A Contingency Model for the Design of Problem-Solving Research Programs: A Perspective on Diffusion Research

Employing relevant research findings of the administration of research, we have developed guidelines for the effective administration of problem-solving research. Using the problem of the diffusion of medical technology as a case in point we sought to identify relevant steps in the research process. The initial step is to provide a bridge between practical and theoretical concerns. For example, the increasing federal role in health care delivery and the public demand for improvement of health care have led to the question of how social science may assist in the diffusion of medical technology and, therefore, improve further the quality of health care delivery. Only recently, however, has social science research in the diffusion of technology area begun to provide some information on potential inter- and intra-organizational factors that affect diffusion and that may facilitate the “reasoned” implementation of social policy. One way to view the lack of theoretical information relevant to policy issues is by understanding the nature of the problem-solving process. In this regard, a six-stage classification scheme for evaluating research sophistication and problem-solving capability was proposed. This led to a conclusion that social science in general and diffusion research in particular were in a “pre-paradigm” stage of development and raised the question of what could be done to improve the quality of future research. The principal factors considered were internal and external evaluation criteria, disciplinary versus interdisciplinary research, types of institutional settings, and types of funding patterns. Given the constraint of limited knowledge in this area, it was suggested tentatively that institutes with an emphasis on interdisciplinary and group research and funded through contracts may be more appropriate for the further development of applied or mission-oriented research while continuation of individual research projects characteristic of university settings and funded through grants may be more appropriate for the development of discipline-centered research. A contingency model for research administration was proposed to suggest more specific ways in which the effectiveness of problem solving in diffusion research could be improved. The concepts of urgency (the social need for rapid, applicable research results) and predictability (the extent to which researchers can predetermine the steps needed to reach their objectives) were used to develop administrative guidelines as well as predict the probability of tangential research, the emergence of anomalies, the probable sources of conflict, and the personality attributes required by researchers in different research settings.

Author(s): Gerald Gordon; Ann E. MacEachron; G. Lawrence Fisher

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Volume 52, Issue 2 (pages 185–220)
Published in 1974