Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Canada: consumer-satisfaction

We should hear much more of this sort of thing

We live in a consumers-society and the 'services' that disabled people and their families have displayed before them are redolent with the rhetoric of choice.

Yet so much involved with those services is run on lines so very different from those that underlie the supply of retail goods, where to a very large degree consumers do exercise choice, and providers are very aware of what will happen to themselves and their organisations if they do not take maximum account of this.

Surprising, therefore that investigation of the worth of Conductive Education is usually unquestionedly left to quite different mechanisms, and that is it so very rare to see the results of a simple consumer surveys.

Just published is the latest issues of the newsletter of the Conductive Education Newsletter of March of Dimes Canada, which includes just such a survey.

No big deal here. Participants attending Fall 2008 sessions oat MODC's three CE sites were surveyed on some simple ad hoc questionnaire. There is scant detail on who asked what of whom, and reported analysis is restricted to simple histograms. Were it all to have been fully reported, then one can be sure that the whole exercise could be soon shot through with academic holes.

But try a little 'thought experiment'. Think what would the state of your local food store if selection of brands to stock, ordering, inventories etc were reliant upon the people, the methods and the institutions of academic 'research'.

There would not be much on the shelves. In fact, there might not be many shelves. There might not even be a store.

Cheap and cheerful, quick and dirty, rough and ready
Above all investigation that is functional

Of course there is room for proper academic research but meantime the world has to go on, decisions have to be made, human judgement has to be exercised. Examine the histograms from Canada. Form your own judgements and raise your own questions (and doubts).

As for the distant world of academe, consider what research questions and hypothesis it might consider important on the basis of simple enquiries like this, what paradigms and research modalities it might consider relevant.

Yes, of course 'more research is needed', 'but research of different kinds, done by different people and for different social ends.

CE bodies of different kinds around the world must have carried out all sorts of informal consumer-satisfaction exercises over the years. The problem is that the results of such enquiries are rarely if ever published, so nobody outside the institution directly involved ever hears about them, wheels have to be invented and reinvented, no groundswell of understanding builds up.

It may be no more than coincidence but the first of the few such exercises of which I have been aware was carried out in the self-same area, Ontario (Sutton 1994). That was fifteen years years ago and, though the investigation undertaken was ad hoc to the extreme, one sees the same sort of themes emerging in terms of what sorts of outcomes mentioned. Of course this sort of stuff is not 'research' in any academic sense but I see no real grounds for thinking that most research questions are founded on anything more substantively relevant.

So, congratulations to March of Domes for arranging this survey and for making its results public. Please, other people, follow its example. And make sure that any researchers who in future beg as much as a penny from you (sorry, dime) know that the results of consumer-surveys strongly suggest what is important to customers, and that in future the burden of proof will be on them (the researchers) if they want to argue any other topic of investigation.


– (2009) Conductive Education Consumer Survey results, Conductive Education Newsletter, Fall/Winter 2009

Sutton, A. (1994b) Hypothesis, The Conductor, nos.3-4 (Special Double Research Issue), p. 62

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