Formative research

Formative research is a prime opportunity to start learning valuable lessons through feedback. It is an opportunity to learn about contextual factors and better understand beneficiaries and other stakeholders. It is a chance to check the thinking behind the program, and to hone the program’s design before it starts. 

What to do: 

Uncover assumptions

  • If you haven’t already, now is the time to create your learning agenda. Your learning agenda identifies the high value questions and priority areas for investigation that you believe can teach you the most fruitful lessons to help you hone your approach. 
  • Start by thinking about the causal chain through which you think your program achieves the desired result.  See the Curve tool – Theory of Change Lite
  • Identify the places in this chain where you are making assumptions. Where are there areas of uncertainty? Where might there be unknown unknowns? Even if the program follows well-established principles, the local context still needs to be taken into account. Do you know everything there is to know about the local context? What could your blind spots be?

Reveal learning opportunities

  • Now that you have identified broad areas for investigation, write specific questions for the researchers to investigate. Work with the research team to finalise the research plan. 
  • Now is the time to test your approach with beneficiaries. As part of the research, try to have some beneficiaries see or try your program. How do real people react? Does your program work as you expected?

Pause, Reflect, Act

  • When the research results are in, come together with key stakeholders to pause & reflect on what the research is saying. What have we learned? Does the research have useful lessons for how to make the program stronger?
  • Ensure the research results are shared with everyone who could learn from them. Data & learning are everyone’s business, not just the MEL team’s.