Person researching with a laptop Photo courtesy of Sebastian Sikora

For a sector drowning in data, higher education does not seem to use it as much as it should. When it comes to persuading administrators on decisions relating to strategy and policy, narrative and instinct seem to carry more weight than research-based evidence. With so many board administrative studies being requested for the sake of bureaucracy they have begun to lose their impact. As a result, administrative research needs to go back to the scientific method to ensure each study has a specific purpose and is gathered, analyzed, and reported in a concise and deliberate method.

The most important factor of any research study is “so what?”. If the research does not have a specific purpose the data will not answer or inform. Many bureaucratic studies operate under the assumption that the larger the data set, the more likely the necessary answers will be within. Unfortunately, this methodology is more likely to obfuscate and confuse than provide the information being sought.

Harvey Weingarten, President & CEO of the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HECQO) and past President of the University of Calgary, has experienced his fair share of research for the sake of research and outlines four steps each administrative team should follow when collecting data:

  1. Hypothesis: The purpose for data collection must be clearly stated and receive approval from the appropriate sources. If the proposal is vague it does not proceed.

  2. Methodology: Only the most relevant and necessary data has been identified for collection.

  3. Collection: Requests for data include concise overviews of how the data will be used, who will use it, and when will it be used by.

  4. Results: Once the data is put in use, the specific program, policy, or practice being shaped by it undergoes public evaluation to determine the research’s success.

It is ironic that post-secondary administrations fail to apply the scientific method to their own research when when it is the foundation of the academic research in their departments. If more institutions use these four steps as a map for each administrative research request, it may result in an overall reduction of data while providing more substantial insights for policy and strategy decisions.

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About the Author: Dustin is a senior account manager with DesignedUX, providing communications and strategy to organizations in education and technology. Dustin is also board member of the Canadian Public Relations Society and contributes as a communications researcher with McMaster University.