Normative Reporting

  1. Report of Draft Proposals
  2. Report as Instruction of New Practice
  3. Reporting the Progress of the Normative Project
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A normative study is often easier to report than a descriptive one, because a normative research project is usually made for a known practical purpose and for the benefit of people that mostly are known. The author will usually find a suitable logical structure and content for the report simply by recalling the purpose of the project. Similarly, he can find right expressions for the facts and proposals by considering how the text will be understood by the people for whom it is addressed.

Every normative research project differs from the others because its object and targets are individual. A decisive difference, which also has a bearing on the manner of reporting, is the extent of the object of study and of the intended application: extensive or general normative studies aim at improving a class of objects, and intensive or task-specific studies are interested only in the object itself and perhaps in similar other objects. General studies are intended to be used by many people and organizations, task-specific study only by a small group of people, which means differences both for the content and for the publicity of the report. These alternatives are shown in the diagram on the right and briefly explained in the following:

Extensive or general normative research tries to find out what people expect from a certain professional practice or from a class of products. Its proposals are not restricted to the object or case that was studied but they aim at improving all similar instances. In this purpose the project generates universally applicable theory of practice or theory of design, such as regulations, standards, algorithms and other tools for practitioners and industry.

Every profession and every traditional type of human activity possesses and follows its own theory of practice, though large parts of it often exist only in tacit form and it has never been object of scientific study or reported as written theory. However, the development of modern technology requires that more and more originally traditional industrial procedures be modernized and optimized according to the requirements of today, and this is best done by studying them and reporting the results as additions to the existing theory. Theories of practice that have been much studied and are well documented, are among others the following: Developing design theory

Normally these general theories of practice are disseminated through well established channels of information, such as education to a profession, handbooks and computer programs for various professions and fields of industry. Whenever a research project has produced corrections or additions to existing theory, these have to be published through the same channels.

Development project Intensive or task-specific normative study, which is often called research and development, R&D, does not develop theory, but instead it directly aims at improving the existing state of a given activity or product. The objective is the same as in extensive normative study, i.e. finding out methods to ameliorate physically the object. The difference to general normative study is that task-specific normative study produces no theory but instead manipulates directly its object, the pertinent existing activity or product.

Users of the study often participate in the development project, or at least many of them are known, which reduces the need of publicity - and sometimes publicity is even out of question because the company that has commissioned the novelty may want to hide the results from competitors.

Normative reporting often means a series of reports. The goal of a normative project is not to produce reports but above all to result in revisions in existing practice where often many people are involved. All these people can seldom at once accept the researcher's proposal of changing the habitual state of their affairs. More usual is that a normative report is produced as a series of successive versions or editions which have different contents, not only because the proposals are gradually being refined but also because each report is intended to assist in a different phase in the process of realization. For example, a product development project can be divided in not less than six phases which all produce a report, but comparable sequences can be found in any other normative project. In principle they usually consist of the following phases and reports:


Phase of the normative project:
Content of the report after this phase:

Descriptive research phase (if necessary)
1. Report of the present state of things and its problems (if necessary)
Normative research and preparing the proposals
2. Report of draft proposals (as a series of successive drafts when necessary)
Decision on the changes in current practice
3. Report as instruction of new practices
Carrying out the changes in practice
4. Reporting the Progress of the Normative Project (when necessary)
Decision on corrections (if necessary)
(etc.)

Of these, the report of the present state of things and its problems, when it is made at all, can be made with the techniques described on the page Descriptive Reporting. Each of the other reports, mentioned above, has its specific normative purpose and will be discussed in more detail below.

Besides, in the questions of style and techniques of writing, normative reports can often follow the well proven routines of descriptive reports. This concerns especially the following issues, discussed on a separate page:

In normative projects the co-operation and thus also the flow of information is usually quite close and intense, and therefore the formal requirements for paper-work can be less stringent (if the work is not a thesis), and often a verbal presentation instead of a printed book can be just as effective in making things to happen.

Report of Draft Proposals

Normative projects originate usually from the problems or desires of people outside of the community of researchers, and the proposals of the project are thus expected to satisfy the needs of these people. For example, groups of people whose opinions have weight in the development of a new product include, beside the responsible management that finally accepts or rejects everything in the project:

  1. future users of the product,
  2. manufacturing people and technology,
  3. the marketing people and organization,
  4. outsiders and the environment,
  5. the school or association of professional designers where the designer wants to win renown.

Likewise, when developing an existing professional activity, there are people that are habitually dealing with it. Some of these people can perhaps be asked to participate in the project, or at least the researcher can obtain comments from them.

Indeed, typical of normative projects is that its proposals have to be discussed by many people, and on the basis of the comments the researcher will quite often need to modify his proposals, perhaps several times in succession.

To give a basis for the discussions the researcher needs to prepare a report that contains a draft for the proposals of the normative project. Besides, the researcher often explains which other alternatives are thinkable for fulfilling the targets of the project, and enumerates their merits and disadvantages. The structure of the report could be, for example:

  1. Description about the present state of things and of the possibilities to change it, made in objective terms (i.e. without any appraisals of people).
  2. The opinions of various stakeholders who can have interest in the proposed change, and a proposal for arbitrating the contrasts between them, made by the researcher or developed in a general discussion.
  3. A summary of the alternatives, their costs, benefits and side effects. One alternative can be to do nothing and preserve the present state of things and its current direction of evolution. Finally, the researcher should make his proposal for the best alternative and decision.

