Should I pay for information and if so, how much?

“Should I pay for information?”

It’s a common theme in some research projects where data may not be readily or easily accessible. To answer, you need to consider some questions:

  • What kind of information does the project need?
  • Is it only available to paying customers?
  • Do I trust the source of the information?
  • Do I need primary research or secondary?
  • How can I validate any data it contains?
  • Will it add significant value to my report and insights?

For researchers working in impact investment and the green economy, finding new knowledge and data can be crucial to the decision making process. As a proposal edges closer towards the funding panel’s decision, the onus is upon the researcher to decide its validity and potential worth as an investment, and compile evidence accordingly. The fiduciary responsibility towards their clients’ holdings weighs heavily upon them and their ability to judge the merit of any investment proposal.

The data is out there

The data is certainly out there. Insightflow has already begun compiling a list of free data resources in the green economy, which you’ll find by clicking here. Additionally, we have created a library of Green Economy data and information which is free to access on our website. Registering for free on Insightflow.io will give you access to free information libraries on both the green economy and D&I. 

For more specific information, however, it may be necessary to find sources which require payment. Buying finished reports is the easiest and, naturally, the most expensive way of locating secondary research, and the caveats regarding validity and trust still apply.

An alternative method is subscribing to a data service, which will give you access to a lot of information, but which will require more legwork to both sift, synthesize and then make sense of in terms of your project’s ultimate aims. It may also be prohibitively expensive, and appear surplus to your requirements once your current project is complete. By creating a research repository of that less useful data, you can capture and use it in future projects.

The resource conundrum

The final option is to conduct your own primary research, which can be time-consuming and resource heavy. However, you will at least know – or should, assuming your processes are correct – that the data and information you uncover is valid and appropriate to your project. This is particularly important if your research aim is to ultimately present a case for funding. 

Researchers in fields such as market research have access to much more data, thanks to the businesses which service the sector. An entire industry has sprung up over recent years to service marketing departments and market researchers. From companies which will design your questionnaires and surveys through to firms who provide custom materials and the audience to discuss them. It’s an industry within an industry.

Buyer beware

A potential downside is that for respondents, too, it has become a business. Many people worked out that they could earn money by responding to surveys and questionnaires, as Prolific found out in July 2021, when a teenager went viral on TikTok:

“Welcome to side hustles I recommend trying — part one,” she says in the video, pointing users to the website Prolific.co. “Basically, it’s a bunch of surveys for different amounts of money and different amounts of time.” – A Teenager on TikTok disrupted thousands of scientific studies with a single video, The Verge.

That one video was watched 4.1 million times in the first month. It’s easy to see how damaging it was and how any data collected as a result could be impacted, and it is a salient lesson for researchers looking for a quick data fix in an attempt to speed up the process. Insightflow has devoted some time to this subject, as Sophiia deFaia discusses in her article, Bad research, bad data

Paying for information can speed up your process, but the cost must be weighed against the benefits. 

How valuable will the data you plan to buy be, in terms of answering the question posed by your research? If it is key to the project, then ensuring its validity is paramount, which is something Insightflow discussed here. Validating third-party data presents its own, unique problems and may prove to be more time consuming than conducting your own primary research. That must be weighed up by the team before any decision is made. 

Ultimately, the questions your team need to answer before outsourcing any data needs are:

  • Do we really need third-party data?
  • Can we justify the cost?
  • What will we do with the data afterwards?
  • How can we validate any data we acquire?
  • Does it add enough value to the overall aim of the research project?

If you can answer those questions positively, then you’re ready to look for new, commercial data services.

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