Concept and purpose of development research

Concept and purpose of development research

Development means a desirable change. The goal of development is wellbeing for all. Wellbeing denotes the experience of good quality life which includes better living standards, access to basic services such as basic education and health care, good relation with others, friendship, love, peace of mind, choice, creativity, fulfilment and fun, and freedom from fear. The means of wellbeing are livelihood security and capability. Livelihood can be defined as adequate stocks and flow of goods and cash to meet basic needs and to support wellbeing. Security refers to reliable access to five types of capital or assets viz., natural, human, physical, financial and social, which in turn, provide secured rights and reliable access to food, income, and basic services. Capability refers to what people are capable of doing and being.

Capabilities can be enhanced through learning, practice and training. They help in achieving livelihood security. Principles underlying the objective of wellbeing are equality and sustainability. Equity refers to human rights and gender equity. Sustainability refers to development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the
future to meet their own needs. Development research largely deals with the issues related to livelihood security, capability, resources associated with livelihood security, and the principles that govern the ends and means of development.

Development research is utility oriented. It must be noted that it is not pure or basic research. It is applied, application-oriented, and action-oriented research. It is not aimed at contributing to, or extending the knowledge in a given field. Yet, it has a tendency to contribute to the knowledge in a given field or sector towards better practice. It is the knowledge that

enhances the way development practice takes place. It expands avenues for better comprehension of issues and intricacies which results in enhancing the effectiveness of development practice.

Concept of Development Research

Development research aims at providing knowledge on which the best decisions can be made. The target may be to solve specific policy related problems, or to help practitioners accomplish tasks. It means to say that research is used in development work for a variety of purposes. It may set out to explore an issue in order to plan a programme; it may, more broadly, ask people in an area about their own needs; or, it may aim to collect in-depth information about a specific issue, to find out a case for change. It may also aid in monitoring, evaluating, reviewing, and reflecting the outcome of a development programme. It can range from comparing a small piece of existing data to major international projects.

Development practitioners, in their ordinary work, do some things that are similar to researchers. They are very likely to undertake situation analysis and need assessment. They investigate people’s opinions and probe their explanations for problems in their lives. They work with people to help them to analyse their situations – to make sense of things beyond the individual.

Development researchers do some of the same methods as researchers, but the way in which things are done will be somewhat different. Both may conduct interviews, undertake observation, hold group discussions, and ask groups what is most important to them. However, development researchers do differ from conventional researchers as they generally specialise in being with people in an informal way.

They treat people as partners and collaborators in their research. They consider themselves as learners and actively listen to the voice of the people. They respect the knowledge and wisdom of the people. They strongly believe in the culture of sharing. They have unshakable conviction that any development research can be done only when the subjects of research play a predominant role in different phases of research and action. All these are based on mutual trust which is being gradually developed at different stages of the development research. The skills and knowledge of the development worker have a great deal to contribute towards research processes. One key role is identifying issues on which research is required.

Development workers are in the business of creating social change, and need to take a pragmatic approach to the use of research in their work. Policy makers rarely commission such research, at least, compared to investments for development itself. Its characteristics and added value demand better theoretical articulation, more empirical evidence, wider
application in development practices, and a more prominent place in professional and scientific publications. There is a broad variety of activities, with different emphasis in their primary aims, under the main umbrella of development research.

Also, on a rather abstract level, one can distil a very general aim of all approaches: reducing uncertainty of decision making in developing interventions. The term ‘intervention’ then serves as common denominator for programs, procedures, scenarios, processes, and the like. That general aim can be specified in two more specific goals that
apply to those approaches in various degrees:

(a) providing ideas (suggestions, directions) for optimizing the quality of the intervention to be developed;

(b) generating, articulating, and testing principles. These principles can be of a substantive nature, referring to characteristics of the intervention (what it should look like), or, of a procedural nature (how it should be developed).

Purpose of Development Research

There can be various purposes for conducting development research. A basic motive stems from the experience that traditional research approaches (e.g., experiments, surveys, correlation analyses) with their focus on descriptive knowledge, hardly provide prescriptions with useful solutions for a variety of development problems. Probably the greatest challenge for a development worker is how to cope with the manifold uncertainties in their complex tasks in very dynamic contexts. If they do seek support from research to reduce those uncertainties, several frustrations often arise:

answers are too narrow to be meaningful, too superficial to be instrumental, too artificial to be relevant, and, on top of that, they usually come too late to be of any use.

Optimization of intervention is especially oriented towards practical ends in a given situation. An additional objective is also visible in various approaches stimulating professional development of participants. This motive even appears to be in the forefront of many ‘action research’ activities.


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