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Introducing the Lean Research Principles


Drawing from human-centered design, participatory research and lean production, Lean Research emphasizes the following principles, which we call “the four Rs”:

  • Rigor: Follow good research practices for your discipline or field of practice
  • Respect: Maximize the value of the experience and outputs for research participants and stakeholders, including creating an opportunity for them to enjoy the experience, reject participation in the study and review and refute findings
  • Relevance: Address priority issues for stakeholders, including research participants, and produce results that are understandable, accessible, and actionable
  • Right-size: Use only the protocols, participants, and resources necessary to collect data that informs decisions

The four principles of Lean Research are not new, but are often pitted against each other as trade-offs. Lean Research emphasizes conducting research in ways that exemplify and balance all four principles and challenges researchers to identify opportunities to implement them in an integrated fashion. As a broad framework and approach to social science research, Lean Research can be applied regardless of whether the methods are quantitative, qualitative, or mixed.

By creating a respectful and enjoyable experience for human subjects in the context of research questions that are relevant to key stakeholders, including participants, Lean Research seeks to increase the quality of information gathered through research, improve the usefulness of research findings for stakeholders; and enable both the research process and outputs to benefit study subjects and their communities, as well as donors and decision-makers.

You can learn more about the Lean Research principles in our Working Paper and in the Lean Research Framework, both available for free download.

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