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Applied Research and Professional Development

Outline of Person and City with Text: Success Development Knowledge Learning Training CoachingWith the overarching goal to better align programs and program delivery with the needs, issues, and interests of their metropolitan constituency, the Western Center focuses on two major components:

  • Applied research on issues and best Extension practices
  • Professional development of Extension professionals

Operationally, our activities integrate these two core functions, such that the applied research informs the professional development activities lead by the Western Center.

Applied Research

What Is Applied Research?

Applied research is an outcome-based methodology that applies existing knowledge to develop solutions for modern world problems. The term “applied” refers to the fundamental objective of applied research, which is to form practical applications to real-world problems.  This type of research relates to action oriented research, as both methodologies are used to make sense of a current problem by utilizing existing data. Action research uses qualitative methods in natural settings to develop theories for teaching and learning. It is designed to implement change by providing concrete solutions to issues relating to social and educational systems in a localized setting.

Applied research fits within the broader designation of action-oriented research, which also includes classic action research, participatory research, and grounded action research, see P.M. Toscano. Praxis Inquiry.

Strengthening Western Extension

In order to strengthen Extension programs in western metropolitan areas, the Western Center established a two-pronged research agenda:

  1. Identify best practices and organizational models for metropolitan Extension. Applied research on effective metropolitan organizational and staffing models, as well as best practices in metropolitan program development, delivery, and evaluation will increase the opportunity for Extension professionals to be visible and valued partners who inform and address local concerns.
  2. Exploration of emerging metropolitan issues where land-grant universities can contribute to decision making and policy development. Metropolitan issues are complex, they impact multiple entities, and are often politically influenced. Objective research and recommendations will provide communities with a basis for informed decision-making. Initial identification of emerging metropolitan issues will be established by the Western Center’s advisory board in cooperation with metropolitan decision-makers from the public, non-profit, and private sectors. In addition, the Western Center will periodically query Extension educators in the West by using online surveys, focus groups, and other means to refine issues and approaches.

Hot Shot Roles

Most often, the Western Center’s applied research will be undertaken by transdisciplinary teams of experts (Hot Shots) drawn from Extension programs in the West. As such, the staffs’ role will be to:

  • Identify the research scope of work and appropriate team composition/members
  • Support these teams in their work
  • Help obtain sufficient extramural funding to underwrite the research
  • Assure the quality and timeliness of the team’s research products.

Applied Research Fellowship Opportunities

The Western Center offers Applied Research Fellowships to member institutions to engage in applied research projects related to:

  • Extension programs
  • delivery methods
  • organizational models
  • professional development in nature
  • social, economic, or environmental issues
  • challenges or opportunities in metropolitan communities

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Professional Development

Professional development for Extension educators

Many Extension faculty and staff working in Western metropolitan areas acquire a unique combination of knowledge, skills, and attitudes to help address the needs of metropolitan constituents, including:

  • Project development and management skills
  • Multicultural, multilingual capabilities
  • Ability to work through intermediary organizations
  • Ability to relate to cross-generations, especially with 25-34 year olds
  • Ability to evaluate program impacts within the context of multi-stakeholder collaborations

To strengthen and support the development of these skills, the Western Center develops and supports workshops, webinars, and staff exchanges.

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Incorporating Applied Research and Professional Development

Operationally, our activities integrate applied research and professional development such that the applied research informs the professional development activities lead by the Western Center.

Below is the basic approach to the Western Center’s projects. The table exhibits the process in which a specific issue achieves scholarship outputs and outcomes, which then leads to professional development outputs and outcomes.

Topic: Waste Water Management

A flow chart of Applied Research and Professional Development

Applied Research and Professional Development Project Criteria

The Western Center applies the following criteria when selecting projects or topics for research and development:

  • The significance of the issue across western states
  • Decision-makers’ stated readiness to address the issue and to use research based information in the process
  • The potential for Extension and the land-grant university system to add value to the project
  • The possibility that the project may attract outside funding resources

Western Center Project Leadership

Within each research project, the Western Center provides responses and guidance for Extension programs to advance their issue under study or to share the outcomes. These responses include, but are not limited to new program development, professional development opportunities, and policy briefs used to inform local, state, or regional policy and decision-making.