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Research Design

Major types of Research Design

Research is scholarly or scientific inquiry. It ties together theory, methods and data in the thorough study of some object. People engage in research for a number of reasons: (1) to explore, (2) to describe, (3) to explain, and to promote change.

1. Basic

Goal of research: To produce new knowledge including discovery of relationships; create capacity to predict, control, manipulate.

2. Applied (policy-useful)

Goal of the research: Produce the information necessary to help a policy-maker eliminate or alleviate a social problem

3. Evaluation (assessment-appraisal)

Goal of the Research: To provide an accurate account of the impact of a treatment program applied to a social problem.

4. Action oriented (critical)

Goal of the Research: To dig beneath the surface of historically specific social structures that reproduce oppression and other problems in society. And to link knowledge and action in social transformation.

What does the term "theory" mean anyway?

Andrew Sayer (1993) provides a useful definition of theory as an examined conceptualization of some object. From this standpoint, theories are composed of concepts and statements of relationships. And to theorize means to prescribe a particular way of conceptualizing something. Concepts are abstract elements representing classes of phenomena within the field of study. Example 1: the concepts relevant to a theory of juvenile delinquency would include juvenile and delinquency for starters; other relevant concepts--peer group, social class, ethnicity. Example 2: the concepts relevant to a theory of deindustrialization would include, for example, restructuring, the new international division of labor and the global assembly line. NOTE: "Conceptual systems concern not only what we (think we can) observe, or what we think exists yet cannot observe, but what we can do and how we can do it. Consequently, it may be wise to avoid thinking of knowledge as attempting to "represent" or "mirror" the world like a photograph. A better analogy may be that of a map or recipe or instruction manual, which provide means by which we can do things in the world or "cope" with events" (Sayer, 1993: 59) What is the difference between "theory" and "description"? This question is often asked by beginning researchers. The answer, as Strauss and Corbin (1990: 29) point out, comes down to two main points: First, theory uses concepts. Similar data are grouped and given conceptual labels. This means placing interpretations on the data. Second, the concepts are related by means of statements of relationships. In description, data may be organized according to themes. These themes may be conceptualizations of data, but are more likely to be a precis or summaries of words taken directly from the data. There is little, if any, interpretation of data. Nor is there any attempt to relate the themes to form a conceptual scheme.

Deductive Reasoning

Trochim, W. M. K. and Donnelly, J. P. (2007) Research methods : the concise knowledge base, 3e, Atomic Dog Pub., Cincinnati, Ohio.

Inductive Reasoning

Trochim, W. M. K. and Donnelly, J. P. (2007) Research methods : the concise knowledge base, 3e, Atomic Dog Pub., Cincinnati, Ohio.


Robson, C. (2007) How to do a Research Project: A Guide for Undergraduate Students, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, UK ; Madden, Mass. (p. 53)

Case Study Research: Advantages

Source: Robson, C. (2007) How to do a Research Project: A Guide for Undergraduate Students, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, UK ; Madden, Mass.

Case Study Research: Disadvantages

Source: Robson, C. (2007) How to do a Research Project: A Guide for Undergraduate Students, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, UK ; Madden, Mass.

Distinguishing between "Basic" and "Applied" forms of Research

Basic Research
Neuman (2000, 505) defines basic research as "research that advances knowledge of the fundamentals of how the social world works and develops general theoretical explanations." For instance, some basic research in the field of urban and regional studies aims to better understand the political ecomomy of regional development (taking into account such concepts as globalization, metropolitan governance, the so-called new regionalism). Other basic research in urban studies and planning may examine the digital divide, housing crisis, environmental problems, infrastructure, etc. This type of research may certainly be motivated by the desire to make the world a better place, but there is no necessary or direct connection to linking the knowledge to action or applications. For instance, basic research on watershed-based approaches to pollution prevention in the San Diego region may generate new insights about the culture of interagency collaboration across jurisdictions. This new insight may or may not translate directly into a form useful to policy-makers and planners. It may simply add to our knowledge of organizational theory or paradigm shifting in environmental policy...and this is ok. In the "hard" sciences (e.g., chemistry, physics, biology), basic research is also defined as systematic investigation aimed at gaining greater knowledge or understanding of some particular object (process, event, structure, etc.). There is no imperative in basic research to make the new knowledge directly relevant to some kind of application (cleaning up the air, making pesticides less dangerous, increasing the productivity of agriculture).

