What is Public Interest Research?

Public Interest Research has a number of different facets and components and it is better described by reference to its function and its style than by dictionary-type definition:

  1. Public Interest Research respects the canons of science insofar as its data must be reliable and the analysis must be supported by the data. It does not, however, respect the limitations of discipline boundaries nor is it restricted by methodological straitjackets.
  2. Public Interest Research focuses on the particular and moves to the general. It lends itself better to detailed case studies than it does to elaborate statistical analysis or abstract theoretical treatments.
  3. Public Interest Research is an attempt to go beyond the superficial features of a problem to its underlying structural roots.
  4. Public Interest Research has a myth-shattering function.
  5. Public Interest Research does not simply deal with problems already known – it serves to make the problems known.
  6. Public Interest Research is research as social criticism.
  7.  Public Interest Research is characterized by its efforts to document and publicize the gap between official pronouncements and actual practices.
  8. Public Interest Research is characterized by its efforts to document conditions that clash with basic human values and fixes responsibility for them.
  9. Public Interest Research has an “intelligence activity” component which implies the gathering of information and data for strategic and tactical purposes.
  10. Public Interest Research raises public issues in such a way that the traditional split between research and activism collapses and in its place is constituted a meaningful “action research” model.
  11. Public Interest Research is connected with people’s everyday lives. It attempts to establish a reciprocal relationship with those attempting to preserve their life support systems and transform their social conditions.
Students and community members in discussion

Why Do Public Interest Research?

Public Interest Research is research that examines an issue in light of the view that decision-making is determined by a power structure, and that the top circles of business and government are more able to manipulate the power structure than the great majority of citizens. It also assumes that the decisions are made in the interest of a number of points. Because of this weakness in our societal situation, there is a case to be made that suggests that the affairs of most Canadians are managed by just a few.

Therefore, public interest research has a number of reasons to be recommended.

  1. It can raise our awareness of how our society is run, why decisions are made, the manner in which they are arrived at, and how these decisions ultimately affect our daily lives.
  2. It allows us to identify alternative policies and ways to formulate them, so the greatest good can result for the largest number. By understanding our world, we can understand how it can be changed for the better.
  3. We can begin to identify areas in the social structure that citizens can exert pressure on to further the satisfaction of their needs. Once we are aware of how the system works, we are better able to create tactics that are effective, and can avoid time wasted on fruitless exercises and campaigns.
Live performance at an OPIRG event, Sadleir House, Peterborough, Ontario
OPIRG Peterborough