Is Your Data Similar to Research?

“Data driven” or “evidence driven” (as they like to call themselves now) educators and leaders have always sought to co-opt the authority of research. It seems, however, that these leaders and educators lack a consistent and sophisticated understanding of research, and this leads them to use suspect data to support dubious conclusions. A few years ago, I was challenged to “define research,” so a group could understand my challenge.

Aspects of Research

Research is the process of posing a question, answering it, and communicating the answer to others. Not just any question, answer, and communication qualifies as research, however. Research must:

  • Arise from a well-defined problem

When defining the research problem, the researcher reviews what is known and what is unknown about a field. By defining the research problem, the researcher establishes the importance of the research question and establishes the research question as filling a gap in the knowledge.

  • Answer a question that has not been answered before

The research question defines the small gap in the knowledge that the researcher proposes to answer. If there are multiple parts of the problem that the research seeks to understand, then there should be multiple research questions identified.

  • Follow reasonable and systematic data collection

The researcher proposes data that will answer the research question(s), and also a method for collecting that data so that the answer is valid and reliable.

  • Follow reasonable and systematic data analysis procedures

Once the methods are developed, the data are collected carefully and then analyzed with equal care.

  • Be evaluated by the researcher

If it turns out the methods were not sound, or that unexpected problems arise, then the researcher must recognize and admit the problems. That will prevent the same problems from being repeated again, and it will help improve the collective understanding of the problem and research methods.

  • Be ethical

No research may endanger anyone in any way (physically, emotionally, psychologically, or politically), and all participants must participate with full knowledge of what is happening and what data is being collected. Of course there are situation in which this could jeopardize the data. Many research institutions require all proposals be approved by the institutional review board (IRB) which is a group of other scholars.

  • Communicate exactly what was done

The researcher has a responsibility to tell others what method they followed.

  • Be communicated following recognized guidelines

Various professional organizations publish guidelines for publication. Researchers follow the rules that all other researchers in their field follow.