Monday, August 17, 2009

What Is Quality Research? Part 1

(guest post by Claire Reeder)

As the summer research & editorial intern here at IssueLab, I sometimes feel like I jumped into the nonprofit sector pool – and now I'm soaked and confused, but exhilarated!

In this way, I am like many of IssueLab’s users in that I don’t spend everyday immersed in the nonprofit research world. The plight of the summer intern is trying to quickly get up to speed - just in time to head back to school! As such, I was filled with questions.

One question in particular kept arising in a medley of forms, but boiled down to this: What is quality research?

From my outreach and dissemination work with the Arts Education CloseUp this summer, I had learned that "quality" could mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. The set of case studies drew from large organizations to smaller community arts programs, from national initiatives to local development projects, and aimed at reaching audiences everywhere in between. It became clear that there was no “one size fits all” answer for what made research useful, applicable, of “good quality,” for every user.

While working on another project later in the summer, I confronted the basic equation that “size and reputation of researcher equals quality of research.” But from what I had seen so far, I wasn’t sure about this - I had more questions: Is it is a valid assumption? What other implications of legitimacy or effectiveness does it bring up? Who does this equation empower? Who does it leave out? And who gets to decide any of it?

There a million angles to examine, to debate, to tease out. This question concerns every actor on the chain: funder, research contributor, research user, practitioner, policymaker, teacher, the list goes on. And it is just as worthy of consideration for those experienced in the field as for those like me still learning to tread philanthropic water.

“What is quality research?” is a question that directly interests us here at IssueLab. As we situate ourselves as intermediaries between many users, we hear answers from all the points on the spectrum. We see that all these points are connected, but that “quality” means something different to each one.

Just as we strive to better understand and further healthy dialogue on social issues by opening up access to nonprofit research, we are hoping to open up a conversation and debate on a big issue in the nonprofit sector. This series of blog posts by our staff members will cover a number of the topic's facets.

So what do you think? What is “quality” research? Jump on into the deep end with us on this one!

(Image provided under a cc license by KB35)

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