The research activities that industry and various professions finance or carry out themselves, are growing year after year. People in business apparently know what is best for the future of their company, and they take care of the necessary research and development, not forgetting to set its targets and inspect its findings. The results of this activity - that can be called theories of practice - consist of a wealth of knowledge useful for production or the pertinent profession.
Year after year it also becomes more obvious that this mainstream of practical research, carried out by industry and professions, cannot pejoratively be called "applied research" that would assumedly depend on "basic research" and on education of researchers in the academic world. Instead, we have to accept research and development of practice as an independent branch of science with its own goals, methods and findings. Of course, development activity sometimes adopts and translates for its own purposes findings of other sciences, but this is something that every science does, without earning for it the denomination of "applied science".
It is, however, unnecessary to speculate whether the origin or nucleus of research activity rests on the industrial side more than on academic circles. Points of view, goals and therefore also the resulting theory are so different on both sides that it would be impossible to measure them with the same values. In the academic world the primary goal of research is finding knowledge, in the realm of industry it follows from the goal of business, which usually is to make services or products profitably. These two goals result in two quite different styles of research:
The goals of these two approaches differ from each other, and therefore their results will be different, too. One obvious disparity is that descriptive theory is permanent in principle, while normative theory needs to be updated every time after a change in the needs and expectations prevalent in society. Another divergence is that descriptive theory consists of isolated research reports and there are often gaps between them, while normative theory must be arranged systematically into a consistent, readily usable format such as handbooks of designers and producers and databases of standards and regulations.
The differences between the above mentioned approaches - or branches of science - becomes visible at once in the case that you want to use them concurrently in the study of the same object, which happens now and then. Such an attempt brings to surface thorny questions such as: Should you avoid disturbing the object while collecting data, or is the aim the opposite, or improving the object? When evaluating the findings, is the supreme criterion truthfulness or utility? It is difficult to aim at two targets simultaneously, though it may be possible if the researcher all the time knows which of the two targets he is aiming at.
Because the content and method of every research project depends on its point of departure and target, it is understandable that descriptive and normative studies use often different sets of method. For example, in a descriptive study you often can freely choose between qualitative and quantitative methods, but when you are making a normative study for industrial use such a pre-selection could be too restrictive and engender the usability of the results. Likewise, in a descriptive study it may be meaningful to calculate the statistical significance of the findings, while the normative methodology includes more direct procedures - such as a pilot project or a prototype - for testing the practicability of the proposals. Also the tight time schedules of industry can affect the method by compelling the researcher to report his results exactly on time, even when he would prefer continue testing them or continuing with an interesting detail. Besides, when working for industry, there will be no empirical phase if the question can be solved on the base of literature at least approximately.
Differences of methodology also mean that a researcher competence obtained in a university does not always suffice for normative industrial projects, and vice versa, though in universities the researchers often have the possibility of choosing their themes so that they can use their accustomed methods.
In projects that shall serve industry or a profession there is no such freedom, because the destined use of the results dictate what shall be done. A competent researcher thus has to be familiar with both descriptive and normative methods, on an elementary level at least.
This site is intended to give such an overview of the methods that might be used in the study of professions, industrial activities and products. Its name Arteology denotes the science behind the work of artesans, the first professionals of production, and also the science about their products, artefacts. The site consists of the following parts:
|Planning a research project and its principal options|
|Descriptive methods||Normative methods|
|Descriptive theory||Normative theory|
The material for this overview has been collected from the methods of about two hundred projects of research and development where I have participated during the years 1967 - 1997, and from numerous discussions with researchers and especially with users of their results. The stages of preparing the material are reported on the page How "Arteology" was born.
August 3, 2007.
Comments to the author:
Original location: http://www2.uiah.fi/projects/metodi