President & CEO of The NHP Foundation, not-for-profit provider of affordable housing.
As affordable housing practitioners, we know that every decision we make affects the thousands of residents living in our communities. And since no good decisions were ever made in a vacuum, The NHP Foundation relies on timely, cogent research to drive the work we do for low- to middle-income renters. Results like this can provide important insight into an audience that an organization needs to know more about in order to assist.
Case Studies: Our Approach To Industry Research
• As the pandemic continued to cause distress for renters, landlords and ancillary businesses, The NHPF undertook research to help shed light on specifically what is most stressful for those living and working in affordable housing. We shared the study with our industry peers, enabling all to benefit and make smart business decisions based on the same reliable data. This “open-source” approach to data pays dividends for all, as businesses adapt a playbook for the next pandemic or other crisis.
• We also partnered on a study with real estate research and consulting firm Kingsley Associates to seek real estate investor input on deterrents to affordable housing investment. Kingsley conducted in-depth interviews with 30 key decision-makers in the institutional investment world and determined three top industry challenges: onerous rules and regulations, miseducation and affordable housing investments made solely to meet a mandate. Working with information like this, organizations can create new strategies for beginning conversations and nurturing relationships.
• Conducting solid research on metrics that move more slowly than others — that tend to stay stable without drastic year-to-year variances — creates data with staying power. This means your research can be impactful and useful for decision-making for up to several years after it’s published. Our study looking at how those nearing retirement were saving for medical and living expenses was produced three years ago and is still factored into our understanding of baby boomers today.
• A great example of how quality research can work hard for an organization happened when Representative Suzan Delbene (D-WA) argued for housing spending before Congress in 2019. To bolster her claim for investing in infrastructure, particularly affordable housing, she said cited data from our research. This statement was entered into the Congressional Hearing record and shared with all lawmakers, proving that the value of good data is sometimes incalculable.
Making Quality Research A Part Of Your Organization
For real estate companies, not-for-profits and others looking to develop and leverage their own quality research, here are three questions to explore.
1. What do you want the research to do? If your research need is solely for internal use, like new business presentations, results reporting or to get staff feedback on issues or needs, tap a competent, curious staffer to start small with a DIY questionnaire distributed in-house through a service like Survey Monkey. But don’t stop there — be sure to compile the results into an action plan to demonstrate the importance of gathering input and “rewarding” those who participated. If you’re looking at research as a way to burnish company reputation through marketing and media coverage of your results, determine a hot topic you’d like researched. Be sure to do a thorough Google search to make sure the topic hasn’t been massively covered. Next, create a strategy for packaging and distributing the results. This could include choosing a spokesperson and creating a press release to get the word out, plus lots of social media.
2. Do you need to make internal hires to make research happen? If the organization has it in its budget, a director of research can be invaluable for driving internal and external surveying and providing analysis of it for all kinds of measurements within a business. However, if your teams can up their own game in terms of keeping track of their sector’s data, there are reports they can issue themselves with minimal training. For surveys of consumers or particular interest groups (landlords with housing portfolios or institutional investors, for example), it’s best to retain outside experts. We have trusted firms, including Toluna or Wakefield, for consumer market research and Kingsley Associates for specific real estate expertise.
3. What are the research best practices that will help you reach your goals? For consumer market research driven by surveys, it is important to consider sample size. The experts recommend no fewer than 500 respondents and 1,000 is even better. If it is important to have certain population segments represented (by age, ethnicity, geographic region, etc.), be sure to inform the survey company. These “extras” will impact your budget, but without them, your survey could fall flat. Typically, you will be responsible for creating the questions, and the survey company will shape and edit for clarity. It is very helpful to check out past surveys in your industry to help craft questions as well as mini focus groups with your team.
Finally, the old adage “share and share alike” is important to remember. Distributing reliable, information-packed studies to colleagues and others helps to lift an entire industry.