Methodological challenges and lessons in surveying organisations

Published 07/02/2020
Author(s) Coral Sirdifield, David Denney, Dr Rebecca Marples, Charlie Brooker

Critical reflection on methodological strategies

When designing any research project, it is important to have a good understanding of the existing literature to inform project design. Additionally, an important part of the research process is to reflect on any improvements that could have been achieved if the research had been conducted differently. Literature (this could be specified and we could hyperlink) that exposes the bones of the research process provides useful learning material for those wishing to design and conduct high quality research. We provide an illustrative example of some of the challenges that we encountered in a project attempting to survey a large number and variety of health and criminal justice organisations. Through critical reflection, we consider which methodological strategies might best improve engagement with such research in the future.


Probation Healthcare Commissioning Toolkit

Part of our project was focused on mapping healthcare for people on probation across England using national surveys of six types of organisation. We also developed a toolkit for commissioners and practitioners to improve healthcare provision for people on probation, which is available at



In the article, we detail recommendations from the existing literature, and our experience of trying to follow them. Key themes that we identified in the literature are: gatekeepers; resources, organisational culture and responsibilities; and organisational change. We illustrate the difficulties involved in trying to engage organisations that are subject to constant change as a result of policy decisions and budget cuts. We explore the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches to engaging organisations in research, including the use of Freedom of Information Act requests as an element of a recruitment strategy. We make recommendations about potential ways of optimising engagement in future research.