Determining Users' Needs for Trade Information

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DETERMINING USERS' NEEDS FOR TRADE INFORMATION

A trade information service (TIS) can play its role effectively only if it provides information that is of direct, practical use to its clients. This should be information that is not supplied by other sources and that can efficiently be made available by the TIS concerned, given its human and financial resources. Systematically ascertaining the needs of its users is therefore a key element in the successful operation of a TIS. Such an assessment should be a continual exercise, given the rapidly changing international trading environment in which the country's business community must operate.

User categories

The types of users of a trade information service are primarily the following: * Import and export firms. * Manufacturers. * Firms providing trade services. * Chambers of commerce. * Trade and industry organizations. * Trade promotion institutions. * Central and local government offices.

These entities and the different departments in them obviously have different expectations from a TIS, depending on whether they are intermediate users of the information or the actual end-users, occasional or frequent users and experienced or nonexperienced users. The TIS will therefore be required to provide different types of information services to meet the specific needs of each group, for instance trade data in response to a particular request or advice on how information can be used in a given foreign trade operation.

Information sought

In its assessment, a TIS should obtain three types of information from its users in order to plan and organize its information activities most effectively: information on the users themselves, so that a clear picture exists of the firms and organizations to be served; information on the products and markets of interest to the users (in the case of companies, exportable products or those with export potential, and present or new export markets); and, most important for the TIS' future work priorities, information on the specific types of trade information needed.

Techniques

Several techniques can be used to assess the information needs of the clients of a trade information service. The best results in many cases can be obtained through a combination of them. These are mail surveys, interviews, meetings and everyday contact.

Mail surveys: Contacting the users of a particular service by letter and/or questionnaire is a method often used to assess their interest in continuing to receive that service, or in seeing the service modified in some way.

In most cases it is not feasible to contact the entire group of users, so a selective survey will have to be undertaken. Various criteria should be used to obtain a representative sample of clients surveyed, such as a selection from different product or industry sectors; or a selection of client enterprises of different sizes, with different lengths of export experience and from different geographical locations. Another option could be a statistical sampling of the entire group of users.

Questionnaires and accompanying letters need to be carefully designed and adapted to the audiences addressed. Several versions may be required, for instance one for companies and another for trade organizations. Drawing up the questionnaire for a mail survey involves, first of all, determining what type of information is to be collected. Three categories of information should be covered: the profile of the responding firm or organization; in the case of a firm responding, its exportable products and main target markets; and the firm's or organization's information needs and expectations. The questionnaire should therefore contain sections on the company profile, product profile and user needs. It is recommended that separate product profiles be requested for each of a firm's export products. The most important part of the questionnaire deals with the specific information needs of users. …