Wednesday, April 15, 2009

An Award for Wilder Research - Some Lessons Learned

Wilder Research has received the 2009 Public Sociology Award, given by the University of Minnesota’s Department of Sociology in recognition of our efforts “to do research that directly informs public debates and engages wider publics.” We value and appreciate this honor, and we will continue to work to provide high quality social research that promotes effective community action, efficient services, better policies, and better engagement of all of us in improving our communities’ quality of life.

To be successful, we’ve learned that at least four ingredients are essential, and I would like to share them with you:.

1. Solid research. The quality of information depends on the methods used to obtain it. We do not have a “one size fits all” mentality. Rather, we identify the best method(s) for obtaining information, depending on the questions which we or others need to answer. We include social scientists from all disciplines on our staff, because we don’t feel that any one discipline has a corner on the market for searching for the right answers. We build on theories and previous research from all disciplines. When we use a method we make sure that competent staff gather, analyze, and interpret information in accordance with the highest scientific standards. Much of this occurs transparently, providing an unseen foundation. Nonetheless, this foundation enables us to construct studies which will withstand criticism and provide the opportunity to obtain sound, up-to-date knowledge.

2. Credible research. We do not strive to produce what people want to hear; we strive to produce what people need to hear. We do not seek to please; we seek to provoke thought and creativity and to enhance insight. We feel that our audiences deserve research results which any reasonable person would accept as legitimate, unbiased, reasonable, and relevant (even if that person disagrees with those results). Some research “think tanks” become associated with a “point of view”; they can please adherents of that point of view, but they struggle to gain acceptance of their findings and interpretations, no matter how valid they may be, among other audiences. We take steps to appeal to people with all sorts of predispositions. We do this, for example, by forming study advisory committees with diverse representatives who do not necessarily agree with each other and who challenge us to find a way to gather information that all sides of an issue will accept as credible. We take great pride in the many occasions where liberals and conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents have all cited Wilder Research data to support their conclusions and recommendations.

3. Practical research. Our work must answer questions that will guide long-term strategic decisions and short-term operational decisions regarding policies, funding, programming, and other activities. We involve decision-makers, in general and specific ways, to advise on the design of our work, and in critiquing our work after completion, for continued improvement. The greater the use of our findings, the more we feel we have achieved our goals for Wilder Research.

4. Mission-driven research. Above all, we carry out our efforts in humble dedication to the improvement of the well-being of all members of the community. This dedication motivates individuals to join the Wilder Research staff, and it sustains them to carry out the highest quality applied research.

As always, I welcome your comments – and even your challenges – to keep us on track, continuing to accomplish the best possible work.

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