Local assessment of needs for consumer information and advice services in Great Britain: the development of a scientific conceptual model of assessment.
Wang, F. (2010) Local assessment of needs for consumer information and advice services in Great Britain: the development of a scientific conceptual model of assessment., no. 414.
UK consumers are facing a high level of detriment. Much of the detriment can be avoided or reduced by making consumers informed and well equipped with suitable levels of knowledge and skills thus become empowered. As one important element to consumer empowerment, there is a strong case that consumers need suitable consumer information and advice services (CIAS). In an attempt to improve the local CIAS provision in Great Britain, the Consumer Support Network (CSN) initiative was launched in 1999 to join up the existing local CIAS providers. A local CIAS needs assessment was required for each CSN to achieve full establishment status (Brennan and Galloway 2002). It was discovered during the period that there was a lack of a scientific local CIAS needs assessment model available for local agencies to employ. This triggered this research project which is aimed to fill this gap. Due to the fact that Northern Ireland was not included in the CSN initiative, it was decided that this research targeted Great Britain, namely England, Scotland and Wales, although the literature would be drawn from the UK to inform the research. In the UK, the majority of CIAS is publicly funded and provided by public and voluntary sectors. Due to the funding nature of local CIAS provision, the needs for CIAS can be defined as needs for public services in this research. A review of the existing literature provided detailed background on the UK consumer landscape and the consumer empowerment agenda. Two broader categories of issues surrounding the concept of needs for public services and needs assessment were also identified: the theoretical debate on needs for public services and needs assessment and specific practical issues concerning local CIAS needs and needs assessment. The research is focused on the latter, since the purpose of a local CIAS needs assessment is to provide practical guidance to assist local agencies to design and improve their services. This research aims to investigate and develop a scientific conceptual local CIAS needs assessment model. This aim was achieved by identifying the relevant practical issues surrounding local CIAS needs and needs assessment involving two research populations: the CIAS professionals, who are responsible for the delivery of local CIAS, and the general public, who are the recipients of CIAS. Due to the characteristics of these two research populations, a combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods was chosen in this research. The CSN coordinators were chosen to represent the CIAS professionals in the first phase qualitative research. The transcriptions of 18 semi structured in-depth interviews were collected and analysed to generate the initial assessment model. The important part of the initial model, the needs for CIAS and its components, was tested and then modified in the second phase quantitative research based on the analysis of the data collected from 585 on-street questionnaire surveys of the general public in Great Britain which was chosen as the research population in the second phase. A purposive sampling was employed to ensure a good level of representativeness considering the resource constrains to this research. The employment of combined research methods ensures the assessment model is scientific by comparing and contrasting data from both local CIAS professionals and the recipients of local CIAS. The scientific attribute of the assessment model is also assured by employing scientific qualitative and quantitative data collecting and analysing techniques and procedures. The results of the two phases enabled this research to produce a scientific conceptual assessment model. The main product of this thesis, the new local CIAS needs assessment model, is evidence based, tailor-made, and ready to be employed by local CIAS agencies. This model consists of two sections, left and right: the needs assessment process and the practical issues of local CIAS needs. The left section includes the main stages of a local CIAS needs assessment and highlights the key issues associated with each stage. The right section illustrates the key components of CIAS needs and factors influencing CIAS needs: consumer knowledge and shopping patterns and their key components. The two effective means of local consumer segmentation, consumer disadvantage and consumer age, are also identified and illustrated in the section. The scientific CIAS assessment model could assist the professionals to gather evidence on local CIAS needs more effectively and systematically. The evidence could be used to improve the existing CIAS provision and design new CIAS to target any unmet needs identified. The evidence gathered, together with the relevant findings of this research, could also strengthen the case of local CIAS provision and better coordination with national CIAS provision such as Consumer Direct. The model could also benefit the professionals, policy makers and academia by comprehensively illustrating the components of CIAS need, the key relating factors and effective means for local consumer segmentation. The outcomes of the research also shed a light on the gaps in the literature thus identifies the possible areas of future research.