Establishing Goals and Research Questions



Goals and research questions serve as the compass for your journey to understanding the needs of an individual or community. By guiding the development of every exercise and action, having clear goals and research questions keep you anchored as you learn new information.


Dharamsala, India Research Plan

This is the research plan that the SecondMuse team developed for fieldwork in Dharamsala, India. This should be treated as an example. The form, format, and content can be adapted for your own purposes.

TorDev Research Plan

This is the research plan that the SecondMuse team developed for fieldwork with Tor developers in Iceland in 2014. This should be treated as an example. The form, format and content can be adopted for your own purposes.


Establishing your goals and the questions you seek to answer is the first and most important element of identifying needs. You are exercising a basic needfinding inquiry on your own process: what do you want to achieve, and what do you need to learn in order to achieve it? Once determined, these questions should remain at the core of the research you are conducting. They are also helpful for re-calibrating the research team throughout the process.


Every step in the process of needfinding should be oriented towards a greater set of goals. The goals you establish here will provide that orientation. The first things you will ask yourself before designing and conducting any part of needfinding will be “How am I addressing my goals? Will this provide answers to my research questions?” This will be true whether you are choosing who in a community to interview or designing creative exercises for participants to complete.


Establishing Goals

The first step is to establish your goals. These are the high level objectives that you have. Remember that these can be revisited and revised – nothing is being carved in stone. Here are some simple questions to ask yourself:

  • Why are we conducting this research?
  • What are the general desired outcomes for each stakeholder in this project, including our funder or partnering organization?
  • What are some specific kinds of knowledge we want to get out of this research?
  • If this research is a success, what would that look like one year from now?
Examples From The Field:

SecondMuse Establishes Goals

Establishing Research Questions

These are the questions and topics that, if answered successfully, will satisfy the goals that have been established. Occasionally these questions will translate directly into interview questions, or questions used in various exercises described later in this framework. More often, these are guiding questions that the researchers keep in mind every step along the way. They are also used during follow-up analysis activities to review what was learned and organize knowledge in a way that is helpful to the overall goals.

  • What are the specific topics or questions that need to be addressed with this research to serve these goals?