Research Principles

Designing for social impact calls for an engagement-oriented, prototypical, critical research practice. This is a values-based approach grounded in responsible research: from initial encounters with community, to ethical and enduring partnerships, to critical consideration of the un/intended outcomes of the research interventions over time.

Many of us are motivated to undertake research that leads to responsible, positive, sustained long-term outcomes for people and the planet. Yet we see that as the research context shifts, so should our research practices. Drawing on values and practices from design and ethnography, braided with insights from transformative learning, the principles below propose a new kind of research rigour.

Shifting our worldviews on research impact surfaces new questions and asks us to resist some social norms, internalised beliefs and habituated practices we have learned to default to. Research integrity here lies not with evidencing impact for its own sake, but understanding how — with care for people and respect for the planet — we might design and undertake our research responsibly for social change.

8 Practice Principles 

Bring Integrity: Be Inquisitive Assumptions are interrogated through prototypical thinking. This helps resist the impulse to predetermine everything from the outset and is more about asking, “what if…”

Deepen Connections: Be Respectful Learning comes from plural perspectives and by making space for different, oftentimes contradictory worldviews. Being respectful of difference asks us to resist the impulse to act transactionally and instead commit to reciprocal exchanges that are enduring and mutually beneficial.

Ensure Relevance: Be Humble
Research outputs are informed by lived experience and prospective research outcomes align with what is needed. This is about resisting the privileging of one kind of knowing (usually academic) and more about listening and responding to all available expertise.

Seek Equity: Be Critical Make unconscious bias and systemic inequities clear by always critically reflecting on the partial perspective that academic expertise brings. We resist defaulting to dominant social norms about official ‘knowledge’ by reckoning with our positions and power as researchers.

Privilege Context: Be Adaptive Learning happens through emplaced and embodied knowing informed by regular engagement and iterative interventions. This is a call to resist working in the abstract and instead to be responsive to the on-the-ground situated context.

Observe Patterns: Be Rigorous
Recognise living systems as interconnected and dynamic by making the patterns and interdependencies visible. Resist simplifying entanglements and instead be mindful of the unintended consequences.

Embrace Uncertainty: Be Speculative
The act of co-creating futures invites stepping into a space of uncertainty. The liberatory potential of attending to ideas as they emerge can illuminate the constraining structures of the present and invite speculation about alternate futures. By resisting a default reliance on what is easily quantified, we can access multiple ways of knowing to imagine new possibilities.
Take Action: Be Considerate Know that small place-based interventions can reveal over-sized insights, leading to an understanding of what will stick, what is needed, what needs refining. Resist critiquing or analysing from the sidelines and take considered risks through learning from early wins and failed experiments in context.