Definition of Research Panels
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  1. The definition of research panels
    Panels (of members or of customers) are email lists of people who have agreed to serve; they agree to provide information about their preferences and opinions in exchange for the organization's promise to listen. It offers a more powerful voice for members or customers without imposing an undue burden on their time.
    1. The invitation would be to
      1. serve on a panel for one year
      2. as a panel member, to respond to a 5-minute, email survey once every month or two.
      3. perhaps recommend someone as an addition to the panel
    2. The organization promises not to market to, or sell the list
    3. The organization promises to use the information to direct internal decision making about policies, plans, and programs.
  2. Membership Panels
    Panels can be defined to reflect the different segments among members. Having a clear mechanism for members to contribute to the governance of the organization not only provides valuable guidance to the Board and Executive Director, it also gives membership a whole new meaning. Rather than simply paying a fee for a set of services, it gives the member a role to play in the development of the organization. Here are some samples of how you might define member panels:
    1. Define separate panels for different age groups within your membership base.
      1. You may want to listen separately to the different voices of twentysomethings vs. fiftysomethings.
    2. Define separate panels for different ways in which members might behave.
      1. A service organization may have members who support the organization financially vs. those who actively volunteer in its operation.
      2. An art league might distinguish between art producers and art consumers, or between casual artists and artists who rely on their work for significant income.
      3. An architectural heritage foundation might distinguish between developers vs. architects vs. property owners. Each of them represents a unique political force within the organizaiton.
  3. Customer Panels
    Panels can be defined to reflect the different market segments to which you offer services or programs. This provides a way to test out program alternatives as well as a way to get more reliable data on the attractiveness of program offerings. Here are some samples of how you might define customer panels:
    1. Define separate customer interest groups
      1. A counseling agency might distinguish between families or couples vs. individuals or teens.
      2. A community service organization might distinguish between those interested in classical art entertainment vs. those looking for more participatory activities.
    2. Define separate geographical customer groups
      1. A community group might distinguish between customers close in vs. those a greater distance away. They might be interested in different programs, or offered at different times of the day.
    3. Define different tenure groups among customers
      1. Customers who have been loyal for many years may have a distinct voice, compared to customers who joined your ranks ony this year. Retaining established customers may require listening to concern different from newer customers.
  4. Keep your panel definitions decision based
    Whatever group you are surveying, and whatever distinctions you make, make sure they relate directly to decisions you're facing.
    1. If your primary concern is new program development, then define your panels according to the different potential attendees.
    2. If your primary concern is policy development, then use panels to tap into the different political perspectives in your membership.
    3. If your primary concern is long-term planning, then use panels to tap into future market segments that you might be hoping to attract.
  5. Remember that defining a panel is no more burdensome than finding a random sample for a traditional customer survey, except you get to keep them around longer.
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