Research for Social Good: October Focus

Categories: Focus Series, Instruction, Other, Research, Teaching, Tools and Resources, Writing and Editing

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Focus Research Social Good Research for Social Good is a MethodSpace focus for October. We will dig into this broad topic with guest posts, interviews, and links to articles or instructional resources.

We will explore research for social good from two broad angles:

  1. Research about social issues, social change, social responsibility, or social justice; and/or
  2. Research that uses socially-responsible methods, such as inclusive, participatory, indigenous, or other considerate approaches. We will include posts about ways to re-think consent and ethics, care and respect, in terms of how participants (and their data) are treated.

Global newsWhy do we need to turn our attention to research for social good, now? Researchers are increasingly being asked to show how their inquiries can make a difference in the world beyond the ivory tower. We are asked to demonstrate genuine impact associated with our work in order to merit public or private funding. For some of us, this is a basic imperative: we need to develop support to be sure our institutions and research agendas can survive.

Do we need to re-think disciplines to understand problems bigger than any one field of study? Perhaps it is an exaggeration to say that today’s social problems are more difficult to address than those of the past. Still, I would argue that today’s problems are exceptionally complex, with diverse cultural, social, political, economic, technological, environmental, and other particularities. Such matters can be more fully understood when we look at them from Working-Beyond-a-Single-Disciplinemore than one ontological or epistemological perspective. Yet our universities, programs, and departments are organized to develop academics who are stewards of a discipline, situated within the literature and academic conversations of their own fields.

However firm these disciplinary divides, we’re connected globally. We have the capabilities needed to step outside our proverbial boxes and look at problems from top-level, Big Data viewpoints. We also have the potential to learn from intimate stories that we hear when we are present physically or interacting online. John Dewey, writing at a time when the telegraph was opening up global communications, warned of “the influences which educate some into masters [and] educate others into slaves” (Dewey, 1916, pp 97-98). Whether we are looking at an n of 20 or 2,000,000, numbers represent individual people our research might touch. At a time when many are working to confront biases, power differentials, post-colonial attitudes and other divides, researchers also need to think about how we get the work of research done.

How can we design studies, collect data, and use the activities associated with research and publication in ways that are fair, respective, inclusive, and supportive of positive change? How can we include more diverse voices when we tackle today’s dilemmas, drawing on multidisciplinary theoretical and methodological thinking? How can we do a better job of translating academic  findings into practical solutions and new understandings for the pressing problems of our time. To tackle these questions we need to develop new skills, new mindsets, and new approaches. We also need to examine curricular and instructional options, so the next generation can lend a hand.

Let’s learn from each other! We won’t solve all the problems of the world in October. But MethodSpace is a discipline-agnostic place where we can openly consider these questions and share resources. Sign into MethodSpace so you receive each new post in your inbox. If you have something to share, use the comment area or contact me directly: jsalmons[at]






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