Research assignments help drive practitioner learning. They force them to gather new information about a market system using a new set of tools, approaches or behaviours that they have recently acquired. Participants can move quickly from theory to practice applying different types of learning in the same exercise.
Using this mode
Research assignments are particularly valuable during the start-up phase of a new programme. They can double as market research and staff development. This mode is the most effective when the information to gather is of practical use for the programme - not simply a throwaway training exercise. It increases the stakes for practitioners and emphasises the direct value of the tool/technique being used.
Guidance for trainers
- Set boundaries around the scope of the exercise to ensure practitioners learn what they need without getting lost in the details. Clarify objectives at the outset and give people a clear idea of how much time they should be spending on this.
- If the research involves interviewing or consulting with others, do the necessary preparation work to make these introductions easy and smooth. Factor in the risk to the programme if the practitioners are still struggling with the capability in question.
- In situations where the task is highly complex, or the starting competency levels are very low, show practitioners what it looks like by doing a simulated example of the types of interaction you are expecting. Likewise, if you are expecting them to report back their findings in a particular format, give an example or a template to help set expectations.
Example competencies for research assignments
Systems analysis for economic inclusion: competency A1
Focus on a household or community. Investigate how people are integrated into markets for key goods and services as both consumers and producers. Apply key models, terms and concepts from microeconomics and use them to describe findings.
What individuals and groups hold power and wealth in a specific bounded context e.g. community, particular market? Why do they have this power? How do they maintain it?
Introduce examples of entrenched power and historical reasons why those people and organisations have it. Discuss how it affects MSD and reasons why it might be hard to change who has power.
Business and financial analysis: competency A2
Ask participants to interview and research a business or organisation in the local context and report back on it using a framework such as the business model canvas.
Behavioural insight: competency A3
Ask practitioners to interview people in a given sector or community. They should identify key behaviours and the driving forces behind them. Push practitioners to identify multiple factors that drive behaviour.
Integrating sectoral knowledge: competency A4
For a given intervention area ask the practitioner to consult with two or three experts or read detailed studies to explore the intervention from different lenses (e.g. economics, social norms). Ask the practitioner to report back on how they would integrate the different perspectives to help make decisions about the intervention area.
Knowledge Synthesis: competency A5
Give practitioners multiple reports and documents on a key market or challenge and give them a short amount of time to read, analyse and summarise the main insights. Challenge practitioners to go beyond just summarising to make sure they critique, compare and analyse differences.
Innovative thinking: competency A7
Get practitioners to start looking for evidence of innovation and new business models within the existing system by assigning a research assignment to document the variation in business models in a specific sector. Sectors could include transportation providers in a given city or retail shows in a given market. Ask practitioners to interview business owners and represent their findings visually, rather than in a report format.
Self-learning: competency C5
Get practitioners to gather feedback from 10-15 different people in their work and life using the framework of the Reflected Best Self process. Specific stories and narratives are gathered and analysed. Develop a clear ‘strengths profile’ that maps unique strengths to work roles and tasks. Facilitate a sharing session so team members can understand each other’s strengths and be aware of each other’s development goals
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