Social science research is changing

Introducing “Off the Record” by Busara

Many of us think of “Research” as a deliberate, slow-moving machine which requires an abundance of time, effort and money. In reality, new research tools are rapidly changing this paradigm, complementing traditional methods to enable research to be fast and nimble, all the while providing rigorous and high-quality data.

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This shift is most notable in the world of online experiments, be it with MTurk (the Mechanical Turk powered by Amazon), Qualtrics, or others. These platforms give businesses access to a diverse, on-demand, scalable workforce who are given a selection of tasks to complete. Workers complete these tasks at their convenience, and the data collected provides valuable, applicable and valid insight on users’ behavior. New data collection tools such as voice recognition, phone sensing, attention measuring or SMS messaging also enable us to run light, low-touch experiments at Busara. These tools are cheaper and more accessible than ever before and are quickly becoming accepted as reliable methods for social science research. In fact, senior researchers are often demanding new ideas be piloted on Mturk before grad students even enter the decision lab, and with the ability to program and deploy an idea in minutes, science can improve faster than ever.

“Off the Record” will contain a series of findings and insights related to questions we see every day in our specific context. Although it is not meant to serve as generalizable knowledge, we hope that it may serve as inspiration to researchers to turn these findings into universal knowledge or organizations to apply a similar mindset in tackling their own internal questions.

Some of the insights from this work may help us to think differently or, at best, change our beliefs about human behavior. Most won’t, and that’s OK — this series is about the pace of work, the guidance it can provide both industry and academy, and the commitment to a new way of trying to generate insights.

We’re kicking this off with a finding completed by our very own Jeremy Shapiro and Tom Wein on how “stink-bomb” comments can affect support for development programs, and we hope to share a new finding every two weeks going forward.