Research Priorities


Elizabeth Y. Davis, R. J. Ritchey, and Francille M. Firebaugh (1978) ,"Research Priorities", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 05, eds. Kent Hunt, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 750-753.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 1978      Pages 750-753


Elizabeth Y. Davis, CSRS/U. S. Department of Agriculture

R. J. Ritchey, Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University

Francille M. Firebaugh, Ohio State University


"It is most important to decide what it is you really want to do, and then be realistic enough to recognize how feasible it is to achieve it, and what it takes." This is a direct quotation from the speech by Dr. Walter L. Fishel at the HERAPP Workshop in Washington last spring. HERAPP is the acronym for Home Economics Research Assessment, Planning and Projections. Some of you attended that workshop, or participated in one of the many activities included in the assessment, planning and projections of research.

HERAPP is a product of the ideas and energies of many people. In the summer of 1975 there was a very successful conference where priorities for research in food and agriculture were set through a modified Delphi technique. The Conference was an activity of ARPAC, the Agricultural Research Policy Advisory Committee, made up by joint agreement with the U. S. Department of Agriculture and the National Association of State University & Land-Grant Colleges. In other words, ARPAC represents State University-Federal research relationships. ARPAC is an active committee, and functions as a research planning group in the broadest sense.

When home economics presented their plan for research assessment, planning, and setting of priorities, to ARPAC, it agreed to co-sponsor the project with AAHE (Association of Administrators of Home Economics.)

The relationships among the various organizations represented in the HERAPP project are illustrated below:



[Abbreviations used are AAHE, Association of Administrators of Home Economics; AHEA, American Home Economics Association; ARPAC, Agricultural Research Policy Advisory Committee; ESCOP, Experiment Station Committee on Organization & Policy; HERAPP, Home Economics Research Assessment, Planning and Projections; HERESCOP, Home Economics Research Sub-committee of Experiment Station Committee on Organization & Policy; NASULGC, National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges; USDA, United States Department of Agriculture.]

The Cooperative State Research Service in the Department of Agriculture developed a cooperative agreement with Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University to support the project, with Dr. S. J. Ritchey as Project Leader.

Where are we now?

To develop background for setting priorities for home economics research, the administrators of Home Economics Research programs were asked to submit names of scientists and users of research who might prepare statements about the state of the art, or situation statements, in a particular area. There were originally 35 areas included in the initial request. With 35 areas no one can say Home Economics is not multidisciplinary! Requests for preparation of papers were made to five people in each area. The ideas in each area were collated into one paper which was returned to the original authors for review and statements of priority researchable problems; suggestions were incorporated into the working papers prepared for the HERAPP workshop. Nearly 200 people, representing many disciplines and viewpoints attended the Workshop, worked through the papers, and established research priorities.

The most important problems in all areas, as set by the Workshop, were listed in random order and mailed to about 4500 persons including a randomized sampling of members of the American Home Economics Association, those who attended the HERAPP Workshop, and administrators of home economics, to set priorities across areas.

At the same time two other activities were in process. One was to assess the current research actively in home economics and related areas, and to relate these activities. The other activity was a questionnaire sent to all State Experiment Station Directors in order to gain knowledge about the climate for home economics research in experiment stations. A preliminary report on the results of these activities are in the next section of this paper.

The products of the HERAPP exercise will be two published reports. One will include the statements of research and the priority researchable problems and results of the assessment. Projected funding needs in each area will be a part of that publication. The other publication will be a short summary for use in public policy activities.

Many of us who have been working with HERAPP over the past couple of years feel that it is a tool for us to accomplish some of the things in research we want to do -- that we think need to be done -- if we are really dedicated to improving the quality of living for people through research on the family. We also think HERAPP is a tool which is helping us to recognize how feasible it is to achieve those things.


Consumer research in the broad area of home economics is being evaluated and assessed through a project sponsored by the Cooperative State Research Service, USDA, the Association of Administrators of Home Economics, and AHEA. Preliminary findings can be useful in the context of this workshop and your future endeavors in research.

At the present time, research in all areas of home economics is supported through appropriations to the agricultural experiment stations and the Land-Grant system. Though there is a long history of home economics research in this particular arena, support is quite limited. Support for all home economics research is less than 3 percent of total research through the experiment stations. Moreover, much of the total is expended on food and nutrition, leaving between 1-1.5% for all other areas of home economics. Except for foods and nutrition the number of projects, personnel and financial support are quite limiting.

