What is social research?

If you’re trying to understand exactly what is social research, you’ve come to the right place. Acumen are leaders at market research fieldwork and we have a dedicated B2B and Social Research department for this important and specialist area.

Social research is widely understood within the market research industry to mean public sector research using participants who may be hard to reach, disenfranchised or vulnerable.

Finding participants for social research is like advanced fieldwork. At times our social research team needs to work like detectives to find participants matching very specific criteria. 

In addition to being experienced at market research fieldwork methods, our Social Research team has the right community links, adaptability and key personal skills for this work. It’s not all about finding hard-to-reach participants, it’s also about persuading them to take part, and getting meaningful insights from the research.

If you need a market research agency for your social research project, get in touch with us to find out how we can help. 

Ring 0161 234 9940 or email costings@acumenfieldwork.com.


Examples of societal research

Social research tends to involve speaking to people about politics, social agencies and public policy. For example, it may involve holding focus groups for victims of crime to allow them to feed back on what the process of reporting the crime was. 

It usually centres around the public sector, although Acumen does social research work with the private sector too. Clients range from parts of the government, the police force, charities or start-ups. 

One of Acumen’s recent societal research projects was to recruit marginalised voices in the community to find out about their experience of accessing public services during the pandemic. This is a perfect example of finding hard-to-reach participants to reflect back their experiences of specific government services. 

Without feedback from the people using the services, government departments and civil servants are doing what empowerment coach Tara Mohr refers to as ’designing at the whiteboard’ – making guesses about what people need and how to deliver it, instead of asking them.

Let’s take a closer look at this marginalised voices case study so you can get a fuller understanding of the field.


Social research: a case study

Social research may also be called social policy research, public policy research, societal research, communities research, or research for the disengaged or vulnerable. They’re all focused on the same thing: getting feedback from hard-to-reach people in society about their experiences of public services or policy.

During the Coronavirus crisis, Acumen was asked to look into how the pandemic was impacting certain communities differently. Particularly, the research required looking at the strain within the provision of public services for those on the margins of society. 

Our client wanted a deeper understanding of the barriers faced by people who identified as belonging to some specific marginalised communities. 

The project required more than 200 participants from backgrounds as diverse as members of the LGB community, Traveller communities, transgender men and women, people with life-limiting conditions, and victims of sex trafficking.


Hard-to-reach voices for societal research

Acumen has a huge database of opt-in market research participants, as well as a well-established social media presence created over years. However, for this social research project, it wasn’t enough to find the types of voices our client needed.

We overcame this by developing new contacts, individualising our screening style and researching extensively. 

First, we sought out grass-roots campaigners and community members to aid with recruitment among wary asylum-seekers and trafficking victims.

Next, we screened respectfully, via indirect and conversational style questions, to ensure transgender participants and victims of sexual harassment were represented in the study.

Elderly and homeless groups were sourced mostly through family members. They received IT assistance when needed, to ensure their participation. 

In addition to compliance, we were keenly aware of our safeguarding responsibilities. We created a policy on how to respond to disclosures of harm or trauma from some of the most vulnerable participants in the study.


Marginalised voices research: the outcome

As a result of our fieldwork, recruiting hard-to-reach voices, our client held online focus groups and gathered feedback from hundreds of people from the diverse communities outlined above. 

Much of the work persuading participants to take part was done through a combination of online outreach, long telephone discussions and sharing information on the goals of this important initiative. 

Through our perseverance, flexible and varied approach, combined with inspired thinking, the client was able to engage with people who are often stigmatised, marginalised or otherwise underrepresented in market research.

You can read more about the marginalised voices case study here. Acumen was nominated for an industry award for our work on this social research project.


Work with Acumen on social research

We hope this page has answered your question ‘what is social research?’ and given an indication of how and why we excel in this specialist area.

If you’d like to take the next step on your social research project with Acumen, contact us on 0161 234 9940 or email costings@acumenfieldwork.com or use the CONTACT form on our website.

No project is too big or too small, and we look forward in helping you get your social research project off the ground and delivering the research outcomes you’re looking for.