Scientific Method

Jennifer Leavey
Jennifer Leavey
Senior Academic Professional
Marc Weissburg
Marc Weissburg
Bryan Norton
Bryan Norton
Professor Emeritus

How would you define this BIG IDEA?

In the sciences, discovery is often preceded by a line of inquiry known as the scientific method. This includes observation, hypothesis generation, experimental design, data analysis and hypothesis acceptance or rejection. Community members often observe problems that they hope research can help address, thereby participating in the scientific method by introducing the problem. This use of the scientific method—to solve problems with community input--is sometimes referred to as “action research," a very important approach in sociology in the last half or so of the 20th Century.

There is an important similarity between action research and its methods and another method called Adaptive Collaborative Management (ACM). ACM focuses on problem solving and not the traditional view of science as creating knowledge. In particular, the idea of ACM is to embed science--and use of the scientific method--into public discussion and deliberation, which can be contrasted with scientists "parachuting in" as specialists with no real ties to community efforts.

Working in the community means you are solving a problem they have. In order to understand the problem, you have to understand what the community thinks the problem is. This is not simply a question of collecting observations from the community members.

Citizen Science is another way in which scientific method is used for community problem-solving. Citizen Science is defined as scientific research undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions. By using the scientific method to conduct action research, communities can be involved in the scientific process.

How does this BIG IDEA about sustainable communities play out in your work?​

Jennifer Leavey: In the School of Biology, our introductory honors biology labs have been involved in action research with the Piedmont Park Conservancy and the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Staff at Piedmont Park were concerned that animal waste created at the dog park could be affecting water quality in a nearby stream. GT students did these experiments and reported back the results to park officials.

Bryan Norton: I recently did a consultancy with the Food and Agriculture program of the United Nations; in particular, I worked with a group that creates and manages Farmer Field Schools in many developing countries. I was invited because the Director of the program has read my work on Adaptive (Collaborative) Management; in particular, we discussed how basic scientific skills can be introduced and used in attempts to improve crop yields while reducing the use of toxic pesticides. We have continued to work together and we are planning a paper on how Adaptive Management can help third-world farmers live in harmony with their environment.

Learn more:

Citizen Science

THE CROWD & THE CLOUD: Citizen Science, Big Data and the Democratization of Research: