Research has become an invaluable tool in all areas of human activities to enhance the quality of the desired product. Academic and specific research work in industry, agriculture, or any other fields these days approaches the problem in a very scientific manner, adopts appropriate methodology, avoids pitfalls of hasty conclusion, and prescribes norms to be followed. In recent decades under the auspices of the United Nations Organization and many private agencies, active research works are undertaken to guide governmental and non-governmental bodies to proceed carefully to obtain optimum benefits. Planned growth requires careful assessment so that resources are not frittered away. Research for Development is a great work by Sophie Laws and her two collaborators Caroline Harper & Rachel Marcus. Ms.Laws is an independent consultant and have guided many institutions in the slippery path of social research. The book under review can be termed as a ‘masterpiece’. It not only gives a theoretical base for many strands of research work but guides systematically through the different stages of actual research work.
The breadth of vision in the book under review
In the words of the authors, “This book consists of two parts: The first concentrates on managing research – giving practical advice on all the issues that arise in making research for development work happen. The second part gives guidance on how to do the research itself.” After the end of the Second World War, a large number of countries became independent from colonial rule in Asia and Africa. The newly formed governments in these states were required to undertake vast developmental works in economic and social reconstruction. They had to tackle the problem of poverty, illiteracy, health care, physical infrastructure, improvement in agriculture, industrialization, technological growth, provision of power, administrative units, and tools of modernization. At once enormous problems were encountered in overcoming the stagnation which had accrued due to alien rule, shackles of age-old beliefs, resistance to changes in some places, and the inability of the masses to understand the impediments in the way to move forward. Also, conflicts of interests between planned development and laissez-faire invariably cropped up. However, progress has been made in several areas, though the pace has been conditioned by many factors and is not uniform everywhere.
The book takes us through vital information regarding the need for research in development work, and how effective and quality research would enlighten the policymakers to take into consideration the various inputs before devising and implementing appropriate action in a particular area. Every stage from what is required to be sought and how eventually information is pieced together to get a coherent idea of what must be done is meticulously listed. A very remarkable facet of the book is how local factors like demography, skilled workforce, resources available, resources required, co-ordination needed to faithfully translate ideas into practice and the like are given appropriate weightage, and suggestions are made as to how different areas would require modifications or variations in the approach. The practical examples given are from situations encountered under different climes and conditions and accordingly guide the policymakers and researchers alike to be down-to-earth in framing suitable goals. That is to say, in many under-developed nations where the desire to bring about changes quickly was very much passionate, they were made to understand that these countries were behind advanced nations by several centuries concerning education, social attitude, and political will and the pace would be a little slow. While stressing that “research planning should not duplicate other research nor be a substitute for action”, it points out to the researchers the need to understand the mission, aims and objectives, co-operation and the ability to learn from the findings and avoid reliance on extensive statistical details in some cases.
It should also be pointed out that the authors have given guidelines for not only the need for a proper foundation to undertake quality research but very positive indicators regarding how to manage the research. Very cogent points are given concerning the difference in strategies for rural areas and urban areas, problems about child labor and those concerning skilled and unskilled labor force, literacy programs for children and adult literacy programs, etc. These would give a proper and judicious perspective to the policymakers and researchers who advise them.
From ‘Where to start to ‘Evaluating research for development work’
Chapters 9, 10, and 11 may be considered as gems in the first part of the book. Though it might appear to be superficial, the question ‘Where to start’ is thought-provoking. Whether an individual or a group, different teams should be entrusted with researching is not such a superficial question after all. The particular type of research required, the nature and volume of work involved, the expertise in the field, the verification of analytical skills required to undertake the work are all important factors. Care must be taken to clearly understand the specific policy and purpose for which research is needed to shape that policy. While a single individual cannot attempt what is required to be done by a group of people in collecting data or collating them, it would be useless to employ a horde of people to analyze the data collected or formulate the objective guidelines to be presented to the policymakers. The authors also list some means whereby research skills can be suitably learned: “Training Workshops, Reading on one’s own, Formal Research Training including distant learning, learning as a part of the research project and joint working, coaching, and consultancy.” (Research for Development, p.76)
Findings and Evaluation
The authors then proceed to explain the importance of promoting the research findings so that there is conscious awareness about it among different research sections and the general public. The media also must be involved in it so that the community at large perceives various measures undertaken and gear up to co-operate to make many schemes yielding good results. This is very important in the field of health because the dissemination of information would create a proper atmosphere to understand the implications of proposed schemes. The need to get suitable feedback from public-spirited individuals and institutions will also promote the findings of the research. Child labor projects, wild-life preservation schemes and the like would have to be constantly brought to the attention of the people. Care must be taken to avoid sensationalism but at the same time, efforts must not be spared to spread the message across all the sections of the people.
