Fact-finding is a research process that involves the systematic investigation, discovery, and analysis of a problem or challenge, with the ultimate aim of deriving a solution for action. There are several use cases in an organizational or business setting that may require such a structured process. To illustrate this, here are a few common settings:
- Requirements analysis: A technology requirements analysis is conducted prior to the implementation of any new or updated piece of technology. A fact-finding process is needed to effectively identify problem areas with regards to existing technology implementation, which may cut across people and process issues, and not just technology (i.e. hardware and software) issues.
- Business process re-engineering: Fact-finding research is used extensively in business process re-engineering initiatives to identify pain-points and inefficiencies along the process chain. Issues may be caused by people, process, and technology factors, and a comprehensive research process is needed to make sense of the different forms of input.
- Vision and goal setting: An organization may wish to establish a roadmap for the future, as a rapidly changing environment is forcing the organization to evolve or adapt. A fact-finding research is employed as a structured tool for discovering and collating all inputs from members of the organization, and is conducted in such a way to minimize the risk of oversight.
- Product and marketing: A company may have an under-performing product or service that the market is not taking well, and the company wishes to know why. A fact-finding research is employed to discover the underlying factors causing the poor market penetration in hopes of finding a right solution.
As observed above, fact-finding research is often employed to collect data and information where the situational environment is complex. In such situations, the root causes of a problem may be attributed to a combination of several factors. Fact-finding is a powerful research tool in such situations not only due to its comprehensive coverage of problem bases, but also provides a framework to identify which problems (or combination of problems) are the key causes and thus should be prioritized.
Removing Change Barriers via Fact-Finding
One of the more impactful applications for fact-finding research is in organizational change management. Change management refers to the holistic management process of implementing and supporting change at the individual, group, and organization level, and fact-finding is used to discover the impediments for change, or otherwise known as “change barriers”. A clear understanding and identification of change barriers resulting from a formal fact-finding research helps in the removal effort of said barriers, which is one of the key success factors behind successful change initiatives. Afterall, people are naturally resistant to change, and making it as easy as possible for people to say “yes” to change is an advantage.
There are nine aspects of change management of which fact-finding can be applied to identify change barriers. In particular, the following are some of the key questions that should be addressed by fact-finding.
- Motivation for change: Are people provided the right incentives for change?
- Vision for change: Is the urgency for change communicated effectively to people?
- Knowledge and skill: Are people equipped with the right knowledge and skill for change?
- Organizational culture: Is there a supportive organizational culture that encourages change at all levels?
- Process barriers: Are organizational processes making it difficult for change to take place?
- Leadership: Is organizational leadership supportive and actively managing change?
- Systems: Are technology systems in place to facilitate desired change?
- Performance evaluation: Are performance evaluation mechanisms in place to support change?
- Integration: Are technology processes optimized to reduce redundancies and task overload?
Fact-Finding Research Approaches
Fact-finding researches are applicable to all organizations, including businesses and government organizations. Fact-finding can be conducted internally or externally via third-party professionals. Nevertheless, the keys to an effective fact-finding research are having a structured process, effective data collection technique, and robust problem evaluation framework, regardless of whether the research is conducted in-house or not. In particular, special attention should be paid to data collection techniques. Fact-finding research often involves substantive amounts of qualitative information obtained from people with different personalities, skill levels, and agendas. Having the necessary tact and interview skills are sometimes critical to the outcome of the fact-finding research.
The following are a few fact-finding techniques relevant to the data and information types to be captured.
- Document and Data Sampling: As a first-step approach to fact-finding, data and information can be collected from existing documents within an organization. Such documents may include emails, feedback forms, audit reports, performance reviews, and other such documents.
- Interviews: One-to-one interviews are used to collect qualitative information from individuals within an organization. Interviews are best employed where the difficulty of the topics to be explored is high, and where the collection of tacit knowledge and information, such as personal experiences, is critical to the research. Interviews can be structured or unstructured.
- Surveys: Surveys such as polls and questionnaires are techniques used to collect quantitative data. They are employed where the numerical conclusion is important to highlight a particular problem. Whereas qualitative findings provide depth, quantitative findings provide the breadth to support a conclusion. Surveys are generally structured.
- Site Visits and Observations: Site visits and observations are generally considered non-intrusive, which allows the researcher to gather information in an environment that is as close to the natural environment as possible. This technique enables the researcher to incorporate his own experience into the findings.
- Mystery Shopping: Mystery shopping is a variant of the site visit and observation technique, with the exception that the true identity of researcher is not revealed. This technique is commonly used for audit or performance evaluation fact-finding purposes.
- Focus Groups: Focus groups are used to collect qualitative information from a group, and they can be structured or unstructured. The advantages of focus groups over personal interviews are in the numbers of participants in each sitting of a focus group. In addition, focus groups allow the natural refinement of insights arising from the group discussion to be captured. Workshops and brainstorming sessions are variations of the focus group technique.
- Community Tracking: Community tracking is similar to the focus group but participants are engaged on a longer time horizon, which can stretch up to weeks. Due to the prohibitive cost of conducting such fact-finding researches, online technology is often used to build a virtual community whereby participants agree to be a part of.