How should a multidisciplinary team approach research if they don’t have a research background? At the ODI, we have commissioned a best practice research toolkit to foster good research practice across the expertise of the team. Here we share the toolkit – and programme lead Miranda Marcus discusses its application across ODI research

In my last blog I talked about how we approach our R&D programme through the lens of practical advocacy. The next step is to apply practical advocacy through our research and development projects. To take this work forward, in year 2 of our R&D programme, we set up two interdisciplinary teams of researchers, domain experts, consultants, developers and designers.

We define research as ‘good quality’ if it has been undertaken in a systematic and carefully considered way, with a clear, defensible explanation of the approach and how researchers arrived at their findings.

To meet this definition of good-quality research, and to provide a robust framework for our team members – some of whom do not have a research background – we commissioned a toolkit of best practice research guides. This aimed to provide us with internal guidance around best practice research and to utilise the expertise of the team effectively; but also to explore how to best tackle ‘data’ – a sometimes tricky and mutable area – as a research topic.

At the ODI, we are committed to working in the open, to sharing what we do, and to learning together – we believe it is important to share the process as well as the final tool or guide. We are therefore sharing the guide for external use, and also sharing our thoughts around implementation.

Research toolkit

We commissioned research, design and learning consultant Dr Nissa Ramsay of Think Social to work in collaboration with our R&D team to develop a best practice research guides toolkit in February/March 2018. Read Nissa’s blog about the process of developing the guide here.

The guides within the toolkit were created following sector research on the most helpful guides which already exist online, alongside user research with the team. They were intended to be a useful starting point, to get our teams thinking about the language around research, and to give team members – of all backgrounds and disciplines – confidence in thinking about research in a critical and constructive way. As such, they are pitched to practitioners needing guidance when undertaking research in multi-disciplinary and agile teams, rather than for research experts.

Since March, we have been using, testing and refining the guides. We found that they have been a great resource for our researchers, but we did find that there were challenges in drawing on traditional research methodologies in the context of our agile research projects – which cross over from alpha and discovery research, right through to development and full-scale research.

We found the guides most helpful in the discovery and alpha stages of projects, particularly when they involved substantive user research or sector research and scoping. The guidance around interviewing techniques, research methods, and consent have been invaluable – but possibly not so applicable to the later stages of the projects - when we moved into development and delivery stages. Of all the guides created, we made most use of the Research Project Design Framework and now implement this for each of our research projects. This has helped us document and critically inform our research consistently across the teams and projects.

You can find more information about the tools and guides below.


  • Research Project Design Framework [template document]
    • For each of our research projects – once the project has been fully scoped and the focus area has been identified – the teams complete the Research Project Design Framework which connects to the additional guides created.
    • The framework helps researchers critically consider and document how they intend to deliver a piece of research or a research project. It is intended to help users check that there is a solid rationale behind the research choices and help create actionable research findings and informed evaluation metrics.
  • Doing social research: practical guides and online tools [spreadsheet]
    • This is a register of useful research resources which focus on the practicalities of doing research. They have been recommended by professionals in applied social research. It also  Includes online tools for research/evaluation/communication
  • Guide to research methods [presentation]
    • Introduces a range of qualitative and quantitative methods, outlining this limitations and value of each, encouraging the consideration of other methods.


  • Guide to research questions
    • Differentiates between research goals, problem, main questions and sub questions, describing how to design and phrase a good questions
  • Guide to informed consent
    • Sets out the principles of informed consent
    • Includes templates for information to give and forms for people to sign
    • general public and stakeholders
    • Still needs testing and developing to fit ODI new projects and context
  • Guide to research incentives
    • A research incentive is any form of reward, compensation or thank you to a research participant to encourage their participation in a research project. It is often a monetary reward or voucher. The guide sets out what you need to consider when offering incentives.
  • Guide to sampling
    • Includes information about sample size and accessibility
    • Outlines types of sampling methods
    • Explains statistical significance and confidence intervals
    • Relevant to both qualitative and quantitative research
  • Guide to analysing qualitative data
    • Includes sections on focusing analysis
    • Discusses categorising and coding
    • Explains how to run collaborative analysis and coding sessions
    • Explores the use of software for analysis and coding

Find all resources in the ODI ’Best practice research guides’ folder.

We hope you've found this useful. If you have comments or experience that you'd like to share, pitch us a blog or tweet us at @ODIHQ.

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