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ASPIRE conducts Lean Research workshop with UVG collaborators

By José Barillas

Alix Van Zandt, Director of Curriculum and Training, during the workshop. Photo: ASPIRE

Alix Van Zandt, Director of Curriculum and Training, during the workshop. Photo: ASPIRE

In early February, members of the ASPIRE project team – Alix Van Zandt, Director of Curriculum and Training; Ana Lucía Solano, Director of Research; and Kendra Leith, Co-Principal Investigator of the project from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – facilitated the first Lean Research workshop for collaborators from Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG). Open to the entire UVG community, 26 teachers, researchers and collaborators from different departments across the three university campuses were invited to participate. For a full day, the workshop explored the principles of Lean Research, and its application in research, monitoring, and evaluation.

During the workshop, a series of practical activities were conducted to familiarize participants with Lean Research and its appropriate applications. Through dynamic group work and a lively skit related to their professional experience, participants gained firsthand insight into how useful the research method can be when applied to their professional lives.

Augusto Franco from the Department of Computer Science - Central Campus and Claudia Melendrez from Agriculture Engineering – South Coast Campus, presenting a skit about common errors conducting field research with communities.. Photo: ASPIRE

Augusto Franco from the Department of Computer Science – Central Campus and Claudia Melendrez from Agriculture Engineering – South Coast Campus, presenting a skit about common errors conducting field research with communities.. Photo: ASPIRE

Overall, participants valued the experience and new ideas. At the end of the workshop, one participant mentioned: “I think it would be very valuable that this [workshop] take place throughout UVG, from students to administrative staff. There are many internal processes that could be adjusted to be more efficient and relevant by applying this methodology. Additionally, students would benefit from being able to use these questions to propose more rigorous, relevant, respectful, and reasonably scoped research projects. Surely, we have all participated in research processes, so the value of respecting the participants is immediately recognized, and I think that from asking these questions, greater empathy can be generated. That is very valuable.”

What does Lean Research mean?

The Lean Research methodology serves to guide and refine the execution of field research to be more conscious and respectful of the research subjects. Typically, this type of research is conducted to gain a deeper understanding and optimize the outcomes of different programs involved in the lives of studied populations. In addition, Lean Research evaluates the impact of the research activities on participants’ lives, which is often overlooked. This methodology aims to establish collaboration between academics, professionals, and donors, who recognize research as a way to positively influence the lives of research subjects, particularly those facing poverty and vulnerability.

The Lean Research framework

D-Lab’s handbook, “The Lean Research Framework: Principles for Human-Centered Field Research” (Tufts Feinstein International Center and Fletcher School, and MIT’s D-Lab, 2015) provides a clear understanding of this important research methodology. In order for the research process to reduce the burden on research subjects and maximize value for all stakeholders, the following four principles should be considered; rigor, respect, relevance, and that the research is right-sized:

1. Rigor: The research process follows best practices for research within a career and discipline, ensures internal and external validity (if applicable), ensures that data are accurately recorded and reported, and that data is secure.

2. Respect: Participants find the research experience valuable and enjoyable, the consent process is easy for participants to understand, participants can decide not to participate in the study or stop data collection at any time without fear of repercussions, participants can review the findings and refute them, and participants feel that their contributions have been recognized/valued.

3. Relevant: The research team asks questions that are relevant for a variety of stakeholders, the results are available to all participants in the study and are easy to understand, and the results are actionable and inform decision-making.

4. Right-sized: The methods, scope of the research, and data collection techniques match the questions the researchers are trying to answer; the plan for the research study includes the number of questions, participants, and techniques necessary to answer the research questions; unnecessary questions and activities are eliminated; the costs and burden of research are balanced with the potential impacts of the study.

As the handbook explains, the four principles of Lean Research are not new but are often pitted against each other as trade-offs during the research process. Lean Research emphasizes conducting research in ways that reflect and exemplify all four principles and challenges researchers to identify opportunities to implement them in an integrated fashion. As a broad framework and approach to social science research, Lean Research can be applied regardless of whether the methods are quantitative, qualitative, or mixed.

The Lean Research methodology can serve as a practical research tool. Thanks to the hands-on guidance and tools introduced in this workshop, its importance and usefulness have been established as a potential tool for many members of the UVG community.

About ASPIRE

The ASPIRE Project is a five-year, $15 million project funded by USAID and implemented by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG), and the Guatemalan Exporters Association (AGEXPORT), with the goal of creating a world-class, replicable model for how Latin American universities, in collaboration with the private sector, government, and local communities, can respond to local and regional development needs. The project implements a collaborative approach to research, teaching, innovation, entrepreneurship, and tech transfer, based on the combination of local assets and knowledge with MIT’s experience in the innovation ecosystem.

By Janine Sazinsky

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