At the Research Advisory Service we are committed to demystifying the research and evaluation process particularly in how it can be most practically applied to decision making in whatever context that happens to be. This is not necessarily because we want to decry the need for expertise and experience in dealing with the real world collection and analysis of data; these remain good predictors of quality research work, rather that there are some relatively simple and abiding principles that all who have a vested interest in the quality of research work should understand.
In our imperfect world there are great pressures on the commission and deployment of research services and this can lead to great reluctance to challenge those commissioning on their expectations of what they need and how they need it to be done. The question of the naive yet trenchant commissioner is not new, but there are ways to deal with naivety and eventually, perhaps, trenchancy. Understanding the basic assumptions and extent to which generalisations can be made depending on the type of research you commission can only serve to facilitate more thoughtful briefs and more reasonable expectations of time and effort required to get at an answer to them.
Informed commissioners should not be poring over data tables to check their veracity, rather they should understand how far they can base their decisions on the inferences drawn from them. My experiences from a long career delivering research to the public and private sectors has been that it is the knowledgable commissioner who is the enabler of quality research and insight.