MODULE 1: DEFINING THE RESEARCH PROBLEM -THE RESEARCH PLAN
This module will also assist you in situating your research within the framework of community-based research, as well as learning more about your topic of interest, define your research objective and help you develop your research question.
Content of the module
- The Basics
- What is Community-Based Research?
- The Value of Good Community Research
- What if I Am Not Sure I Have to Do a Research Project?
- What do You Want to Do?
- Determining Project Objectives
- What is My Topic of Interest?
- Getting Information on Your Topic
- Making a Research Plan
- Developing a Research Question or Questions
What is Community-Based Research?
Community-based research (CBR) is about taking a hands-on approach to solving community problems through community solutions promoting change. This is a participatory process through which you become both a producer and consumer of knowledge by contributing to the research and using the findings to support your work in the community. Deciding to do community-based research will help you answer questions in the context of a community, for example a particular population, and issue of concern, or the challenges and success of a program or service. You might want to know:
- What are the gaps of services and programs not being addressed in my community?
- Are the educational needs of Somali youth aged 12-17 being met in my area?
- What services are available for elderly persons in my community?
- What best practices on immigrants’ integration can be shared by small ethnocultural organizations?
The value of doing good community research
By engaging in community-based research communities can expand their capacity to identify their needs and act upon them, as well as to reflect on the assets they have to contribute to this process. Engaging in community-based research is also an opportunity for community members to work collectively to strengthen their connections with each other and the community as a whole. As a result, good research in the community contributes to raise awareness, inform policy makers and service providers and build collective action. To learn more about community-based research, from the communities’ standpoint, you can check out this video.
What do I want to do?
You may want to start by identifying how many people in the community are in need of a service, assessing a program or service in your community, or finding what is important for a particular group in your community. Here are some examples to illustrate these possibilities.
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Do I need to start my own research project?
If the idea of getting straight into an in depth research make you uncomfortable, or you are unsure if you should be doing an in-depth study on something which may or may not work, or be justifiable, then you may want to consider doing a pilot project.
A pilot project is a type of research that can provide you with a break down of information which could be used for further study, or involvement. Doing a pilot project is a bit like “testing the water” to see if an area of interest could be used for a larger project, or to show there is significance in an area to be studied. When doing a pilot project, you are checking to see if performing further research will be necessary, while gathering general information regarding a problem or issue along the way. For more information on pilot testing, check out this link.
For some, what you are looking for may already have been researched. If the research question that you have developed can be answered by research that already exists – either quantitative or qualitative (see Module 5 – link) you should consider using these existing findings. They can save you time, as you do not have to conduct a research project with participants, and money. If, however, your research question cannot be answered by using existing literature, then you may have identified a “gap” in the research. This means that you have the opportunity to fill in a missing piece of the puzzle!
Defining the issue: What is my topic of interest?
To find out exactly what you are looking to address in your research and what population group are you focusing in, it will be necessary that you do some background or preliminary research on the issue at hand. It is also recommended that you narrow down the demographic you want to work with based on: sex, age, income and so on.
Bringing your ideas into one place and discussing them (what we refer to as brainstorming) is a very effective strategy that is used to generate new ideas. You can access a pre-writing strategy guide that will help you with brainstorming by clicking here.
After brainstorming you should have a better idea of what it is you are looking to do with your research. Although you might not have your research question developed at this stage (which will be discussed more below) you will slowly be able to formulate one as you continue on.
Developing a research question will ensure that the research you do will be purposeful and help you answer important questions about the community. Answering the questions below will help you formulate your research question while keeping your research goals in mind.
- What is my issue or topic of interest?
- Why am I doing this research?
- Who will this research benefit?
- What will I use this research for?
- Are there other ways of reaching my goals, other than research?
MAKING A RESEARCH PLAN
Your background research is important. Since libraries and the internet both contain millions of pages of information and facts, you might not find what you’re looking for unless you start with some kind of map. To avoid getting lost, map out a background research plan. It is useful to do this so that you know how to design and understand your study. It will give you a better idea of what research has already been done.
The most formal way of collecting background information is to conduct a literature review. This is a specific type of background synthesis. It consists of scanning the literature on a given topic to understand what is said about and issue and then communicate that in some way. In this manner, you will have a record which summarizes the literature, either by theme or by item. If the literature has proven certain things that apply to your research situation, you do not have to re-prove them.
To make a background research plan or a “roadmap” of questions, follow these steps:
1. Brainstorm keywords and concepts related to your project
2. Use a table with the “question words” (why, how, who, what, when, and where) to generate research questions using your keywords.
