General Research

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Getting Familiar With Problems of a Specific Field

Obstacle: Consolidating vast amounts of information into a concrete specific problem:

Having established clear guidelines regarding project expectations, the next major challenge is finding an appropriate problem to solve. Given the overabundance of easily available information on Healthcare IT, Clean Energy, and Learning Technology, finding resources that were both reliable and informative for a “newcomer” is quite difficult. Moreover, searching through vast amounts of information is frustrating. Be specific but flexible with the question you are trying to resolve.

Possible Solutions:

  • Resources such editorials on the current issues facing a sector, or topic-specific blogs generally point towards the major problems a sector is facing. Thus, they can be quite useful in identifying specific problems. Additionally, the authors of these editorials and blogs often the very entrepreneurs for whom the proposed policy is being created.
  • An entirely different tactic is the “shotgun approach.” Spend an afternoon reading up on a given industry and pay attention to problems that are repeatedly mentioned. Chances are, such problems need immediate policy action!
  • Given the abundance of information surrounding these three industries, contacting an expert in the field (in our case, Professor Cutler) can help to streamline the research process. Such experts not only have a strong grasp on the major issues in a given field, but they also have many contacts that can provide invaluable firsthand knowledge of the particular problem. Finally, especially in talking to those in academia, experts can point a group towards specific problems, which are not widely discussed on the Internet or other forms of media.

Remember that there are two players to be considered in a policy business plan: the policy-maker and the entrepreneur.

Words of Advice:

  • Combine research on what the “common man” views as the pressing problems with input from an industry expert or academic in a related field. This twofold approach often highlights vastly different perspectives and also serves as a good check to assess the validity and scope of a specific problem.
  • Setting up in-person meetings with experts is far more effective than asking questions by email. While finding a time to meet can be difficult, it is almost certainly worth the wait.
  • Before meeting with an expert, allow sufficient time to construct a list of effective questions to ask. A hard-to-get interview can be spoiled by lack of sufficiently articulate questions. Be specific with your questions. For example, asking: “What is a problem in Heath Care IT?” is almost always far too broad for a productive response, whereas, “What are the specific costs that a healthcare provider considers in deciding whether or not to adopt EHRs? allows for more informative answers.


  • Discussion Boards and Blogs: Seeing what the “common man” is writing is extremely helpful in order to guide later searches in more reputable resources, such as governmental resources, or academic journals.
  • Academic Journals: Journals can provide high quality information about a particular issue. These peer-reviewed materials are a great source reliable data. Additionally, contacting the authors of particularly relevant journal articles can be extremely useful.
  • Libraries: While many dismiss libraries as outdated, scheduling meeting with library research assistants can be invaluable. For example, the research assistants at the Baker Library at Harvard Business School are trained to expedite the research process and access internet-based resources that are not accessible by a simple search. Remember, libraries are data centers as well as book repositories.
  • Academic Experts and Field Experts: Why not speak to those who have devoted their life to studying or working in the industry you want to learn about? Once again, in-person meetings with such experts not only provide information, but also contacts to other specialists in target subfields.