Key Principles of Development Research

Key Principles of Development Research

Development research is often initiated for complex, innovative tasks for which only very few validated principles are available to structure and support the development activities. Since, in those situations, the image and impact of the intervention to be developed is often still unclear, the research focuses on realizing limited but promising examples of those interventions. The aim is not to elaborate and implement complete interventions, but to come to (successive) prototypes that increasingly meet the innovative aspirations and requirements. The process is often cyclic or spiral: analysis, design, evaluation, and revision activities are iterated until a satisfying balance between ideals and realization has been achieved.

Important principles of development research are

i) preliminary investigation
ii) theoretical embedding
iii) empirical testing
iv) documentation, analysis and reflection on process and outcome
v) seeking complexity and diversity
vi) methodological pluralism
vii) multidisciplinary approach
viii) self-critical awareness
ix) empowerment

(i) Preliminary investigation

An intensive and systematic preliminary investigation of tasks, problems, and context is made in development research. It also includes searching for more accurate and explicit connections of that analysis with latest knowledge from literature. Some typical activities include: literature review; consultation of experts; analysis of available promising examples for related purposes; case studies of current practices and better understanding of needs and problems in intended user contexts.

(ii) Theoretical embedding privilege

More systematic efforts are made to apply state-of-the-art knowledge in articulating the theoretical rationale for design choices. Moreover, explicit feedback to assertions in the rationale about essential characteristics of the intervention is made after empirical testing of its quality. This theoretical articulation can increase the transparency and plausibility of the rationale. Because of their specific focus, these theoretical notions are usually referred to as mini- or local theories, although sometimes connections can also be made to middle-range theories with a somewhat broader scope.

(iii) Empirical testing

Clear empirical evidence is delivered about the practicality and effectiveness of the intervention for the intended target group in real user settings. In view of the wide variation of possible interventions and contexts, a broad range of (direct/indirect; intermediate/ultimate) indicators for success should be considered.

(iv) Documentation, analysis and reflection on process and outcomes

Much attention is paid to systematic documentation, analysis and reflection on the entire design, development, and evaluation and implementation process and on its outcomes in order to contribute to the expansion and specification of the methodology of design and

(v) Seeking complexity and diversity

Development research takes into account complex and diverse nature of society. It recognizes the differences between community and within communities and their significance. Hence, it seeks and enables the expression and analysis of complex and diverse information and judgment. This has been expressed in terms of seeking variability rather than averages. It has been described as the principle of maximum diversity, or maximizing the diversity and richness of information. This includes looking for, learning from exceptions, oddities, dissenters, and outliners in any distribution. It deliberately looks for, notices and investigates contradictions, anomalies, and differences. Development research, thus, recognizes and supports diversity, complexity, and multiple realities.

(vi) Methodological pluralism

A development problem or issue has several dimensions. Each dimension of a problem or an issue has to be carefully examined. It may be difficult and, at times, it may not be possible to capture the different dimensions of a problem / issue which may be mainly attributed to mono-method bias in the conventional research. Hence, in order to have a deeper understanding of the problem / issue, development research adopts the principle of methodological pluralism in its investigation. In other words, it always adopts a mix of methods depending upon the nature, type, and context of a problem / issue.

Further, it strikes a balance between quantitative and qualitative methods of investigation – using mixed methodology. It greatly helps in the diagnosis of a problem in the right perspective, and provides correct solution to any problem.

(vii) Multidisciplinary approach

Development is multidisciplinary, with many dimensions. Recognizing and positioning the problem and solution, therefore, require deployment of a multidisciplinary team. The team is also a mix of outsiders and insiders. Depending on the problem to be studied or issue to be solved, the nature and blend of the team from outside can be decided; and, similarly, the team from inside can be identified and deployed. It should be noted that the community has specialists in varied fields. They are experience based specialists. The team from the outside needs to identify such specialists, include them in their research pursuit, and make use of their services for better outcome. The team should treat such specialists as their partners and collaborators. This kind of multidisciplinary team not only enriches the knowledge base, it also facilitates effective implementation of various phases of the programme in a development cycle.

(viii) Self-critical awareness

This means that the development researchers ought to examine their own behaviour continuously and critically. They must develop a spirit of self-criticism. Self-criticism or self awareness is the ability of each person to accurately analyse his, or her own work, or his, or her own behaviour, or attitude in undertaking work to distinguish good from bad practice. Such an analysis would help in acknowledging one’s own behaviour and to discuss the causes and effects of these errors. Self critical awareness is an act of frankness, courage, comradeship and an awareness of one’s responsibility. It is a proof of will to accomplish and to accomplish properly. To criticize oneself is to reconstruct one’s
self from within, in order to serve better.

Self-critical awareness includes embracing the error. The development researcher needs to welcome the error as an opportunity to learn. They have to face failure positively. Such an attitude helps the development researcher to pursue development research with a sense of honesty and devotion. It also helps them to go nearer to the people and ultimately helps them to serve them better.

(ix) Empowerment

Development research seeks to empower the subjects of research. It strongly believes in the voice of the people, and puts the people first in all its endeavours. It adopts the philosophy of ‘Let them do’, ‘Let them decide’, and ‘Let them own’. Thus, it consciously allows the voiceless, the powerless, and the marginalized and deprived sections of the community to take control over their lives. The researchers in course of time need to hand over the stick to the people. This process enables the people to make a choice and take action on their own behalf with self-confidence, from a position of economic, political and social strength.