Just Google It Daddy

It wasn’t a secret sauce but there was a secret in the sauce.

This past weekend a high school student from Warsaw, Ontario named Alyson Bell, won a prestigious Manning Young Canadian Innovation Award for her project called “Another Tale My Grandfather Told Me”.

Her water filter used oregano to clean bacteria from contaminated water. She came up with the idea of using oregano to filter water as the result of testing her Grandfather’s spaghetti sauce.  Bell always wondered how her Grandfather’s spaghetti sauce could last over three weeks in the fridge without spoiling. Thinking it might be due to the oregano in the sauce, she put the spice to the test, showing that it stopped bacteria from growing in a petri dish. She then took her idea one step further, and built a simple water filter with a layer of fresh oregano between sandy gravel and charcoal. When contaminated water was poured through the oregano filter it came out clean and potable. 

While it was definitely very clever and very innovative research, it was especially exciting because she likely did it without much help from Google.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Google as it is clearly the most powerful research tool ever put into our hands. However, the sheer volume of the data can also be totally overwhelming. It has also changed how we think and approach research because it has become so mainstream. Yesterday I actually heard a four year old say, “Just google it Daddy”. 

By research I mean any investigative activity or search for knowledge carried out by someone with the intent of discovering something new, at least to them. We can conduct research on existing published information, history, or promising practices, or by making new observations.  It can be scientific research that relies on the application of the scientific method, as Alyson did with the spaghetti sauce, or applied research that discovers, interprets, and develops methods and systems.

Research is important for each of us as it can help develop vision and direction, assist us to better understand, define, and solve problems; determine priorities, surface public opinion; and develop support and action.

While, I think we’ve often thought of research as needing to be formal, sometimes research can be informal and serve more as a “pulse-taking”. Before doing a keynote, a colleague of mine typically gathers the names of ten stakeholders from the event organizers. He then calls each of them to get a better handle on how his keynote can best address their issues and opportunities.

When dealing with community-wide issues he often employs a strategy he calls “100 Cups of Coffee”. He simply sits down and has a cup of coffee with key stakeholders - one at a time – to better prepare him to work with the community to develop relevant recommendations and strategies. There are also numerous facilitative techniques that can be used to gather feedback such as Open Space Technology, focus groups, Six Hats of Thinking, Future Search, World Café etc.  On the other hand, formal research involves a more stringent process and greater attention being paid to such things as survey design and sample sizes and numbers. This is necessary to ensure we can be confident that the results speak for the entire population not just those who were surveyed.

Regardless of the type of research, it is always important to invest time in the beginning to clearly articulate, test and refine the purpose and outcomes of the results. Time also needs to be spent determining the research methods, reviewing time and cost factors, designing and administering the research tools, and presenting the information.

One of my most important learnings about research happened in one of my first volunteer positions. I was chair of a committee that was working to establish recreation opportunities for adults with developmental challenges. Being cognizant of the importance of research, I thought it best to begin with a survey of the adults and their families to gather more about their leisure interests. The survey response was excellent but the results were somewhat puzzling. Despite the wide variety of options posed by recreation and sport, the respondents were almost unanimously in favour of swimming, dancing, and skating. Turns out, those were the activities almost all of them had been exposed to during their school years. And, therein was the learning…”You don’t know, what you don’t know”. Research is critical, however sometimes the facts need to be combined with intuition, or perhaps the savvy of an old time spaghetti maker. 

Posted on 09-19-10


Yes!  Google has changed how we view the world and can be a catch 22.  Are we lazier when it comes to innovation as most answers are a click away or has it opened the world up to the most coveted tool in the world - information?  Great blog, Brenda….

•Posted by Janet  on  09/20/10  at  12:54 PM

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