IITC’s research process begins with an idea, a question, or a problem: For example, can informal communication among doctors and nurses help us understand patient safety? Do engineering drawings mean the same things to all users? Why do certain users resist certain technologies? Why do organizations seem to need crises such as wars, disasters, or threatened bankruptcies, in order to accomplish needed changes?
Sometimes these questions come from one of the Institute’s researchers, and are discussed in our staff seminar for further development. Sometimes they come from one of our partners and are developed in collaboration with the partner. Sometimes the research questions represent critical business or social challenges that have been brought to our attention.
In all cases, research questions go through a rigorous review before the first field notebook is opened or the first tape recorder is turned on. Some of the questions asked in this review are:
- By answering this question, can we add value for our partners, our clients, or our community?
- Are there existing studies that could provide a sufficient answer?
- Does this question match our research focus and skills?
- Do we need to bring in additional skills, or refer the question to another research center?
- Does this research involve human subjects?
- Can we offer adequate protection to the human subjects?
- What are the issues of data confidentiality in this project?
Once these questions are answered, we begin developing the question into a project. In this we begin by identifying our collaborative partners, and creating partnership agreements. All IITC research projects are undertaken in a partnership with other corporate, civic, academic or community institutions.
With our partners, we develop a research strategy that combines sound science and an efficient approach to our partners’ challenge. Our experience in rapid assessment and other field techniques assures that the approaches used will answer the question in the minimum time required.
We then identify potential funding sources for the project. If public funds, such as the National Science Foundation are most appropriate, the university takes the lead in submitting proposals. If the project is to be supported by corporate resources or a trade association, we work closely with our partners to develop the most effective strategy for securing these resources.
As an academic research institute, the IITC is obligated to maintain the highest ethical standards in the protection of human research subjects. If human subjects are involved, as they frequently are in social research, we develop the informed consent protocols and submit them to the university’s Internal Review Board. Research with human subjects cannot commence until the consent protocols have been approved by the IRB. This process requires anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
In most of our work with corporate and government partners, the integrity of project data is a concern. We review with our partners the requirements for data security, and develop a plan that identifies how data are secured, who will have access to it, and what physical arrangements will be used to secure project data. The IITC maintains a secure data storage room in its offices for this purpose. Related to this are the nondisclosure agreements that are signed by the project partners before a project begins.
Once our partnership network, research methods and strategy, informed consent protocols, and data management plans have been established, and the project resources or grants secured, we add more detail to the project plan and schedule a project kickoff. The project kickoff meeting is a critical milestone, because it places all of the partners at the same starting gate.
As we go through a project, the project team will typically have its own offices at Wayne State for the project’s exclusive use, depending on project scope and duration. The project will be subjected to periodic executive review, and depending on confidentially requirements, may be discussed in IITC research staff seminars. Project management at the IITC is driven by schedules and deliverables, and a strong desire to deliver genuine and unique value to our research partners.
The final weeks of a project are typically an intense time at the IITC, as the research team works to prepare the final report or other final deliverable; additional staff resources may be added, and probing reviews may be conducted in the staff seminar to assure that the deliverables are of the highest quality. The business experience of all of the IITC’s senior staff is a significant resource for assuring research results of the highest professional and academic quality.
Following the conclusion of a project, to the extent permitted by confidentiality agreements, IITC maintains and re-uses project assets when appropriate, including data resources, protocols, and project plans. In the past ten years the IITC senior leadership has successfully completed more than thirty projects, with project budgets ranging from $20 thousand to $3 million. This institutional memory assures a strong and successful execution for projects to come."