Overview of Various Types of Research

Focused Synthesis/Review of Existing Research

Focused synthesis or review of existing research involves the selective review of written materials and existing research findings relevant to a particular research question or issue. This process involves examining published articles as well as a variety of other sources such as discussions with experts and stakeholders, anecdotal stories, personal past experience of the researchers, unpublished documents, and staff memoranda. Information sources are used only to the extent to which they directly contribute to the overall review (Majchrzak, 1984).

Secondary Analysis

Secondary analysis involves examining data from existing databases. The statistical procedures to examine this type of data range from descriptive statistics that serve to describe the data and present it graphically to complex inferential statistics that model complicated behaviors. Difficulties finding databases with the desired information and lack of accessibility to these databases often limit the usefulness of secondary analysis for understanding a specific issue.

Field Experiments

Another use of research is to examine the effectiveness of implementing a strategy to address an issue or problem. Data on resulting changes are collected and analyzed to determine the impact of the implemented strategy. Field experiments can be useful for gathering evidence concerning the potential impact of policy change prior to its implementation as well as for monitoring and evaluating the impact of a policy change after its implementation.

Qualitative Methods

Qualitative research involves the use of non-numerical data and often entails the collection and analysis of narrative data. Qualitative research methods are particularly useful for gaining rich, in depth information concerning an issue or problem as well as generating solutions. Examples of qualitative research methods include focus groups (where selected individuals participate in a discussion on pre-specified topics), in-depth interviews, and participant observation (where the researcher acts as both participant and observer in gathering information concerning an ongoing process).


Surveys are used for gathering data on an issue or problem and its causes. Surveys may involve personal interviews or written questionnaires administered at one time or over several periods of time. Polls are a special type of survey usually conducted by large polling organizations using sophisticated statistical techniques to gauge the opinions of a large population. Governments often use polls to help them understand the population's concerns and opinions around current issues.

Case Studies

Case studies involve recording and analyzing the actual experiences of an organization or community around specific issues. Case studies allow for the identification of behaviours and other variables related to a social issue or problem and often can provide a more complete understanding of a situation's complexity. Case studies also can be used to examine the process by which an intervention or policy action has been implemented (Majchrzak, 1984).

Cost-benefit Analysis

Cost-benefit analysis involves a set of methods whereby a researcher compares the costs and benefits to society of alternative policy options. Cost - benefit analysis can take into account monetary, social, environmental, and other issues related to policy. This type of analysis can be a cornerstone of policy research providing for the identification of policy options that are likely to provide the most benefits at the least cost to a community (Majchrzak, 1984).

Major Sources of Information in Policy Research

There are many sources from which individuals, community organizations, and decision-makers can obtain information that may used in the policy-making process. Each source tends to collect and present information in a different manner and understanding what each of these sources has to offer can help in finding and accessing relevant information related to a policy issue.

Official Statistics
Traditional knowledge
Specialized Policy Analysis Units and Think tanks


Understanding the Link Between Research and Policy, "Rural Communities Impacting Policy Project, 2002"

Community-based Research

What is Community Based Research?

The term community based research is increasingly being used across a variety of settings. But what does it mean? We at CCBR, together with our partners, have developed the following working definition.

Community based research is research that strives to be:

Community situated - begins with a research topic of practical relevance to the community (as opposed to individual scholars) and is carried out in community settings.

Collaborative - community members and researchers equitably share control of the research agenda through active and reciprocal involvement in the research design, implementation and dissemination.

Action-oriented - the process and results are useful to community members in making positive social change and to promote social equity.