Following a tender process, Mackman Research was commissioned by Essex County Council to conduct a time sensitive and important business support survey during the early stages of the Covid-19 epidemic in 2020. Essex County Council needed to know how they could better support the Essex business community in challenging times. The research gathered would help to shape Essex County Council’s business support and economic growth strategy, helping its businesses to survive and recover from the effects of the pandemic.
Essex County Council governs the non-metropolitan county of Essex in East Anglia and is one of the largest local authorities in England. There are twelve district and borough councils – Basildon, Braintree, Brentwood, Castle Point, Chelmsford, Colchester, Epping Forest, Harlow, Maldon, Rochford, Tendring, Uttlesford.
The research took place during extremely difficult times and needed to be completed meticulously and managed according to a quick time scale. The Mackman Research team balanced the project’s requirements with a need for sensitivity and compassion at this difficult time. To that end, our team engaged with respondents in lengthy conversations over the telephone in order to ensure that their stories and desire to be supported were recorded with accuracy.
Using data provided by the ONS, a sample quota was first applied across twelve districts, followed by industry sector, and then the size of the company (based on the number of employees). Once the research project went live it was evident that many businesses had already been targeted by a number of other organisations seeking information relating to the impact of Covid-19 on business. In order to overcome the challenge of research fatigue, our team had to explain the full purposes of this project, show outward compassion and be prepared to listen to comments falling outside of Essex County Council’s research objectives. Whilst this meant that at times conversations lasted up to an hour, it was clear that respondents appreciated our attention and time and we were thanked on numerous occasions for our approach and line of questioning.
In collaboration with Essex County Council, Mackman Research designed a methodology that included a literature review audit of existing business research, as groundwork to the business engagement project. Collating and summarising research that had been completed in recent months, along with qualitative telephone conversations with Essex organisations, the literature review aimed to identify any gaps in data and themes that were worthy of further exploration. This was used to plan and design the fundamental areas of the questionnaire design.
In accordance with Essex County Council’s needs, Mackman Research proposed a mixed methodological approach to data collection. This comprised of telephone interview techniques where respondents answered questions when prompted by our telephone researchers, and an online version of the same questionnaire was available to those who requested self-completion. A link to the online questionnaire was also emailed to contacts where an email address was available.
In addition to Mackman Research’s call for participation, we ran several PR activities and encouraged direct district communications which helped to entice participation in the survey.
Mackman Research surpassed the target number of 500 completed responses by achieving a total of 837 completed questionnaires with Essex business representatives. In a comprehensive report containing recommendations and an executive summary, overall data was analysed for the whole of Essex and was further evaluated according to eight key industry sectors. Extra reports representing the twelve district councils considered the data for each area, and showed both overall results for the district, and information split by specific industry group. Our reporting used a graphical format alongside the listing of verbatim comments and relevant snippets of conversation from participants.
This research project yielded lengthy telephone conversations, detailed online responses, and statistical data. As well as providing themes, threads, and valuable insight into the health of the Essex business community, research data has identified a number of business support priorities requiring consideration and attention. Thorough recommendations and headlines were included in the overall report and were also delivered to senior representatives of Essex County Council via a video conference presentation. The research is instrumental in helping Essex County Council to develop the urgent support that is needed for Essex businesses, its people, and communities, going forward. The findings from the research will be used to help Essex County Council structure a programme of support to safeguard and create jobs and invest in skills development, creating a business support strategy for Essex which will help to grow each local economy.
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