Research and Work

Editor’s Note: This GWF2019 Advance Paper was written by the Catalysts for the Research and Strategic Information Issue Network as an overview of the topic to be discussed at the related session at the Global Workplace Forum 2019 held in Manila, Philippines. 

What is Work?

Work is a mixture of someone undertaking some activity on behalf of themselves or others in order that an objective can be achieved, usually for some (financial) benefit. In theory it involves Strategy (how can this best be done in the time available?), Performance (the actual undertaking and ensuring goals are achieved), Risk (how well will the result match the required goal?) and People (who is(are) the best person(s) to perform this task?). If these are the explicit factors involved in action, there is at least a fifth factor, and Christians would say a sixth factor, involved. The fifth factor can be termed ‘Research’ and the sixth factor is ‘the Holy Spirit’s guidance and help.’

What is Strategy?

A strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve an objective. Consider the building of a bridge to carry traffic over a railway line. The plan to realize this objective will require measurements of space (physical parameters of the location to be spanned) and time (chronological calculations which take into account the labor force and weather conditions of the area in which the bridge will be built). It may have both material and social elements—the acquisition of assets necessary for the physical structure as well as interactions with human resources for the actual construction. It may contain preparatory elements—activities that can and must happen before the work begins (eg the acquisition of permits or public approval of those living in the area). It will be over-arching, plotting activities from beginning to end. It may also be segmented, with intermediate goals which have their own timetables.

What is Performance?

Performance is the execution of the strategy. It depends upon the quality of the plan as well as the elements of the work force. Were the architectural plans sound? The timetables realistic? Durable materials available? Human resources adequately skilled? Satisfactory performance is critical not only in the execution of the work but also to the fulfillment of the work’s objective—in this case, the safe passage of traffic over a railway line. If the architect’s design was flawed, the bridge may be weak and even dangerous. If the human resources were not focused, excellent plans may have been inadequately implemented. If exceptionally hot weather excessively accelerated the drying of concrete pillars, their strength may be compromised. Performance is critical to both process and outcome.

What is ‘Risk’?

Risk is the trust placed in a person or object to undertake, or to be the action or thing required, for a particular purpose. Such are invariably multiple. Will there be sufficient finance to build it as intended? In the example of our bridge, one risk is that the bridge may not be strong enough to carry the weight of the lorries or trucks using that bridge. Another is that a train may accidentally come off its rails and hit the bridge making it unsafe. Another is that a terrorist may wish to blow the bridge up. Another is that annual maintenance teams may fail to spot structural weaknesses.

With each of these risks there is a probability factor that the specified event may happen. Each of those mentioned are extremely unlikely in this particular example, with a probability, for example, of less than one in 10,000 of happening. If risk is deemed too high then the work might not be undertaken.

Who are the People?

This point is critical. The integrity of assets is subject to the probity of those who commission the work. Are the strategists honest? Those who plan timetables accurate and upright? The material providers honorable? Will our bridge be sound 2, 10, or 100 years after its completion? Both competency and trustworthiness are essential for every aspect of work to be successful over time. This is true at every stage of operations; sloppiness or dishonesty at the micro level will be manifest in the final product. Although they will be invisible once the work is done, the people who participated in the project and their contributions to the effort will be permanently detectable.

What is Research?

In theory, each element of work, and behind it each element of strategy, performance, risk, and people, need to be assayed—tried out, weighed up. In practice this can be impractical. Life is too short and/or or resources too scarce to fully pre-assess every aspect of an undertaking. But if you are wanting to advertise your architectural skills in building bridges, then it would clearly be worth your while researching how other architects promote their agencies, what railway bridges already exist on this particular line, with what they are built, and the features the commissioning authority are seeking in the finished product.

Research can happen on many levels and can be classified into many categories. Primary research requires inquirers to collect their own data directly. Measure yourself the distance from one edge of the railroad gap to the other. Secondary research implies using data collected by others. Go to the land office and look at the current municipal maps. Primary research generates data; secondary research collates, synthesizes, and/or analyzes existing data. Data turns into ‘information’ when it is organized in a form that becomes usable. Information becomes ‘knowledge’ when it enables understanding. Knowledge becomes ‘wisdom’ when it is used for future thinking and decision-making.

Research can include experimentation. Classical laboratory and clinical trials test different substances and practices to reveal processes and relationships.

Research can be informal. It can include simply getting opinions from friends or colleagues regarding common questions, spending time on the web or in professional literature searching for information. Such might almost be termed casual research, which every professional does more or less automatically for most commissions. It can be unstructured and even somewhat intuitive, especially if one is well acquainted in a field.

More structured research can also be helpful, especially if a unique challenge exists. Formal, purpose-oriented research seeks to answer one or more questions, either theoretical or practical, for the purposes of promoting broader understanding and action. It requires detailed planning and preparation. If the research is commissioned by an academic or commercial institution, training in methodology will be fundamental. There is an art and appropriate framework for studying people, performance, and practices. We do well to observe standards set by our predecessors so that we do no harm in our investigations.

Research has flourished in the academy and in the global workplace for centuries. Theoretical and applied research enable men and women to study the natural world, human behavior, and the acts of God to better understand him and his Creation.

The Holy Spirit’s Guidance and Help

All aspects of work, strategy, performance, risk, and people, when viewed from a Kingdom perspective, are subject to divine oversight. Not only in the ‘what’ of work, but in the ‘how’ and ‘why’ must Christ be revealed and obeyed. When we do research to maximize the efficiency of our work (that is, the minimization of cost for the maximization of benefit), how are these parameters calculated? Do we consider cost to be simply the burden born by those who commission the current work or are its effects upon the environment and future generations considered? Do we calculate benefits to be solely the immediate good generated by our work, or do we consider the longer-term implications? Who may be hurt is just as important as who will be helped by our work.

The Holy Spirit guides us toward his choices in our work. He helps us in the realization of the tasks. He also demands accountability for their outcomes. Are we open to evaluation? Do we accept his scrutiny over both intended and unintended consequences? Are we willing to make expensive corrections when it has been demonstrated that our work was faulty, inadequate, or perhaps even destructive? Evaluative research in the workplace may requires remedial action that costs us something.

For more than three decades the Lausanne Movement has promoted the right use of church and mission research for Kingdom growth. It has sponsored eight International Researchers Conferences which have brought together professors and students, theorists and practitioners, to explore how best to accomplish the work of the church. In short, we have tried to answer what is effectively a fully unanswerable question, ‘What is God doing around the world today?’ We’ve looked at the social, cultural, moral, and spiritual elements of the 2020’s globe. That means we’ve encompassed denominations, churchmanships, localities, environments, ages and gender of churchgoing people, ethnicities and how all of these change over time, to help interpret the incredible patterns that the Lord is drawing across the earth, always bearing in mind that God’s ways are higher than our ways and we can never fathom the mind or hidden activity of God.

The Lausanne Catalysts for Research and Strategic Information are committed to the wise use of inquiry for the Lausanne Movement and its ministry to the church. Through the consideration of research in the Global Workplace Forum we hope also to bring this same ethos to the place of research in the world of work today.

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