3. Identify a list things you would like to address in your research
4. Research if there are research studies addressing a similar or the same issue of interest
5. Network with other people who know more about the issue you are dealing with. Ask them specific questions about your topic
For your own Research Question Worksheet, click here. You can print this off and put it in your research folder or journal to work on as you go. As you use the worksheet, focus on what questions you are trying to answer and how they will ultimately help you meet your research objectives
Below is a graph that will help guide your thinking by asking the “Whys, Whats, Hows, Whens and Wheres” of research which will bring you one step closer to having a research question.
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After writing out what you think you want to address in your study, and having a rough idea of what your objectives may be, you will want to find out more about your topic.
How to find out more about my issue or topic?
Step 1 – Do a quick online search (e.g. Google search )
An online search will provide you with some background information on your topic, and help you see what other factors are involved in your topic or issue. As you start to enter your information into Google or a similar search engine, you will come across a lot of information that may be difficult to sort through. As you do this, you may find that you have too much information and that it would be useful to narrow down your search.
If you type: “violence + against + women” into the search engine, you will likely get a few hundred hits. Instead, you may want to search “violence + women + services + Ottawa” to find more specific information. To learn more about key searches, check out this video.
While doing online searches, you may find it difficult to decide what information is and is not reputable. See Module 4 (link), which focuses on gathering information.
As you continue researching, don’t forget that your end goal for this module is to develop a research question.
Step 2- Do a more detailed search
Once you feel you have gained a bit of information on the topic you are focusing on, you will want to find out if more detailed information is already out there on your topic. You can expand your search from the initial background focusing on the areas you feel are strategic for your research. This will help you to have a consistent review of similar studies that have been conducted in your area of interest and identify “gaps” in the research.
Step 3- Contact community organizations
As you continue to research, you may want to contact community organizations, and visit their websites. As indicated before the objective is to find if the research you want to undertake already exists, to some degree or another. The information you can find would provide you with the necessary background material and will be useful to you when writing your literature review (See Module 4 link). Make sure to take notes on interesting information you find when doing your background research so you can refer to them later. You will want to continue with this process, and repeat the above steps until you have acquired enough information to be able to develop a research question.
Step 4 – Consult academic information and gray literature
Now that you are starting to narrow in on your topic, you will want to look more closely at academic information and gray literature (non-academic) that will be useful for your project. You may access peer-reviewed journals, books at the universities’ and public libraries. You can access published studies of non-profit organizations, research institutions and government bodies through the Internet. For example, publications of the Social Planning Council, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Statistics Canada. You can also check out the Parliamentary Library and any other organizations that may have reports available online (e.g. hospitals, newspapers). Often there are databases of publications that can be accessed online such as the information found on this webpage. Information on the Canadian government can be found by clicking here.
While reviewing more the materials available in your research, you should be slowly narrowing in on your topic of interest making sure it is not too broad, nor too narrow. You also need to make sure the information you are reviewing and collecting is a reliable source of information. While getting closer to narrowing in on your topic ask yourself;
- Is there enough research available for me to expand upon?
- Is the information I found relevant to my issue or topic?
- Are the sources I found reputable? (see module 4 link)
While developing your action plan you need to ask yourself several questions to make sure you are on track. Such as: Is my issue or topic specific enough? Has a similar study been conducted? If so, how am I planning to use these findings? How can we tell that what I am doing will have an impact? Do we have the information we need to make decisions and take action?
Once you find out more information out on your topic, it will be time to develop your research question, and then move onto Module 2. But before we do that, let’s have a look at the checklist below to see if you are ready to move forward with developing your research question
- Have I brainstormed, and filled out the research question worksheet and formulated some sample questions to research like the examples in Table. 1.1 ?
- Have I identified all the keywords in my community research project to formulate a research question?
- Have I used the above diagram to help you generate a research question?
- Have I thrown out irrelevant questions?
If you answered is “yes” to the above questions, then you are ready to move forward. Now, it is time to develop a research question or questions. This research question(s) will be the back bone of your research, and define the reason you are conducting research.
Developing a research question(s)
In order to make a good research question(s), it is important to understand what is the purpose of your research is and what it should entail. For more information on how what a research question is, and how to make it work for your research, check out this informative and interactive tutorial on developing a research question.
|Examples of 3 community research questions
To be developed
After you have formulated your research question(s), review it over and make sure it is specific and clear. It is a good idea to ask people to read it over for you and tell you what they think it means. You want to make sure it is understood and cannot be phrased more clearly. Seeking feedback is always wise.
By the time you have completed this module you should have developed an objective for your research. This may be a question you need to answer about your community, an assessment of a program, or need for one in your area. It might have helped you to narrow down how many people in the community are in need of a service, or why it is important to them, but regardless of what you are looking to address, is that you have officially finished Module 1, and are now ready to move onto Module 2 (link).