Distinguishing between "Basic" and "Applied" forms of Research Applied Research

Neuman (2000, 504) defines applied research as "research that attempts to solve a concrete problem or address a specific policy question and that has a direct, practical application" (Neuman 2000, 504). Examples of applied research approaches include action research, social impact assessment, and evaluation research (Neuman 2000, chap. 2). Many students in the Senior Sequence adopt a form of action research, and this is ok. One student did work that examined the role of community mobilization in the upgrading of a squatter settlement in Tijuana. She participated with community groups in building housing and public infrastructure ( a method referred to as participant observation). Moreover, she shared the lessons she extracted from her field research with the community groups themselves with the aim to help them improve their chances of success. We encourage this kind of civically-engaged collaborative research, as long as it does not become mere advocacy devoid of scholarship. Action Reseach. The acceptability of action research as a legitimate method in social science has gained ground in recent years. Neuman describes this method as follows: Action research is applied research that treats knowledge as a form of power and abolishes the line between research and social action. There are several types of action research, but most share common characteristics: Those who are being studied participate in the research process; research incorporates ordinary or popular knowledge; research focuses on power with a goal of empowerment; research seeks to raise consciousness or increase awareness; and research is tied directly to political action. (Neuman 2000, 25) Many natural, physical, and life scientists are also placing greater emphasis on the importance of research geared to linking knowledge to action. The National Research Council, for instance, has published a major document calling for the creation of "knowledge-action collaboratives" that promote the linkage of science and technology to policy and planning for sustainable development. The NRC report argues that we need to be doing a much better job linking academia, government and the private sector in collaborative research partnerships (National Research Council 1999, chap. 6). Another interesting text that speaks to this issues is titled, Ivory Bridges: Connecting Science and Society (Sonnert 2002).

Social Impact Studies, and Evaluation Research

These two forms of applied research are difficult to do in the limited time frame you have for your study. We recommend that you do not attempt to do a social impact study or evaluation on your own. "On your own" means you are the one inventing the metrics (indicators, values, etc.) for measurement. More than likely, you will discover that you don't have the necessary expertise, time or resources to do the job properly. In order to gauge the impact of something, or to evaluate a particular program or policy, you must have significant knowledge of the elements involved, and of the tools available for measurement (e.g., costbenefit analysis). However, if you are involved in a social impact or evaluation study as part of your internship you may be able to weave some of its results into your Senior Thesis. Also, if you have a strong interest in evaluation one approach would be to study how a particular agency goes about doing an evaluation. This would allow you as the scholar to ask questions such as how did the agency construct its criteria (performance-based measures), what is the role of expert verses popular (off the street) knowledge, among other things.

The four traditions of planning theory

A summary of Friedmanns work by Roseland (2000, 89)

Social reform: includes the disciplines of sociology, institutional economics, and pragmatism. It
recognizes the state as the vehicle of social action. Planning is a scientific endeavor to make state action more effective. The economy can be adjusted to serve representative needs through business-cycle analysis, input/output analysis, economic policy models, and others.

Policy analysis: includes the disciplines of systems analysis, welfare and social choice, and
policy science. It concentrates on decision making as a means of identifying the best possible courses of social action. Planning is a decision process which emphasizes stages that begin with the identification of goals that will structure the decision and ends with program analysis, which evaluates the correctness of the decision. This is the rational model participated in by technical planners who view themselves as social engineers serving the existing power base.

Social learning: includes the field of organization development. It is an effort to minimize the
contradictions between what we know and how we act. Planning attempts through social experimentation to change social behaviour. This is accomplished by doing: knowledge is validated practice, and theory is enriched from lessons learned from experience. Planners and client actors are involved in nonhierarchical exchanges of information to further learning.

Social mobilization: includes neo-Marxism, the Frankfurt School (of critical theory), and a
category Friedmann calls utopians, social anarchists, and radicals. It is a view of the primacy of action from below. Planning is a political activity which attempts to change the status quo of oppression and alienation under capitalism. Social mobilization emphasizes the politics of disengagement and confrontation. The planners role is one of community organization, advocacy presentation and interpretation of data, and representation within and cooptation of the decision-making process.
Source: M. Roseland / Progress in Planning 54 (2000):Table 1. Source: Robson (2002) Real World Research, p. 28.

The Sociological Imagination by C. W. Mills

The Sociological Imagination by C. W. Mills (2000) is one of the great classics that examine the art of critical thinking and imagination (Calavita 1992; Fuller 2006). Using the sociological imagination empowers people to "grasp what is going on in the world, and to understand what is happening in themselves as minute points of intersections of biography and history within society (Mills 2000, 7). Moving us closer to the challenges of urban and regional planning, David Harveys (1973) influential book Social Justice and the City makes a strong case for imbuing the sociological imagination with spatial consciousness" or what Harvey called a geographical imagination: This imagination enables the individual to recognize space and place in his own biography, to relate to the spaces he sees around him, and to recognize how transactions between individuals and between organizations are affected by the space that separates them. It allows him to recognize the relationship which exists between him and his neighbourhood, his territory... (p. 24).