More Than a Secondary Strategy: How to Actively Incorporate Primary Research into Your Instruction Session
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More Than a Secondary Strategy: How to Actively Incorporate Primary Research into Your Instruction Session

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Primary research is known by many names in entrepreneurship, including market validation, customer discovery, and user research. Each of these refers to the process of determining whether or not an opportunity exists in the market for your product or service and usually involves conducting surveys, interviews, or focus groups with potential customers. In an effort to align with the Lean Startup method, which is becoming more mainstream, entrepreneurship is increasingly encouraging a bottom-up approach to research. Created by Eric Ries and popularized by his 2011 book, The Lean Startup, this approach seeks to develop businesses, or products and services, in a way that is less risky than traditional processes. The Lean Startup method aims to shorten product development and rapidly determine if a business model is viable by encouraging customer feedback over intuition, iterative design over costly upfront development, and flexibility over planning. Due to the widespread adoption of this approach among faculty and mentors, entrepreneurs are often advised to talk to the customer before conducting secondary research. However, the assumption that entrepreneurs already possess the knowledge and skills to perform effective primary research is, unfortunately, not always a reality. The interdisciplinary nature of entrepreneurship means that entrepreneurs come from a variety of backgrounds. As a result, their experience and relationship with primary research vary. Some may have taken a research methods course as part of their formal education but may not recognize that these skills are transferable to entrepreneurial research. Others have not yet been introduced to the differences between primary and secondary research. Consulting with entrepreneurs during their research process, librarians are in a unique position to observe and address this gap. While most librarians agree that primary research is a critical component of the entrepreneurial research process, there is much less agreement on librarians’ role in supporting primary research. Discussions with business and entrepreneurship librarian colleagues have revealed varying opinions about who is responsible for educating entrepreneurs about primary research, the level of expertise necessary to support this type of research, and the most effective methods for addressing entrepreneurs’ primary research needs. Librarians’ differing opinions on this topic are seen in the varying levels of attention primary research receives in reference and instruction services. Some librarians refrain from addressing primary research, viewing it as outside the scope of their position, while others take a “hands-off” approach, simply recommending resources on primary research methods for entrepreneurs wanting to educate themselves on this type of research. Some librarians, however, try to take a more active approach and incorporate primary research topics into library instruction sessions. Traditionally, librarians are seen as secondary research experts, with primary research falling outside of our domain. However, successful entrepreneurship research requires both primary and secondary research. As librarians well know, not every entrepreneurship-related question can be answered by a database. Focusing solely on secondary research resources and strategies in information literacy instruction would be a missed opportunity for this community. The active learning exercise presented in this chapter is one example of how librarians can help entrepreneurs recognize the role and value of primary research in the entrepreneurial process.

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