The style of presentation. A report can serve as a basis for discussion and decision only when it is well understood. When preparing the report, the researcher should therefore keep in mind the people who are going to read it. A Board of Directors can possibly accept erudite treatises, but if you want to get comments from common consumers and all levels of users of your products, it is better to use as plain text as possible, also when explaining an occasional unavoidable technical or theoretical concept. The same recommendation applies for the researcher's verbal presentations at project meetings. Some methods for handling theoretical concepts in a discussion are enumerated in Tools for Action Research.

Not only text can become an obstacle for discussion when too obscure. Also technical diagrams and the conventions of drawing often used by researchers, architects and designers of new products can be difficult to decipher for people who are not accustomed to these types of depiction. Various methods of presenting proposals for buildings and other products are discussed elsewhere under the titles Presenting the Draft and Prototype and Arbitration of Goals in Collective Design. One possibility that researchers seldom remember is to use Artistic Modelling Languages such as painting, sculpture, drama, dance and music for illustrating abstract concepts and relationships.

Another difficulty of comprehension can occur when an experienced artisan or other professional would like to bring to the discussion at a meeting such practical knowledge that he or she only has in tacit form, which can create a problem to the researcher who wishes to report it on paper. Some approaches to this problem are enumerated in Approaches for gathering practical knowledge in tacit form.

Report as Instruction of New Practice

Most normative projects include a distinct event where the best proposal for realizing the targets of the project is selected for good, and its practical implementation begins. Depending on the project organization this event can take place as a decision of the steering group of the normative project, of the management of the company, of a standardizing committee, of a governmental office, or of other establishment that has the authority for making statements about which direction of development is appropriate for the field of activity in question. This decision may be mandatory for all, or it can be a recommendation that the pertinent professionals then can choose to follow or not, depending on the practical situation.

In any case, after the decision it will be necessary to inform all the people who are hoped to act upon the newly created addition to existing theory of practice. The content of this information differs from the above mentioned draft reports, even from the very last of them, because after one of the alternative proposals has been selected, the other alternatives can be forgotten. Likewise, the grounds for this decision have now only historical interest. The preliminary reports that have been prepared during the process can now be filed to be consulted in the case that the newly accepted extension of theory of practice should need to be revised.

When formulating the instructions for practical action, the binding power of each instruction and of each subdivision should be clearly stated. Just indicating who has issued the instruction, would not suffice for this, because instructions which are not quite short (for example booklets) often contain parts that are meant to be mandatory, while other parts may be there for information only. It could thus be useful to differentiate the following degrees of binding capacity:

It would, however, be clumsy to complement each sentence with a phrase which defines the binding power of this sentence in the text. Instead, you can use typographical symbols, such as font, color and placement of text. For example, in the National Building Code of Finland all the pages have one wide and one narrow column, and the text is printed in a number of different fonts. The meaning of these is as follows:

Distribution and publicity. If you want a speedy and extensive implementation for your newly published recommendations or instructions, you should find out who are the people who would want or need to apply this new knowledge, and inform these. How this can be made in practice, depends on the extent of the project.

In small intensive or task-specific development projects, where no general theory has been created and most potential users are well known, a suitable method might be a separate short report which is handed to each known user. Sometimes even a mere verbal presentation or a course of lessons could do. Often the commissioners of a small research and development project are quite satisfied if the project just achieves its practical goals and informing outsiders seems superfluous. Sometimes they are definitely against such information, particularly when it concerns product development in a private company.

The case is different in extensive normative projects where all the potential users of the new knowledge cannot be known and therefore effective publicity is essential. Here it is essential to find out whether there are permanent channels of information for theory of practice, and use these channels if possible. Usual such channels are handbooks, data bases of standards, professional journals, and lectures at the seminars of the people occupied in the pertinent business. Industrial companies which do much research have often private collections of internal standards and other instructions for the design of their own products. For the dissemination of governmental regulations and standards there are special channels, such as the Government's printing offices. However, when using any of these channels you might nevertheless want to consider whether the chosen channel reaches all the people who might profit from the information.

The advantage of permanent systems of publication is that they include procedures for informing about additions and corrections of material, and also for removing obsolete material from the data-base.

Reporting the Progress of the Normative Project

Follow-up In large research and development projects where the time span is months or years, it is customary to make periodical reports to the commissioner or financer, which reports give an account over the progress of the project and compare it to the initial work plan accepted by the patron. If the work plan was made as a Gantt diagram, you have the possibility of indicating for each task its percentage of completion, which together give an overview of the whole project.

Finally, when the project has come to an end and the intended normative operations have been accomplished in practice, there may be a need for a written review of the entire project as a historical panorama of the research done, of arbitrating the contrasts of opinion, of the series of proposals, and of the realization of the selected one.

When such a retrospective report of a normative project is done, it usually is written in descriptive style, because the original normative definitions of problems and targets have lost much of their validity after current practices in the field have been reformed in order to remove the original problems.

However, nothing prevents of evaluating anew the situation in the field, with the normal methods of evaluation or on the basis of feedback if it has been collected about the development. Some arrangements that industrial product manufacturers sometimes use for gathering feedback from the users of the products are explained in Feedback and Critique.

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August 3, 2007.
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Original location: http://www2.uiah.fi/projects/metodi