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Developing and implementing successful applied research activities that address the problems of distressed communities is an important and unique function of university outreach. The CCED defines applied research as "the thoughtful creation, interpretation, communication, or use of knowledge with the community, based in the ideas and methods of recognized disciplines, professions and interdisciplinary fields." What qualifies an activity as applied research is that it is keenly informed by the accumulated knowledge in some field, the knowledge is skillfully interpreted and applied, and the activity is carried out with intelligent openness to new information, debate and criticism. The integration of the knowledge-generating capacity of the university with the knowledge, skills and aspirations of the community is a critical element of successful applied research in an organization committed to a set of community development principles.
The anticipated outcomes from successfully implemented applied research activities include: a greater awareness of alternative strategies to address specific issues; an increase in the community's awareness of the economic, social, political, environmental, and psychological impacts associated with alternative solutions; a heightened ability to recognize potential root causes of community concerns; and an improved capacity to develop and implement effective public policy initiatives that address the causes of community decline rather than the symptomatic treatment of persistent problems.
Examples of applied research projects conducted by the CCED range from case study analyses to extensive theoretical analysis and model development. An example of the former, where specific models of community problem solving are identified and described from throughout the state, nation and the world, is the Resident Initiatives in Public Housing project conducted in 1994. The latter category, involving extensive theoretical analysis and model development in order to assist communities to more fully understand the causes of their distress, is typified by the ongoing Community Income and Expenditures Model.
The applied research activities of a university outreach program are often the most challenging to implement. Past community experience with university-based research has unfortunately rarely resulted in any direct positive impacts on the lives of people. Citizens and their organizations are rightfully leery of "studies" which are conducted by "experts" on "subject populations" for somebody else's benefit. Community leaders have a legitimate grievance against scholarship that sees them as subjects rather than partners in the discovery and application of knowledge. However, applied research conducted in a spirit of mutual self-respect and benefit has the demonstrated capacity to transform our efforts to solve local problems. It is in this spirit of true partnership that the CCED extends its research capacities to communities throughout Michigan.