APC Trainer on.... research methodologies and techniques (T076)
You could use all kinds of projects to show you’ve got a grip of this competence
T076 is all about testing how you approach a research task. So it’s pretty open which of your experiences you call on in the final assessment to demonstrate you’re up to speed with this one. The main thing is that you show, at level 1, your knowledge of different collation and manipulation techniques, and at levels 2 and 3, your ability to select and apply these techniques in response to client requirements. Both of the higher competency levels make reference to clients, so although internal research and benchmarking exercises may be useful in demonstrating your competence, you also need to have been involved in client facing work.
Question Please explain the area in which you have been conducting research and talk through the data sources and manipulation techniques commonly used.
Response First you need to outline an area of research that you have been dealing with. For example a suitable scenario would be a project undertaking research into the cost of meeting new sustainability targets for residential developments. You could also explain whether the research project constituted primary research which generated new data or information, or if it was secondary research involving the collation and manipulation of existing data.
For the types of research assignment undertaken in a construction cost consulting environment there could be a wide range of data sources which could generically be categorised as:
• Internal Data – Taken from in house data bases and experienced opinion
• Market Tested Data – Where specific queries are made with the supply chain regarding rates , prices, constructability and the like
• Industry Guidance – Industry specific data sources such as the BCIS cost information service www.bcis.co.uk/, Reed Construction Data www.reedconstructiondata.com/, Experian, the Construction Products Association and the data published on the Building web site www.building.co.uk
• Government Guidance – Government collated data such as that available from the National Statistics Building and Construction data www.statistics.gov.uk/CCI/nscl.asp?ID=5316
• Past Research – In some scenarios it would be applicable to use previously published research to source some of the required data
• Structured Interviewing – For qualitative data collation a series of structured or semi-structured interviews could be used with the participants drawn from a representative sample of the total population being studied
• Questionnaires – Questionnaires can be a good way to collate data although response rates can often be low making the sample sometimes difficult to control in terms of how well it represents the profile of the group being studied
Analysis and manipulation techniques will vary significantly depending on the scenario so the candidate should be specific about what types of collation and analysis have been undertaken. This will often be easiest to present by talking through the overall approach used and explaining how each technique was applied. Typical techniques that may apply would include:
• Simple tabulation and consolidation of data in excel spreadsheets
• Entry and analysis of the information in a database
• Charting ranges of values for particular items
• Using simple or more complex statistical analysis on larger data sets to determine mean values, standard deviations and the like
• Approaches to sampling
• Using the data to inform or provide the basis for a quantitative risk analysis
• Preparation of benchmark figures from data sets
• Sensitivity analysis to determine ranges of outcome and identify critical inputs to the analysis
• Regression analysis to understand the relationships between different influencing factors
Question Please expand on the methodology and particular techniques used in a recent research project you worked on and how these were informed by the client’s requirements.
Response How you respond to this will depend on your own experience, but here’s a good framework for the discussion:
• Client Requirements – How were the client’s requirements identified and confirmed
• Scoping – Based on the requirements, how was the research task scoped, what was the basis of forming a base model and identifying the variables involved in the task
• Data Collection – Given the various areas of information required for the research, where were these sourced from and in each case how was assurance provided that the data sources were appropriate and accurate
• Analysis – What analytical methods were used to manipulate the information
• Sensitivity Testing – What sensitivity analysis was undertaken to asses the variability in the outputs
• Reporting – How was the analysis consolidated and reported. What methods of presenting the information were used to ensure effective communication
You should refer back at each stage to the client requirements and how the methods or approaches taken were linked to these requirements. Expansion should also be provided on areas of particular interest. For example, in the sustainability research mentioned earlier a key factor was the selection of the research building types to be used. These required careful consideration such that the findings for each type could be used to generalise the outputs to the total population of new housing in the UK.
Question With reference to your sample project, please explain how the results of the research were interpreted and how the findings informed the client.
Response Again, your response will be based on a particular project that you have undertaken. The candidate should explain how the findings were presented to the client and any problems encountered. Of interest would be how from the analysis work, more general conclusions were drawn and what advice was thus provided to the client.
The candidate should also seek to identify a few instances where problems were encountered with the research and how these were overcome. For example in the sustainable housing research a problem was identified with instability in the pricing levels of certain new technologies and a separate analysis was required to forecast how pricing levels would vary over time as demand and supply chain capacity developed. There may also have been factors emerge in the research that were not envisaged at the outset, for example trends in fuel prices may not have been within the research scope but were found to be affecting the pricing and thus viability of alternative energy solutions. In this case the candidate would wish to demonstrate how such factors were identified, raised with the Client and responded to within the research project.
Alastair Bloore is head of management consulting at Cyril Sweett
APC Trainer's advice is intended as guidance only and should not replace your own study