Staff Paper Series
FOOD AND RESOURCE ECONOMICS DEPARTMENT
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida 32611
WE CALL IT RESEARCH
Andrew and P.E. Hildebrand
Staff Paper 9 June 1975
Staff Papers are circulated without formal review by the Food and Resource Economics Department. Content is the sole responsibility of the author.
Food and Resource Economics Department
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida 32611
WE CALL IT RESEARCH
C.O. Andrew and P.E. Hildebrand*
Applied research, as a service to a client desiring to resolve a problem, is the basic theme of this paper. Because such research has a definite purpose, there is usually a time constraint or deadline within which the work must be completed as well as a limit on the other resources the client has available for resolution of the problem. Consequently, the researcher must be cognizant of the efficient use of the research resources while attempting to maximize the likelihood of providing a useful product to the client.
What is Applied Research?
Research is the orderly procedure by which man increases his
knowledge. In contrast to accidental discovery, it follows a series of steps designed precisely for the purposeof developing information. And applied research differs from basic research because it is undertaken specifically to help resolve a particular problem.
Applied research is carried out in all parts of the world -it is a much more widespread activity than basic research. Even though it is a necessity only the wealthiest countries can afford to
The authors express. their appreciation to Drs. Holt, Mathis and Prochaska for their insights and comments.
undertake much basic research. Most applied research is conducted under moderate to severe resource limitations, so efficiency in the research process is vital. An effective applied research methodology focuses on the efficient use of available research resources to maximize the probability of achieving meaningful results to help resolve problems.
Perhaps the most critical deficiency in applied research is the failure to identify clearly and fully-the specific problem toward which the research is to be oriented. Disappointment in the results of applied research -- a "So what?" response -- in most instances can be traced directly to inadequate problem identification. This may
result when the -researcher uncritically accepts the problem as stated by the client or by his spokesman.
Another serious deficiency may occur even after properly identifying the problem. This is the failure to formulate hypotheses and objectives correctly oriented-toward the resolution of the problem
and then (and only then) to specify appropriate analytical techniques. Hence, the most critical concepts in applied research are those of problem identification and the interrelationships involved between problem identification, hypotheses, objectives, analytical techniques, and resource restraints.
Is Theory Important?
The role of theory is critical to applied research. Without discounting the value of practice and experience, the greater the researcher's command of theory, the broader will be his capabilities a nd the more efficient he will be in planning and conducting the
applied research project. This is true because theory envelops and supports the entire research process. Without a good command of stress
theory an engineer cannot properly design nor efficiently build a safe bridge. A plant breeder must understand the theory of genetics before he can hope to effectively develop a disease resistant strain. An agricultural economist cannot determine an optimum farm organization without knowledge of production economics theory.
The researcher's foundation in theory provides the orientation for defining a problem that is researchable within the discipline or disciplines relevant to the research and with the resources available. Theory also provides the basis for the formulation of hypotheses and in the selection of the analytical techniques to be used. And it should be obivous that the interpretation of the results depends heavily on the theoretical orientation of the researcher.
Although theory permeates the entire research process, the
researcher's practical experience is equally important because applied research is frequently conducted under sub-optimum conditions.
Institutional and budgetary restraints, less than ideal field conditions, poorly trained personnel, inadequate background information and other similar factors ,have a very significant effect on the research process and therefore must be recognized and dealt with accordingly. Along with theoretical training practical experience is invaluable in helping the researcher overcome the obstacles which are so often encountered in applied research.
Institutional and Resource Considerations
The success a researcher will have in serving his client is
tempered by the research environment within which he labors. An
applied researcher cannot be effective in satisfying clients when he is isolated from them by a system that reduces or prevents effective communication among them. This can happen, for example, when an extention service with direct client contact has little communication with research personnel even though they may be in the same organization. It can also happen in a research organization in which projects are dictated by administrators who have little contact with the
clients and hence have no appreciation of their real problems.
These institutional problems may suggest a need for smaller
research organizations, but more realistically, they suggest organizations in which researchers maintain close personal contact with their clients and in which they all share a voice in determining the research priorities of the organization. We suggest that a better coordinated working relationship between research administrators, researchers, and clients will develop if all three groups carefully consider the problem identification phase of research planning.
The proposed scope of an applied research project and the
quantity and quality of research resources which can be devoted to the solution of the problem at hand must be united in the research
planning process. Because the research is oriented toward the resolution of a specific problem, there is usually a time restraint fixed by the need to make a decision. Time as an important resource or constraint interacts with other resources -as a complement and substitute. Applied research is carried put under varying degrees of financial roitrictions and usually under rather severe shortages of trained manpower and modern data processing resources. Another
research resource which is seldom abundant under many conditions of applied research is published data, other forms of secondary data or reliable information in general. Basic physical facilities such as means of transportation of land area for research can also limit the
scope of research activities.
The researcher must be aware of the effect that various resource limitations can have on his research. This cognizance will improve his research effort by increasing the probability that the proposed project will produce useful results. Projects designed in the absence of this consideration can and frequently do encounter difficulties such that the productive potential of the resources utilized is not attained. The result is that less effective information is made available for decision making and problem resolution. Careful consideration of resource' availability can help prevent situations where the deadline arrives and the researcher, still engrossed in
gathering data or making analyses, has little of value to report to his client.
Planning for Applied Research
The most important and critical steps in planning research and developing a research proposal are problems, hypotheses, and objectives. These three aspects,constituting the first phase of applied research, are not independent from each other, nor are they independent from other portions of the proposal and aspects of conducting the research. However, this phase of the development of
a research proposal is the most important key to efficient research.
