Friday, January 18, 2008

Research in Social Conflict

One of the problems I've encountered in activists with a newly-found zeal for research, is the inability to distinguish between means and ends. Research in social conflict is only useful when applied. It is not an end in itself. The enthusiasm for learning in these situations must be tempered by the practical demands of the moment.

As Paul de Armond observed in his paper The Road to Athena's Camp, “Most people possess the basic research skills. What they lack is the framework for applying those skills---due to a conflicting framework that falsely values emotional opinion over rational knowledge.” Immersion in the collection of data, absent a strategy, only contributes to the illusion of purpose.

For those new to applied research, it is common to confuse strategy and tactics. As noted by de Armond,

Research provides the facts and builds a knowledge base. That knowledge is filtered through analysis to determine strategy. Operational research guides the tactics used to accomplish the strategy. Strategy requires topsight---a comprehensive understanding that surpasses knowledge.

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