Fan: (In a stereotypical Eastern European accent): “What is back check? Back check something I sign at end of month.”
Aside from being mildly offensive to those players of Eastern European descent, the fan’s comment highlighted the somewhat oblivious attitude of many players toward the importance of playing defense. By focusing primarily on offense, these players are less able to stop potential scoring plays against their team, and aren’t able create turnovers that potentially can result in scoring opportunities for their team.
Similar parallels can be drawn by not back checking while doing research. In a research context, back checking refers to the process of contacting a respondent or respondents after the research has been conducted, and then questioning them about the interview and the interviewer.
The back checking process serves to authenticate the data collected to ensure that the responses were indeed provided by the actual respondent. Back checking can also uncover additional insights, any biases that may have occurred due to the way a question was phrased, and ensure that the respondent’s answers were properly captured in the proper context.
As in the hockey analogy above, back checking can serve in both a defensive and offensive role. Back checking ensures that any errors in the interview process itself, transcription of the data, or other interpretation of that data can be identified and corrected. By conducting back checking during the interview process, it allows adjustments to be made, in terms of a discussion or interview guide, style, or even method, which is essentially a defensive move to prevent spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on data that may or may not be valuable.
Similarly, back checking can create new opportunities allowing the company to go on offense. Back checking can be used as a way to follow up on specific responses, and use the new information to refine the research questionnaire in order to drill down further to uncover hidden insights, creating new marketing or sales opportunities.
What are the keys to successful back checking (in research)?
Establish a back checking plan prior to the research: Establish a certain time frame for conducting back checks, which allow enough time to gather a reasonable sample size, but still provide enough time to pivot or shift gears, based on the results of the back check.
Identify a party to conduct back checking: Ideally, this needs to be a person who is familiar with the research plan, goals, and methodology, but is independent enough to detect and flag anomalies.
Devise a strategy for acting on the findings: Even if the back check finds that proper interview procedures are being used, and results are meeting expectations, be flexible so that there’s a plan for acting on even small insights that may warrant more in-depth study or a new line of questioning.