Resolving a testing challenge at NFER

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About NFER

NFER has been at the forefront of educational research and test development since 1946. NFER undertakes around 200 research projects every year and its work spans all sectors of education, from pre-school to lifelong learning. NFER’s aim is to improve education and training, nationally and internationally, by undertaking research, development and dissemination activities and by providing information services.

The brief

For many surveys, NFER was collecting data both online and on paper. However, with different software for these two research methods, NFER was finding it necessary to set up the same questionnaire separately for each package and this was adding unnecessary cost and duplicating effort. At the data processing end, NFER was encountering similar problems with incompatible datasets emerging from different applications. When it became clear that a major software review was necessary, NFER called on meaning to manage this process.

The solution

  • To draw up a detailed list of requirements for NFER’s survey research software.
  • To contact software vendors to discover the exact extent to which each company’s solution met NFER’s requirements.
  • To manage the comparison and evaluation of each vendor’s product.

Anne Milne, Head of Research Operations at NFER, describes how managers at NFER worked with Tim Macer of meaning to draw up a precise list of software specifications. Together, they made a list of all the features that NFER required, stating whether each one was essential, important or ‘nice to have’. “Tim spent a lot of time just talking to us,” she says. “He looked at our requirements with us and put them into proper specifications. He is very hot on details, and we would not have gone into so much detail by ourselves. It was very useful to work with him.”

Having completed the list of specifications, it was then possible to search for new software. Anne continues: “Tim has a huge amount of knowledge of the software that is available. He knew what was out there and was able to match our requirements to some of the products.”

Having found a number of suppliers with suitable products, NFER was able to evaluate the offerings from different suppliers and select new software.

The results

NFER selected an affordable off-the-shelf software solution, which is now in use, resulting in significant time and cost savings.

In the early stages, when NFER was first considering purchasing new software, managers contacted a number of similar organisations who used the same application as NFER. As a result of this, they first thought that they would keep their existing product but commission some extra custom-designed software. However, while working with Tim it became clear that this expense would not be necessary. “Tim saved us money by taking us through this tendering process,” observes Anne Milne. “He was very quick to understand what we wanted, and very quick to turn things around.”

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