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Why Research Methods Matter

“Research matters. Especially in the government and nonprofit sectors where an estimated 40 percent of the nation’s economic resources are devoted to the pursuit of quality of life gains.”

Book cover: Why Research Methods MatterSo opens the foreword of Why Research Methods Matter: Essential Skills for Decision Making, a new textbook that aims for the sweet-spot between sound, scientific-driven inquiry and the political and economic considerations of real-world policymaking and evaluation.

The book, co-authored by NC State public administration scholar RaJade M. Berry-James and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Wilder School interim dean and scholar Susan T. Gooden, hits shelves later this month.

At 117 pages, the text is a concise resource manual for current and future public managers who may not perform data analysis routinely but rely on quantitative and qualitative approaches for programmatic and budgetary decision making. In building the research capacity of front-line administrators, the book aims to improve managerial performance and, most importantly, public service outcomes.

Why Research Methods Matters is an outgrowth of the collective experiences of Berry-James and Gooden, which includes 30-plus years of public administration instruction.

“Teaching research methods has been a rewarding aspect of our professional career,” Berry-James says. “For decades, we have worked with graduate students to conduct primary research, public managers to evaluate publicly-funded programs, and public servants to determine the impact of public policies.  Why Research Methods Matter helps graduate students, public managers, and administrators become savvy consumers of evidence used to make critical decisions about policies, programs and practices. With increasing skepticism toward public spending, Susan Gooden and I illustrate why research methods matter and showcase important research considerations for practitioners in the public and nonprofit sectors.” 

“Throughout our careers, we observed that an astounding number of students felt no interest or connection to research methods. Those who weren’t intimidated would emphatically stress how they never intended to do anything with research methods,” Gooden says. “We felt there was a critical gap in the field: Public administration has not done a good job of linking the tools of research methods to the importance of managerial decision-making. This book addresses that divide.”

Created as a supplementary text for graduate courses and working practitioners, Why Research Methods Matters helps readers become savvy consumers and producers of research with the overarching goal of improving services.

Students of the text review the technical dimensions of social science research and rely on fact-based scenarios to learn what Berry-James and Gooden refer to as the “art of research.” Understanding the art of research is the ultimate goal of the book, which teaches public administrators and policy analysts how to capture and make sense of data when real-world considerations such as context, time, ethics, cultural competency and other behind-the-scenes variables collide with the research process.

One guiding principle of the text is that the decisions of competent front-line administrators are grounded in professional judgment. Ideally, Berry-James and Gooden suggest, sound judgement represents the synthesis of scientifically and artistically informed knowledge.

“We wanted to create an illuminating guide that would teach the basics of research methods within the context of actual public policymaking and evaluation,” Gooden says.

 The original version of this article, written by Tiffany Murray-Robertson, appeared in VCU’s News, and is adapted with her permission.