In almost every measure of support, home economics research lags behind research in the experiment station. Technical and clerical support per scientist, funds per scientist, and funds per projects in home economics lag behind other subject matter areas. This may reflect the poor performance of researchers in home economics and probably reflects the notion that much of the home economics research, particularly the social and economic aspects, do not mesh with the primary mission of the agricultural system. However, administrators perceive home economics as a group of disciplines with potential for service through research. Further, they recognize that research in home economics must be improved by increased funding support, by improving the productivity of researchers, and by improving the available facilities.

In the future, home economics research must receive a higher priority. Our researchers must be more productive, must be more aggressive in seeking funding through the experiment stations and through other granting agencies, both governmental and private. Recommendations from the HERAPP project are that numbers of personnel and funding be increased by factors of two and three, respectively, in the next 10 years. A variety of mechanisms may be important to achieve this goal and the leadership group within home economics must be active in the search for funds, the passage of necessary legislation, the increased productivity of present researchers, and the education of a new generation of outstanding young scholars.


Any planning process is just that -- implementation is not inherent in planning. Research planning can give increased visibility for topics. For researchers, information on priorities can provide impetus for the project development. Administrators will continue to look to researchers to justify areas of high and low priorities with the hope of stimulating an orientation to high priority areas.

Research planning leads to another end -- a delineation of research needs which can be presented to help legislators and others know of our research direction. In working to increase support for our research related to home economics, the need for planned research efforts is great. Response to legislators concerning research needs for formulating legislation can be stronger as a result of this planning effort.

A research program should include as a primary ingredient the researcher's capabilities and interest, with a clear analysis of importance of the research problems in relation to the needs of society. In 1977, an author proposes: ". . . the problems of society always and necessarily involve many disciplines in their study and solution . . . the best research can be done only in the context of the whole problem" (5:29).

Ten years earlier, another author suggested: "Problem-focused research can be disciplinary: in the sciences of man there is probably not a single discipline that has been able to develop without taking account of the needs of practical action, or being concerned with big social problems" (1:203). I believe contributions can continue from both single disciplines and interdisciplinary efforts.

Research funding has been changing for some period of time. Referring to the shift from grant research to contract research, Rist and others propose:

1) " . . . as the Federal government has been able to sharpen its priorities in a number of policy related areas, the scientific community has not kept pace and increasingly has responded in inappropriate ways in terms of proposed research . . . While the demands within agencies for focused research have grown, the academic community has continued to operate in a private, entrepreneurial manner" (4:264).

2) " . . . from the Federal view, the assumption is that researchers do not care from where their funds come, so long as they get them and are then left alone" (4:264).

3) limited research accountability in grants has influenced the shift to contractual agreements (4:264).

We have seen the RFP (Request for Proposals) come into its element in recent years -- with the statement of the research problem, the target population, and the methodological approach specified. I submit to you that part of that which has come through our ignoring needs of policy makers. We have also seen the rise of contract houses, not associated with university groups who can and do move with greater ease in hiring than universities without the "distraction" and "enrichment" of students and other responsibilities, and with built-in interdisciplinary teams or "purchased" teams. Rist makes a fourth point which seems appropriate for our thinking today:

4) "The primacy of the model of the single academic working to locate support for his/her particular project will have to be de-emphasized if academic research is to continue to have Federal support on any scale comparable to that it enjoyed until relatively recently. Cooperation among researchers, the effective use of the supporting services of one or more universities in concert, and the willingness to engage in research that is not oriented toward the development of important contributions to theory or method all appear essential" (14:267).

Political and socio-economic factors affect the extent of scientists participation in policy making in the executive branch of government. "Some have argued that political factors (interparty competition, demands, forms of government, policy-makers' attitudes, etc.) explain more variations in policies" (6:243).

Within marketing, Dyer and Shimp suggest that "policy makers need empirical evidence, and they are receptive to it as long as it captures the full thrust of the issues" (2:67).

We want to be both a part of solutions to problems which are heavily influenced by public policy and we want to be a part of the accumulation and generation of knowledge which depend on continuous contributions to theory.

I would like to differentiate single disciplines, multi-disciplines, interdisciplinary and development of new disciplines.

Discipline. Much of the development of knowledge and theory building has come from single disciplines. Perhaps there are individuals who can best function in a single discipline with a broad view of the problem to be researched -- a person with a "cosmopolitan" outlook of the problem but a specific approach which is productive due to the focus.