It is much too common, and seemingly easier, to embark on the next steps of the research process.-- data collection, analysis, and interpretation -- with a poorly specified project statement. The consequence is usually that budget and time restrictions cannot be met and one of the following results:
- 1) Conclusions must be drawn on the basis of inadequate
2) More resources and more time must be devoted to the
project to allow completion, or
3) The project withers and dies and is relegated to a
drawer in the file, never to be heard from again.
The time spent in careful development of the problem statement, the hypothesis, and the objectives can well be the most productive time spent by the researcher. Even in cases where the researcher
may have only one month, one week, or perhaps just one day to provide an answer, the time spent in this phase of the research is critical to the success of the undertaking. Many, many times when a person is given a rush task, the tendency is to "come up with something." Little time is spent on analyzing the situation to determine precisely what the client wants, what is really needed, and what resources are available to accomplish the necessary, task.
Too often the results have no value because the "something" which the researcher "comes up with" is not really-related to the problem of the client.
Problems appropriately specified for applied research have the following characteristics:
1) they are based on felt needs of individuals, groups and
2) the causal relationships expressed in a problem statement
are not hypothetical and are relevant to the problem;
3) problem statements must suggest testable hypothetical
- relationships that, when analyzed, yield relevant and
4) the problem and the research to. resolve the problem must
be relevant and manageable with resource restrictions.
Researchable problems can be distinguished from problematic situations
in that numerous researchable problems can be formulated from a problematic situation.
The hypotheses serve as guides to executing the research. Hypotheses must:
1) be stated-*to provide direction for the research;
2) be formulated as causal relationships with if: then implications;
3) be capable of tests within the limits of the research
4) be stated as simply as possible;.and,
5) as a groi~p be adequate and efficient in suggesting
means to one or more meaningful solutions to the problem.
In general, objectives describe what is expected to be achieved
by the project. Specifically, objectives:
1) define the limits of the research project;
2) suggest or clarify the means of conducting research;
3) describe the nature of the potential research product
to the client; and,
4) identify the client or clients.
Experimental and Non-Experimental Research
A major difference between experimental and non-experimental
research is the degree of control the researcher exercises over the variables being studied or measured. In an experiment, the researcher controls the design and levels of certain variables and the measurement of phenomena resulting from the experiment. In non-experimental research, the researcher in most instances cannot influence the design and level of the variables nor directly measure the phenomena, but controls only the technique used in measurement (primarily a sample survey and questionnaire).
Experimentation and experimental design usually are associated with objectivity, precision, and scientific purity -- concepts that imply rigidity and inflexibility in procedure. In basic research this is mostly true, but in applied research, considerations other than pure scientific objectivity can become more important in determining the type of design to be used for any given experiment. Resource limitations will usually force a reduction in the accuracy obtainable. Other factors such as extension demonstration uses with selected pilot farms where dual goals of research'and extension are met simultaneously, will modify the nature of the design ultimately .selected. It is important that the applied researcher maintain a
flexible attitude with respect to experimentation and experimental design in order to increase his effectiveness and make him more efficient in his work.
The success of non-experimental data collection rests upon the ability of the researcher to sample the defined population accurately and, once the sample is drawn, communicate with the selected respondents. In designing the questionnaire, two important communication problems must be considered: 1) differences in terminology between various groups, and 2) cultural differences in beliefs and values. Pretesting the questionnaire under actual field conditions can provide information both about its effectiveness as a data gathering tool and information on the population which can help in establishing sample size.
As is the case in experimentation, guidelines for optimum sample selection procedures and questionnaire design can be stated, but in applied research it is important that the researcher also remain flexible in his attitude. Scientific perfection can serve as a norm, but the researcher must remember that for the client, it is almost always better to have some information to help hime make his decisions than to have no information except that the researcher is still designing a better questionnaire (mousetrap) or tying.to decide on the best means of choosing the respondents.
The real skill of the applied researcher comes into play after the data have been collected. Experience and imagination have a particularly high payoff in the analysis and the interpretation of the
data and can make a difference between a useful project and one which ends up in a file drawer. It is in this process that the researcherr finally comes down to the point of determining what the data entail; data do not "speak for themselves" but must be interpreted and analyzed. The researcher-must draw conclusions from the analysis and, in the end, make recommendations to his client to help in resolving the problem that originated the project. This, of course, is the reason for undertaking applied research in-the first place.
Often with interpretation of applied research results, personal experience becomes very important. This experience might be called, in part, the art of research, or subjective analysis or, by the purist, personal viewpoints and judgements. We prefer to think of subjective analysis as flexibility in ones attitude toward his use of scientific procedures. This is the attitude that allows the researcher to completely ."milk". the data and draw out all the information which might be of help to the client. Furthermore, this attitude encourages the good applied researcher to insist on a role
in the interpretation of the statistical or other analyses which have been used (either by him, by another person, by a computer, etc.) rather than accept these impersonal results without question.
Because the client must make a decision, it is also necessary that he understand the information which the- researcher presents as
the results of the research. Too often the investigator writes his report as if he were communicating onlywith other professionals and thereby ignores the needs of the client toward whom the presentation must be directed. The agricultural economist who, upon completing a
sound piece of research, writes for other agricultural economists* in such a way that his client (possibly an extension agent or a farmer) can not possibly comprehend has failed his client as miserably as if the research results had been unsound.
When the moment for recommendations arrives, the client is expecting a useful product. Applied research is not useful to' the client when the researcher reports that he had to go back for more data so he has no conclusions. Conclusions and recommendations must be made on the basis of the results at hand because that is the best information that is or will be available within the allowable
time and resource restrictions.
Finally, no amount of planning, no elegant data collection procedures, and no sophisticated analyses are going to help the researcher who is too timid when the moment of truth arrives to utilize all his information, draw meaningful conclusions and make appropriate recommendations to the-client.