In simple terms, a research consultant is a specialist in the area of conducting field research. Picture the difference between the primary care doctor you go to see for an annual check-up or when you have an annoying cough you just can’t seem to get rid of, versus a visit to a cardiologist for concerns about a more complex condition like heart disease. A research consultant is trained and prepared to perform this specialized skill needed to carryout research related services. These services usually include gathering pertinent and relevant information and the ability to analyze the data. The exact role of a research consultant will vary depending on the needs of a project and the industry served. There are many different types of research consultants – education, industry, market, clinical – but in all cases there’s an expectation regarding the level of experience, expertise knowledge and education that a consultant will bring to the table.
One reason you may need to hire a research consultant is because there is an art to collecting data. A well-trained consultant will know what data are relevant for the questions you’re trying to answer, the best method to collect the data and the right tools or instruments to use to gather the data. Consider for example, just because someone can write a few questions, group them together on paper, call it a survey, and get people to fill it out, doesn’t mean they have good, valid or reliable data. The average person – no matter how brilliant – usually is not trained on how to intellectually develop the appropriate instruments or tools or develop the right assessment questions to collect meaningful data that’s valid and reliable. But don’t worry! Most companies do not have a fulltime employee on staff who is crafted in this area. So hiring a research consultant would be your best substitute.
Secondly, once an individual or organization collects valid and reliable data, they sometimes struggle with what to do with it. It’s like getting off an airplane in Switzerland and realizing you don’t speak German, Italian or French. Now of course, you can rush to buy those infamous book series titled, “_______ for Dummies,” but that won’t tell you everything. No more than having the best database software (e.g., Access, Filemaker Pro, Paradox, etc.) or best statistical analysis software (e.g., SPSS, SAS, R) will tell you everything you want to know about your data. Like the ‘Dummies’ books, those software programs are tools. It will take an expert trained in research to analyze, interpret and report on what story the data’s telling. A research consultant will provide that specialized knowledge needed to ensure the conclusions about the findings or results are valid, reliable and credible.