Why use this guide?

For complex topics some creative organisations choose to partner with consultants or academic researchers. Understanding your options can help you to choose the right partner and manage them effectively.

What is included in this guide?

This guide includes four sections:

  • When to use a consultant or academic researcher
  • Resourcing
  • Finding the right research partner
  • Tips for managing a research partner.

When to use a consultant or academic researcher

The tools and guidance in this toolkit are designed for you to do research yourself without assistance from experts; however, there may be occasions in the development of your practice or organisation when it makes sense to think about using external consultants or partnering with an academic researcher. Expert advice may be helpful for the following three examples:

  • Conducting research into a very specialised area
  • Developing a business case for a major investment
  • Undertaking more complex research such as segmentation of your attendees.


When thinking about working with an external consultant, resourcing is a key consideration. There are multiple ways to fund research:

  • Building a research or evaluation budget into project funding applications, where relevant
  • Setting aside a portion of operational funding, if available
  • Applying for specific funding from government agencies, trusts and/or foundations
  • Partnering with a research agency or through ‘pro-bono’ arrangements.

If you do find the resources to work with a consultant remember to think about your internal capacity to manage them effectively. Consider setting aside part of the budget for project management.

Finding the right research partner

It’s worth taking the time to find the right research partner for you. This can depend on multiple variables:

  • Budget available. When charging by the hour, consultants can get expensive. Ask about hourly rates and fixed fees.
  • Location. Do you need someone nearby who understands your local community, or could the work be performed remotely?
  • Style. Don’t underestimate the importance of building a rapport with your partner. Finding someone who is the right ‘fit’ for you will go a long way.
  • Timeline. How long do you have to conduct the research? Be sure to establish clear and realistic timelines with any consultants you may engage.

There are multiple ways to find possible partners:

  • Explore relevant conference programs to identify speakers for topics relevant to you.
  • Ask around – your colleagues and stakeholders may be able to recommend someone with a track record in your field.
  • Contact the Australian Market and Social Research Society.

Tips for managing a research partner

We’ve outlined some tips so you can get the best from an external research provider:

  1. Write a solid brief. Use the project planner to help articulate your objectives, methods and timeline before engaging a researcher.
  2. Clarify your research questions. Ensuring that the research questions are crystal clear will help ensure the results deliver what you really need to know.
  3. Have a contract. Ensure you have a written agreement in place for both parties’ protection.
  4. Actively manage them. Use regular meetings and reports to monitor progress and to check that the project will deliver on its objectives.
  5. Give feedback. Take the time to review all deliverables in detail. Although they may have specialist expertise, you’re the expert in your work and your community. They will be relying on you to guide them.