Learnings from CIRPA Conference 2014

Because of recent news events, the 2014 CIRPA conference in Hamilton, Ontario had a more introspective atmosphere compared to years past. All the same, the conference was full of great information and friendly people, all wanting to share their knowledge and insights on various facets of institutional research.

Many of the themes at this year’s conference had been recognized in sessions in prior years ; however, these trends continued to evolve with advancements in technology and broader, worldwide changes in research. There were many new insights at the sessions. In my opinion, two interesting themes were changes in data collection and changes in data dissemination: the types of data and methods to collect primary data, and the ways in which the research results are being disseminated to key stakeholder groups.

Survey methodologies are quickly evolving, in educational institutions and elsewhere in market research. As mobile phones become ubiquitous, the more imperative it is that researchers adapt their survey design and their expectations to the changing technology. In this regard, the use of mobile phones to take surveys has been steadily increasing – to such an extent that research must take the device into account – most specifically in the design of the survey. This means more than making sure the survey technically works on a smartphone. It might mean shortening surveys or adapting the question types to be easier to complete on a mobile device.

There was a roar of discussion in boosting survey results with other data, including nationally or provincially collected statistics from government agencies and data containing online conversations through social media sites. Additionally, more sophisticated data tools and outcomes-driven predictive modelling, on things like retention and enrolment, are becoming more common as a part of an educational institution’s research toolkit. I find this development promising and it has the capacity to be a relevant theme for many years, as the amount and nature of the data that is available increases.

Disseminating information within a large organization such as an educational institution can be difficult. For this reason, many research groups are actively creating tailored materials to disseminate information for a variety of audiences. At CIRPA, there were several sessions with tips on data visualization, dashboarding, and combining multiple datasets into more holistic research results. With the amount and variety of information ever increasing, it is often difficult to ensure that stakeholders aren’t drowning in data. I anticipate it will become common for institutional research groups to provide stakeholders with more frequent and shorter sets of research results, rather than a long, drawn out report that they may or may not have time to read at once. This follows a greater theme in research where clients are increasingly asking for a suite of deliverables rather than a single report.

The conference left me with a feeling of confidence in the way that institutional researchers are tackling some of the major changes in the industry. Adaptability is key in making sure that participation in research remains high, and I saw evidence of many institutions innovating their current practices to address these needs. Overall, it was a great conference where I had a great time connecting with old friends and making new ones. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone in Halifax for CIRPA 2015!