So also efforts must be made to rope in community leaders on all important activities, irrespective of political or other differences. Social schemes must be placed well above narrow loyalties.
While the purpose and completion of research had to be systematic, equally important is the proper evaluation of the ‘policy-focused’ projects. The authors have pointed out that initially spelling out the objective clearly would go a long way from avoiding misconstruction and confusion later on. When the objectives are clearly defined and one set about the task of researching it, taking into consideration standards of quality, the extent to which
success is ensured can be easily gauged. Adequate care must be taken as to, ‘” who should be involved in evaluation?”, and “When should evaluation take place?”. Constant or periodic monitoring, group discussions in certain areas, and resort to expert evaluator are some measures whereby evaluation would gain meaning and additional substance. Differences between program-related research and advocacy-related research must be diligently observed. In short achievements and quality of original objectives must be carefully evaluated.
Actual Research and guidelines
The authors have then come out with useful advice on development research. The stress is on how and where to look for the required objective. While dealing with the ethical code in research the authors have come out with many useful points like protecting the confidentiality of respondents, not wasting people’s time, taking care to avoid meddling with others’ feelings, and some cases reasonable returns for assisting respondents as well. Attention is directed to the need for clarity in the use of words while eliciting a response. Communicating with literates, illiterates, differently baled, children, very old, and such other divergent sets require careful cultivation of different approaches to elicit a positive and reliable response. Care also must be taken not to ruffle the sensibilities of different groups. Quality in data-gathering is a must and methods chosen for different types of gathering data should serve optimum returns. The most important thing is to talk to the right people for the right area as otherwise, research would be an exercise in futility. In the appendix, useful hits are given regarding the use of websites.
The 438-page general content and 28 pages of appendix give us a very practical and comprehensive account of “Research for Development”. In fact the book may be considered as an exhaustive manual on the methodology to be adopted for different types developmental activities. From such a simple question as to what must be taken up for research to giving sound advice on how to write the research paper, the authors have painstakingly presented in a very simple and clear format the requirements for researching and presenting the findings.
The one things that stands out in the book is the absence of sermonizing or censoring. From explaining abstract ideas to detailing guidelines for simple collection and collation of facts the authors have given a very pragmatic and systematic approach to the whole process of researching. When one notes that in developing nations many things are just taking place and when there is lack of proper appreciation about research itself, this book stresses the need for
proper researching and proper research writing. It is as if a friend helps us through an unknown territory, he having faced the hurdles and overcome them with careful planning and execution.
It may be mentioned that many examples given in different chapters are very appropriate. In fact it appears that the authors have taken special care to avoid verbiage and have been successful in practicing what they preach. That is to say, there are many useful points in a section “What not to write” and one has to strain to find in this book some sentences or phrases which may be considered as better ‘omitted’. An analysis should not be excessively complementary but an analysis need not necessarily be unduly critical either just for the heck of it.
Strength and Weakness
“This manual is written for development workers, and is intended to give you the tools to use research as effectively as possible in your work. For development workers, research is one approach to making social change, ideas are proposed to assist in deciding when a research approach is the best one to take.” The two parts and twenty one chapters amply demonstrate the strength of the book in fulfilling the objectives for which it has been written. In more than ways the simple but elegant language and presentation soothes the researcher and convinces him of the right path to be chosen. At all important objectives the required guidelines are shown and the researcher gains confidence in undertaking his work.
Whether it is the chapter on Research Ethics or Key Research Techniques or on the methods of analysis, there is always brevity and clarity. The researcher must only have the patience to go through the passage once more if he/she has any lingering doubt to be resolved.
Does that mean there is no weakness in the book? Well, not for just argument’s sake but one really feels that sometimes more examples could have been added. What have been given are really up to the point but a few more perhaps would have left a more lasting impression.
At the end of each chapter key-points are also given. They are not just in the form of revision but a reinstatement of convictions. The list of references for further reading gives us a better perspective about the depth of the subject even though we think we have easily learnt the trick of the trade with reference to research development. The tables and diagrams have been carefully designed at appropriate places and help us to have better perspective.
The authors had desired to present a manual for those with an avowed interest in Research for Development. A study of the book reveals that their objective has been more than realized. The manual turns out to not dry data of bones and flesh but is filled with the blood of life as well. There has been no exaggerated claim about the book but very compact presentation with gripping information and knowledge sustains the interest throughout. In fact it could strengthen the resolve of an earnest seeker to stand firmly on objectivity, analyze with absolute scientific detachment and make a social research work strictly conform with the norms of a scientific research work.
Research for Development, A Practical Guide. Sophie Laws with Caroline Harper & Rachel Marcus, Vistaar Publications, New Delhi. 2003.