How do you plan and manage a research programme if you do not know what the outcomes will be? With great difficulty is the answer, particularly in the current climate where predictability is usually expected and measured. Such expectations can impose real constraints on research processes which aim to interact with and encourage the participation of other stakeholders. They can inhibit the identification and pursuit of news ideas which emerge as the research progresses.
These issues were discussed by a group of researchers, research intermediaries and research policy makers at a workshop in Trinity Hall, Cambridge on 17-18 September 2009. The workshop was convened by IKM Emergent, the Information Systems research group of the Judge Business School and by the Bridging the Digital Divide Group, a consortium of UK funded ICT4D projects whose experiences prompted the initial reflection on these issues.
The workshop was not based on any critique of existing research methodologies, the continuing validity of which was taken for granted. It rather sought ideas on what new paradigms are emerging to support exploratory research which cross the boundaries of disciplines, cultural realities and traditional researcher/subject roles. Such paradigms are potentially of relevance to many areas of research, but it was felt that they were of particular importance to development research and, also, that development realities posed many challenges which help identify the issues any new paradigms need to address.
The workshop concluded with a declared interest in a continuing an open discussion of these issues, in particular the theory on which new paradigms should be based; the evidence base for why they are needed and what form they may take; and the communication required if research policy makers and funders are to be persuaded to alter their thinking to encourage rather than inhibit emerging forms of intellectual endeavour.