Multidisciplinary. Boundaries between and among disciplines remain intact, even though cooperation and common attention is focused on a problem or issue. "Mission-oriented work which is so managed as to break down a mission-oriented problem into separate (typically disciplinary) components to be carried out by separate investigators with different skills (possibly) at different sites (5:30). Roy suggests further that multidisciplinary work may take place in widely spread geographic areas: individuals may write reports separately (5:32).



Interdisciplinary. Boundaries are shown here as fading between disciplines as a genuine meshing of ideas takes place. There is a "day-to-day interactive mode of research (or study) where, in order to do the best work, each researcher's work demands the use of ideas, concepts, materials, or instruments from one or more other disciplines. Such research is usually directed to a specified goal or mission" (5:32). Magrabi defined interdisciplinary research as directed toward problems, the solution of which requires application of theories and specialized methods from several disciplines.

It is fair to ask if it is even possible to determine the research problem as an interdisciplinary group or is it best formulated by one person who seeks help and forms a team. Some have been able to do it, others have not. Luszki, who wrote the classic reference about interdisciplinary team research methods and problems back in 1958 cites four strengths when interdisciplinary groups formulate research problems:

1) resulting research problem should be broader and richer than individuals could construct; 2) research problem should be inclusive of important issues which might be overlooked by single researchers; 3) research methods from a number of vantage points should be better than those known or experienced by one person; some new concepts may evolve from pooling ideas about the research; 4) formulation of problems should assist a researcher in knowing if there is a contribution for him or her to make (3:146).

"When an interdisciplinary team begins work together, difficulty is often experienced in the initial attempt to develop a theoretical framework . . . there may be a tendency to take a set of hunches of hypotheses constituting a loose conglomeration of possible factors and glorify this as theory construction" (3:167). "If the group is successful in developing a theoretical framework to which all participants can subscribe, it changes from a team representing separate disciplines to a cooperative group of individuals with different and overlapping training, concentrating on a common problem" (3:167-168).

In interdisciplinary research, two or more individuals often unite papers or reports together. Roy proposes that program management must be local, "interaction among individual researchers is essential" (5:32).



Where does interdisciplinary work lead us? Eventually to new disciplines as noted by Mason earlier today.

New disciplines. "After a generation of concentration of interdisciplinary, concrete issues, new constellations of technical problems will be abstracted out to serve as the foci of new disciplines; and these will then need about thirty years to develop their own specialized theoretical ideas and techniques to the required pitch of excellence, before they in turn are reapplied by a more practically minded generation to the concrete human problems of their time" (7:160).



In summary, the Home Economics Research Assessment, Planning, and Projections effort contributes to:

1) the stimulus for researching complex issues

2) increased visibility of research needs

3) foundation for seeking increased funding support

4) researcher and administrator information on priorities from several vantage points

5) exchange of ideas among researchers -- a starting point for discussion

6) recognition of the difficulties of bringing together ideas through brief face-to-face work periods and long distance exchange, with the special challenges of geographical separations and unresolved basic theoretical and vocabulary differences.

Implementation of the research planning will be accomplished by many means, including single, multi- and interdisciplinary programs of research.


de Bie, Pierre. Introduction. International Social Science Journal, Vol. 20, No. 2, 1968.

Dyer, Robert F. and Terence A. Shimp. Enhancing the role of marketing research in public policy decision making. Journal of Marketing, Vol. 41, No. 1, January 1977, 63-67.

Luszki, Margaret Barron. Interdisciplinary team research methods and problems. New York: National Training Laboratories, New York University Press, 1958.

Rist, Ray C. Federal funding and social science research: the emergent transformation. Human Organization, Vol. 35, No. 3, Fall 1976, 263-268.

Roy, Rustum. Interdisciplinary science on campus --the elusive dream. Chemical & Engineering News, Vol. 55, No. 35, August 29, 1977, 28-30, 32, 34-36, 38, 40.

Schooler, Dean, Jr. Science, Scientists, and Public Policy. New York: The Free Press, 1971.

Toulmin, Stephen. From form to function: philosophy and history of science in the 1950's and now. Daedalus, Vol. 106, No. 3, Summer 1977, 143-162.

See also

"Interdisciplinary Research -- An Exploration of Public Policy Issues." Science Policy Research Division, Library of Congress, Serial T, October 30, 1970.



Elizabeth Y. Davis, CSRS/U. S. Department of Agriculture
R. J. Ritchey, Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University
Francille M. Firebaugh, Ohio State University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 05 | 1978

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