact. We are continually looking to improve our approach and are continually learning and adapting as we work with our clients, stakeholders, and different communities.

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