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GovEx Launches Applied Research Initiative (But what is it exactly?)

In an effort to better support the needs of cities, while still maintaining crucial evidence-based processes, a week into the new year GovEx launched its Applied Research initiative.

We hope this announcement has you thinking something along the lines of, “cool, I want to learn more!” But you may also be wondering, “what exactly is applied research?” and “how is it different from regular research?”

In basic research (the type of research that many of us are most familiar with), a researcher is driven by their interest in a scientific question. Here, the main motivation is to further knowledge. It is knowledge simply for the sake of knowledge, created to take the form of journal articles or textbook chapters and fill up shelves at librariesbuilding on some established theory/hypothesis or suggesting a new one. Here, a researcher might carry out an experiment (or evaluate established data) and come to some conclusion, all to answer one question. “When was earth’s core formed,” “what is the oldest ancestor of the bumblebee,” or “what temperature will the Atlantic ocean be in 2065?”

However, applied research seeks to solve practical problems—real issues that people face every day. If basic research is knowledge for the sake of knowledge, then applied research takes that knowledge and applies it to problems in actual-time. Where basic research is more stationary, applied research takes action. For example, an applied researcher might seek out ways to reduce opioid overdoses, end homelessness for veterans, or increase access to healthy food vendors.

At GovEx, applied research means building a process with city staff and researchers to help governments make evidence informed decisions. By creating this framework together, we are building a community of practitioners and subject matter experts to share what works, test promising practices in real settings, and make changes in real time.

Applied research seeks to advance society, using innovative, efficient tools to get there. At the close of an applied research project, governments and residents are left with concrete solutions, evidence-based implementation schedules (that take into account relevant policies), and practical resources.

And while applied research can prove to be cutting-edge and useful, basic research serves an equally important purpose. Neither can exist without the other; each type informs the other. Basic research sets the necessary foundation for applied research.

As Dr. George Smoot (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) once said, “People cannot foresee the future well enough to predict what’s going to develop from basic research,” but “if we only did applied research, we would still [just] be making better spears.”

This year, GovEx’s Applied Research program will roll out several reports, blogs, online events (such as webinars), and resources in an effort to better inform cities’ practices regarding applied research and policy. Our inaugural report details Baltimore’s response to the opioid crisis, featuring Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore City Health Commissioner. We will present a research-based approach to problem solving and identify best practices that other cities will be able to replicate.

Other topics of study that the Applied Research program will delve into span from housing, to sustainability, to food access.

Our hope for the future of this initiative is that GovEx will frequently present cities with brand new, evidence-based tools and supplemental resources, all while adding important insights to the field of applied research.

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