It is a common practice for many research organizations, research firms, sponsors, funding agencies, and different ministries to make a list of priority research areas before they call for a research proposal. In doing so, they usually arrange workshops with experts to identify research problems.
Each problem that is proposed for research is judged for its merit in terms of a few guidelines or criteria.
These include, among others the following:
- Avoidance of duplication
- Political acceptability
- The urgency of data needed
- Ethical consideration
A brief description of each of these criteria is given below:
Before one decides on a topic, each proposed topic should be compared with all other options. This enables the researcher to decide whether the topic so chosen is a priority problem or not.
The key questions that will help one to decide whether the problem was chosen is a research problem or not are, among others;
- how large or widespread is the problem
- who is affected by the problem, and
- how severe is the problem?
If the topic is not considered to be relevant based on these criteria, it is not worth to continue the study.
Avoidance of duplication
Before it is decided to carry out the study, it is important to see whether the suggested topic has been investigated earlier in the proposed study area or an area with a similar environment or settings.
If the topic has been studied before, the results should be reviewed to explore whether major questions remained unanswered, and thus deserves, in your judgment, further investigation. If not, there is no justification for repeating the study.
Every proposed study must be considered for its execution in terms of the complexity of the problems and resources that will be required to carry out the study.
Thought should be given first to personnel, time, equipment, and money that are likely to be available locally.
In the case of insufficient locally available funds, the possibility of obtaining technical and financial assistance from external sources should be explored. The local environment in which the study is to be conducted must also be taken into consideration.
In general, it is desirable and, at the same time, advisable to choose a research topic that has the interest and support of the relevant authorities, including significant political opinions.
This will increase the chance that the recommendations of the study will be implemented. If needed, an extra effort is to be made to involve the policymakers concerned at an early stage to avoid confrontation later.
It is the ultimate goal of any study that the study results will lead to some policy recommendations. The question is: how likely is that these recommendations will be endorsed and implemented by the authorities, for which the study was undertaken?
This will depend not only on the blessings of the authorities but also on the availability of resources for implementing the recommendations. The opinion of the political clients, fund providing agencies and the responsible staff will influence the implementations of the recommendations as well.
The urgency of data needed
In the implementation of the study results, the authorities give top priority for those studies, which are urgently needed for decision- making.
This is an important criterion for a research problem. One should, therefore, decide on:
- Which research should be done first, and which can be done later?
- How urgently are the data needed for making a decision?
- Do we have easy access to these data right now?
In choosing a research problem, one must carefully consider its acceptability to those who are being studied. Care must be taken so that the subjects of the studies are harmed neither physically nor psychologically, and their fundamental rights are not ignored.
Careful considerations must be given to research situations when there is a possibility of such harms, exploitation, invasion of privacy, and loss of integrity.
Ethical issues in research reflect important moral concerns about the practice of responsible behavior in society.