Kidney Research UK: Finding and understanding supporter audiences

Just over a year ago we were lucky enough to be asked to deliver a piece of work for Kidney Research UK to better understand their audiences and, although it’s clichéd to say this, it has given me a different perspective on the people who live with Kidney Disease, their friends and relatives.

This is one of the reasons I love qualitative research projects, people opening up and sharing their experiences is always moving and I feel a huge sense of responsibility to convey those experiences as accurately as I can to the charity I am working for.

I thought it would be useful to write this blog to share some of what worked well on the project, the bits I think I’d do differently next time and just how powerful qualitative research can be, to inspire anyone thinking of embarking on a similar project (and if you ever want to chat about stuff like this I’m always keen, just get in touch.

5 things that worked well and made the insight useful

1. We started with numbers

Perhaps unusually for a predominantly qualitative project, we started by quantifying the audience. Generally known as ‘market sizing’ this is basically figuring out, with a fair bit of desk research and some modelling, how many people might be interested in what the charity do. Using freely available data and internal stats we figured out that there were groups of people who might support Kidney Research and compared those volumes to current supporters and some other charity benchmarks.

We then ran a workshop looking at everything the charity currently knew about those audiences, along with everything we could get from freely available (and reliable) sources like the NHS, ONS, research by CAF & NCVO etc. This gave us a great starting point for the qualitative project by helping us to identify groups we wanted to know more about and a bunch of questions we could only answer by speaking to people in depth about their experiences, views and motivation.


2. We created propositions to test

As well as having a lot of broad topics to explore we also created some written propositions to understand the different ways Kidney Research UK might communicate about their work.

We worked on these with a fab team, including Jaz Nannar, who had worked with Kidney Research UK on developing their legacy proposition, Bill Hinchen, a copy writer at Kidney Research as well as Lucy Sreeves and Yvette Bell from Kidney Research UK’s fundraising team and BoldLight’s Chris Smyth who brought his creative eye.

In a day we whizzed through the ways Kidney Research UK could ask for support and honed these afterwards into one-page descriptions of why people might support the charity. These were excellent prompts in the group, they helped us to really explore in depth how people viewed the different aspects of the charity’s work.

3. We got great participants

As any qualitative researcher will tell you this is fundamental to the project, but not always easy to do. We recruited some participants through internal channels and that worked well to understand a current supporter’s perspective. We also worked with a great agency called Healthcare Fieldwork to recruit people who didn’t know Kidney Research UK already. They did a great job at finding people who met our different audience criteria and were happy to chat in a focus group environment.

4. People were able to watch

Two of the groups were run at a studio near Cambridge, allowing staff from Kidney Research UK to watch the groups. This is always useful for a client to be able to do, and these groups were no exception.

The Kidney Research UK team were able to see people’s passion, emotions and reactions first-hand. After the groups, the people who had been there as observers were buzzing and thinking about the ways they could use what they’d heard. They also participated in the presentation back to the wider team, sharing how the groups they had seen fitted into the bigger picture.

I used two facilities I would highly recommend for this (for the point where we are able to do this kind of work again!) in Birmingham and in Sawston near Cambridge.


5. The atmosphere was right

Perhaps the most important aspect of this particular project was sensitive handling of emotional experiences in a group setting.

The group size was important for this, we kept each group to 5 people to make sure there was plenty of time for everyone to talk about their experiences and not feel rushed. We also made sure that the group were comfortable with one another, establishing an open and relaxed feel from the start.

I knew this had worked ok when afterwards participants said they had enjoyed the groups and some even described it as cathartic. It’s a tricky line to tread between listening empathetically for research and slipping into a counselling or group therapy role and I think my psychology background really helps with that.

I try to keep an eye on how deep we are getting and how comfortable people are, body language is key here, and gently steer people to keep it on track. It’s challenging to get this right, and something I will always be learning.

The bit I can do better

No piece of work is ever perfect, and there were elements I think could be done better, (and I think sharing these is at least as helpful as the list above of what went well!).

Communicating the results more widely

I presented the results back to Kidney Research UK in a big meeting, where I ran through key findings by audience and people asked lots of questions to explore the findings. This worked really well, but I think the downside was that for anyone not there my Keynote slides were ok, but didn’t convey the nuances my presentation did. I have been wondering how to do that better next time and, partly inspired by all the recent online conferences, next time I will record a video version to share more widely. This may take a bit more time (and me having to watch myself on video – argh!) but I think it will be worth that to have a better tool to share the findings.

I also think I would do more to summarise the findings, I did this later for the agency working on a separate project and it was a good exercise to do a few weeks later, when I was a little less immersed in the data.

I run a course for the Institute of Fundraising Insight SIG on Communicating Insight where I reference the fact that it took Darwin twice as long to write the Origin of the Species than to sail around the world and collect all the evidence, and it’s a good reminder to me that you can always do more to communicate the findings well.

Some final thoughts and an invitation

I used to find people a little resistant to the idea of qualitative research and I feel like this has shifted a bit. Perhaps it’s because I’m more immersed in the world of digital, where User Experience research is almost all qualitative. Or perhaps we’ve got better at seeing how powerful it can be, especially in the charity sector where the reasons people support causes are driven by emotions and experiences that can only be understood by delving a bit deeper.

I am a big fan of good qualitative research, done for the right reasons and so if you ever want to chat about how awesome it can be, or get started doing your own research, do get in touch.

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