The Plural of Anecdote is not Data:  Teaching Law Students to Conduct Empirical Research on Behalf o...
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The Plural of Anecdote is not Data: Teaching Law Students to Conduct Empirical Research on Behalf of Community Partners. Faith Mullen The Catholic University of America. It would be dreadful . . . if it were true. The request The rebuttal The research* *see note pages.

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The Plural of Anecdote is not Data: Teaching Law Students to Conduct Empirical Research on Behalf of Community Partners

Faith Mullen

The Catholic University of America


It would be dreadful if it were true
It would be dreadful . . . if it were true to Conduct Empirical Research on Behalf of Community Partners

  • The request

  • The rebuttal

  • The research*

    *see note pages


Good reasons to teach research to law students
Good reasons to teach research to law students: to Conduct Empirical Research on Behalf of Community Partners

  • Give students new tools for problem solving

  • Help students become better consumers of data

  • Strengthen community partnerships

  • Good class, clinic, independent study, or pro bono project

  • Promote change

  • Teach policy*

    *see note


Right now select a topic it would be dreadful if it were true
Right now: to Conduct Empirical Research on Behalf of Community Partners Select a topicIt would be dreadful, if it were true

  • A law, regulation, or policy is not followed

  • A rule has a harsh effect on one person or group

  • Someone fails to meet an obligation

  • A need goes unmet


The most important thing
The Most Important Thing to Conduct Empirical Research on Behalf of Community Partners

  • Find the “right-sized” research project


Questions to ask
Questions to ask: to Conduct Empirical Research on Behalf of Community Partners

  • Who knows what?

    • Statutes and regulations

    • Published reports

    • Literature reviews

    • Informational interviews


Questions to ask1
Questions to ask: to Conduct Empirical Research on Behalf of Community Partners

  • Can you get your hands on the data?

    • Does it exist?

    • Can you have it?

    • Is there an easier way to get it?


Questions to ask2
Questions to ask: to Conduct Empirical Research on Behalf of Community Partners

  • Are there any hoops to jump through?

    Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

    Institutional Review Board (IRB)*

    *see note pages


Questions to ask3
Questions to ask: to Conduct Empirical Research on Behalf of Community Partners

  • How many students will work on the project?

  • What background do they need to have?

  • Will they all have the same role?

  • Should you name a student as project manager?


Questions to ask4
Questions to ask: to Conduct Empirical Research on Behalf of Community Partners

  • How much time do you have?

    • Academic calendar

    • How long it will take

    • The needs of community partners

    • The shelf-life of the topic


Things to think about
Things to think about: to Conduct Empirical Research on Behalf of Community Partners

  • Choose your methodology

    • Quantitative or Qualitative?*

    • Can it be counted?

      • “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

        - William Bruce Cameron

        (sometimes attributed to Albert Einstein

        • * see notes

          *see notes


Things to think about1
Things to think about: to Conduct Empirical Research on Behalf of Community Partners

  • Two key concepts

    • Reliability (reproducibility)

    • Validity (measure reflects the underlying concept)


Things to think about2
Things to think about: to Conduct Empirical Research on Behalf of Community Partners

  • Surveys will be trouble

    • Don’t use surveys when “revealed preferences” are available

    • Craft questions carefully

    • How you ask question is as important as what you ask

    • Think about tomorrow when you draft questions today

    • Limit the number of questions

    • Limit open-ended questions

    • Ask for help


Things to think about3
Things to think about: to Conduct Empirical Research on Behalf of Community Partners

  • Reporting your results

    • Formal or informal?

    • Find a format

    • Brand your product

    • Create an executive summary


Things to think about4
Things to think about: to Conduct Empirical Research on Behalf of Community Partners

  • Research is dynamic

    • Not like baking

    • Make explicit choices

    • If data not adding up, stop and reevaluate


Things to think about5
Things to think about: to Conduct Empirical Research on Behalf of Community Partners

  • Keep moving parts to a minimum

    • Variables

    • Sources of data

    • Scope of research

    • Stakeholders


Things to think about6
Things to think about: to Conduct Empirical Research on Behalf of Community Partners

  • Learn from my mistakes

    • Write up methodology as you go

    • Conduct a pre-test (but exclude results)

    • Be at peace with making choices (just be transparent)

    • Practice with students how to conduct research

    • Realize it will take longer than you think


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