Oxfam's online research guidelines, first launched three years ago, have proved to be very popular. And three more guidelines have recently been added to the set: Conducting focus groups, Planning survey research, and Writing an executive summary.
The guidelines were initially written for Oxfam staff and partner organisations, but since they were made public they have proved to be among the most downloaded of Oxfam's online resources, used by academics and their field assistants as well as by development workers commissioning, managing, and undertaking research themselves. The guideline on Conducting semi-structured interviews has even been cited a number of times in academic papers and reports.
Focus groups and surveys are among the most widely used methods in development research and evaluation at community level. The studies undertaken by Oxfam and its partners often involve one or the other, and sometimes both. Research on Women’s Collective Action, for example, included rigorous household surveys and focus group discussions in different local communities and agricultural sectors in Ethiopia, Mali and Tanzania. A mixture of methods including these two is also being used in Oxfam's ongoing WE-Care (Women's Economic Empowerment and Care) initiative.
Where possible, Oxfam's Effectiveness Reviews are based on survey research. The first in-depth follow-up study of one of these impact evaluations, which was about a disaster risk management programme in Pakistan, also made extensive use of focus group discussions.
These are, of course, not the only research methods that Oxfam uses. Some are already the subject of research guidelines; others will be added, including a guideline on sampling for surveys (currently in draft).
As well as methods, the guidelines cover different aspects of the research process, including the communication of research. The new guideline on Writing an executive summary comes under this heading. It is also planned to expand the series to include guides to understanding important research concepts, together with a sub-series of short case studies of research practice that illustrate different methods and processes.
Here is the full list of published research guidelines, some of which are also available in French and Spanish: