Research and Progress

Research is another word for the gathering of information.  The more information we have the closer we get to the making of our own decisions.  Research is the result of advancing knowledge created in the past.  Consequently, a key element of research is to impact decision making.  Research requires time, effort, and sometimes money to have the evidence you need to make a sound decision and that is why many avoid it.  The research you do and evidence you gather will have impact on your future. 

Basic Research

Basic research is designed to advance knowledge with no application to existing problems in view. The audience for basic research consists almost exclusively of other scholars or researchers interested in learning more about a phenomenon. There is virtually no basic research being done in library science and only a small amount in information science.

Applied Research

Applied research is designed to help solve particular, existing problems so there is a much larger audience eager to support research that is likely to be profitable or solve problems of immediate concern. Much medical research on diseases with considerable impact is a good example.

Quite a bit of applied research is survey research or marketing research. This is the art and science of systematically asking questions and observing behaviour to obtain information from a population of interest. Survey research hopes to gather evidence which will eventually allow behavior to be predicted and controlled.

Decisions

Decisions are made by managers every day. Ideally, such decisions would be made on the basis of evidence thoughtfully and appropriately gathered. The more important the decisions and their impact, the more important the research becomes.

Consider how we make decisions:

  • Randomly
  • Intuition [sometimes called gut decision-making]
  • Mystical or supernatural guidance
  • Hearsay
  • Authority [do as we are told or appeal to authority]
  • Evidence gathered by another
  • Evidence gathered by self or colleagues

Decisions and Evidence Now

In most cases, managers want the evidence NOW and that creates a variety of problems. Decision-makers must always face the issue of deciding now or waiting until more or better information is available. This is called the problem of sufficiency. There may never be enough evidence to support a difficult decision.

The manager lives in three time dimensions:

  1. The past - accurate sense of what was accomplished and what was not
  2. The present - accurate sense of what is being accomplished
  3. The future - what should be accomplished

Research may be used to provide evidence on the first two which supports decisions that will have an impact in the future.

Consider the risks or consequences of making an important decision with inadequate evidence. How much information is enough? How much information can you afford?  It certainly is not true that more evidence or information is always better. Research is cost-incurring, but also value-producing so that cost and value must be balanced.  Research is of little value if you do not know what evidence is needed or how to get it. You need the "right" evidence and that requires skill, thought, and experience.

Reporting is a crucial element in the conduct of research. Research depends on data. In many organizations, a wide variety of data is routinely collected and much of that information may be "mined" by the researcher. For example, circulation data and acquisition data are frequently available in many libraries and information centers.

Often, research is limited by what data is relatively easily available. We need to take advantage of data already available while encouraging managers to see the value in collecting the right information. We need to gather evidence that answers important questions about effectiveness and efficiency rather than just what is easily counted or has always been counted.

In an ideal world, research methods would be an integral part of thoughtful management. Better reporting would result in better data which would result in better decisions and much more effective and visible services to the community.

Progress

When we think of progress we generally define it as: to advance; to move forward; to gain.  Of course this becomes a matter of perspective.  For example, Karl Marx's voluminous writings contain an implicit concept of social and historical progress based on the principles of contradiction, paradox and practice.

An EOC provides a forum for managers and employees to critically assess the concept of 'progress' in the context of their organization, service and product offerings and management systems.  Issues for debate should include:

  • how do we measure or account for progress?
  • what capabilities do we need (staff, resources etc.) to progress?
  • how can learning and development underpin the progress that we seek?
  • what destination(s), if any, are we progressing towards?

The global context in which education takes place, and in particular concerns about sustainability and ethical practice, will form a backdrop to discussions about whether our understandings of progress in legal education, and the frameworks we construct to support it, are fit for purpose.

 


Motor Carrier Passenger Council of Canada (MCPCC), 10350 Yonge Street, Suite 206, Richmond Hill, Ontario L4C 5K9
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