Real World Research
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Real World Research

Colin Robson, Kieran McCartan

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eBook - ePub

Real World Research

Colin Robson, Kieran McCartan

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About This Book

Real World Research provides a clear route-map of the various steps needed to carry out a piece of applied research to a high professional standard. It is accessible to those without a social science background while providing rigorous and fully up-to-date coverage of contemporary issues and debates. It brings together materials and approaches from different social science disciplines, seeing value in both quantitative and qualitative approaches, as well as their combination in mixed-method designs.

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Setting the scene

Before leaping into a project, you need to have an idea about what you are letting yourself in for. Real world research, as discussed and explained at the beginning of Chapter 1, is often an ‘away fixture’ taking place on someone else's territory. As Shadish, Cook and Campbell (2002) put it: ‘In such settings as schools, businesses, clinics, hospitals, welfare agencies, and homes, researchers have far from perfect control, are typically guests and not royalty, have to negotiate and not command, and often must compromise rather than get everything they would like’ (p. xix). False moves can inoculate a firm, school or wherever against future involvements, not only with you, but with other potential researchers – and, possibly, against the whole idea of systematic enquiry as an approach to dealing with problems or understanding situations. Practitioners, such as nurses, teachers or social workers, when getting involved with research, commonly wish to research some aspect of the situation in which they work or are already involved in some way. Here you will have to live with any mess you make.
This is not to argue for things being cut and dried before starting. Any proposals you make for carrying out a project will benefit from discussing your ideas with others including ‘stakeholders’ – i.e. those likely to have an interest in the research either because it might involve them in some additional efforts or trouble, or who might be affected by the findings. Indeed there is much to be said in favour of collaborative ventures, where the ‘client’ and/or others involved have a substantial say in the enterprise.

Keeping your own project journal

It is good practice to keep a full and complete record of all the various activities with which you are involved in connection with the project. Some people limit this to the stages when they are collecting data. It is certainly invaluable then as it helps to keep in one place details of appointments and meetings, what data were actually collected, where, when, etc. However, there is much to be said for starting the journal on day one of planning the project. It can take a variety of formats but an obvious one is a large‐size diary with at least a page for each day (they come very cheaply from about March each year!). Keeping it on your computer is attractive, providing you have good computer housekeeping habits.
The kinds of things which might be entered include:
  • Notes of things you have read; references (get into good habits of taking full references – see Chapter 3, p. 52 – the effort now will save you pain later when you are trying to chase up missing references). You may find that you get an idea about A when working on B – if you don't make a note, it may get lost.
  • Any thoughts relevant to the project, particularly when you decide to modify earlier intentions; reminders to yourself of things to be done; people to be chased up, etc.
  • Appointments made, and kept, together with an aide‐mĂ©moire of where you have put anything arising from the meeting (one strategy is to include everything here in the diary).
  • Taking stock of where you are in relation to each phase of the project; short interim reports of progress, problems and worries; suggestions for what might be done.
Knight (2002, p. 2) also recommends including reflections on how you, as researcher, are influencing the research findings and on the significance of that influence. Also warnings of things to avoid, such as helping out or giving advice when you are supposed to be simply observing.
The journal can be very valuable when you get to the stage of putting together the findings of the research and writing any reports. In particular, with some styles of research where it is expected that you produce an audit trail (a full record of your activities while carrying out the research) or a reflexive journal (an account reflecting on the process of the research), the research journal is indispensable.

Chapter 1

What is real world research?

Real world research, as the term is used in this book, refers to applied research projects which are typically small in scale and modest in scope. Real world research looks to examine personal experience, social life and social systems, as well as related policies and initiatives. It endeavours to understand the lived‐in reality of people in society and its consequences. A substantial amount of research of this type is carried out in universities or research institutes by both staff and students, particularly in applied fields such as business and management, criminology, education, and health‐related areas such as nursing, social policy, social work and socio‐legal studies. There is also applied work in academic social science disciplines including psychology and sociology. It also commonly takes place in local government, businesses, NGOs (non‐government organizations) and community organizations, where it is carried out by professionals and practitioners, including practitioner‐researchers.
This means that real world research can shape the world as well as explain to us why the world is in the shape that it is. Its focus is different from much academic research where the main concern is with developing and extending an academic discipline. The topics selected are those of current interest to social scientists in universities and other advanced institutions. Research of this type is of high prestige in those circles. Real world research is a mixed bag, with the common theme that the main interest lies elsewhere. This doesn't mean that there is a strict dichotomy between academic research and applied research with real world concerns. As Alan Baddeley puts it in a paper on applying cognitive psychology ‘
 the combination of practical satisfaction and theoretical make the attempt to combine basic and applied research very rewarding’ (Baddeley, 2013, p. 443). Not that this is easy though. Chelimsky (2013) is concerned that in the field of evaluation there is much current practice where theory is largely ignored, while theoretical writing fails to understand the problems of practitioners in the real world.
Much real world research focuses on problems and issues of direct relevance to people's lives, to help find ways of dealing with the problems or of better understanding the issues. There is no lack of such problems. A fairly random selection highlighted at the time of writing includes crime, austerity and social change, climate change, education, terrorism, gambling, anti‐social behaviour, obesity and diet, child care and abuse, and provision for old age, amongst a host of other concerns. The faith is that research, in the sense of principled, careful and systematic enquiry, is one of the best tools available to address these issues.
This book focuses on problems and issues which have a ‘people’ dimension and relevant research methods and approaches. The focus is not overly restrictive as all the problems and issues listed above impinge on humans in some way. Many problems, particularly large‐scale, global ones such as climate and environmental change, call for expertise in a range of natural sciences and technologies, but the effects on, and of, the way that people behave are an important part, both of the problems and of their solution. Hence, the book, and the examples used within it, is multi‐disciplinary.
As indicated above, the main focus in Real World Research is on relatively small‐scale research carried out by individuals or small teams. Again, this is not a major restriction as much real world research concerns problems and issues which are practical, local and grounded in a specific context, and where the need is for answers within a short time‐scale. And even global problems have local implications so that sensible projects can be carried out with limited resources. For example, Serrao‐Neumann, Di Giulio, Ferreira and Choy (2013) were involved with local‐scale projects undertaken in urbanized coastal areas in Brazil and Australia, focusing on improving the dialogue between researchers and decision‐makers to improve climate‐change adaptation. This research provided suggestions for dealing with the issue studied and made recommendations for change.
In carrying out this type of research, a strong dose of humility is needed. It takes place in highly complex and often volatile situations where conclusions are necessarily tentative. These situations are almost inevitably political (with both a small and a large ‘p’) and there can be many reasons why even eminently sensible proposals arising from the research do not come to pass. For example, educational researchers have faced sustained criticism in the United Kingdom from politicians and others to the extent that the president of the British Educational Research Association claimed that because of a range of perceived shortcomings, ‘educational research might not be missed (even gladly dismissed) by some practitioners and policy makers’ (Mortimore, 2000), although he goes on to assert that, ‘the work is essential if independent questioning and impartial evaluations of policy and practice are to take place’ (p. 5).
The real world notion carries the suggestion of breaking out from the ivory tower and trying to deal with problems affecting people's lives directly. It can also be viewed as moving from the research laboratory into places such as schools, hospitals, businesses, shopping ...

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