Setting Intentions for Research: Integrity, Utility, Humility and Social Justice

When a person first sits down to meditate, it’s a common practice to consciously set an intention for that sitting. It might simply to be present with the breath, or to be kind to oneself during the meditation, or to work to notice certain kinds of thoughts. It’s a practice I’ve used before, and found it to be pretty powerful. And so as I enter my work and role as a researcher, I figured it could be useful to do the same.

Setting my intentions as a researcher for me provides a touchstone I can come back to, that others can remind me of, and that I can build upon and revisit as I learn more about what it means to be conducting this sort of work in the world.

After getting my toes wet this past month both reading research reports and engaging in the practice of research itself more intensively than I had in my last position, I thought I’d share some initial intentions that have been developing for me as I’ve considered how I want to do research in the coming years:

  1. Integrity. I want to conduct research that lines up with the way that reality actually is, rather than how I would like it to be. This means first being curious and honest with myself about my own biases, agendas and hopes as I engage in research. After that, it means representing my findings in a way that is truthful and accurate. There’s no shortage of misleading or downright false research out there, I want to practice research that is faithful to the principles that are at the heart this profession.
  2. Utility. As I spend time reviewing literature, I’ve come across articles of all sorts. I read one, though, that really caught my eye. The content of it was quite interesting, and the analysis it made was insightful. At the same time, it was entirely inaccessible due its density and jargon, and worse, made absolutely no recommendations for practically applying its findings, or even any directions for future research. After I read it, I vowed that to the best that I can, I want to make decisions to research things that will have real applicability for people trying to solve actual problems in the world, and I want to report on these usable findings in a way that is accessible both rhetorically and conceptually.
  3. Humility. This one can sometimes be a challenge for me, as I rarely find myself without an opinion on something. But I know being a good researcher means to come first from a place of not knowing, rather than of presuming one knows what one is seeing and analyzing, or worse, making judgments for how something should be done without deeply understanding its context. Also, I believe it’s important to voice how difficult it often is to live by our  stated values and good intentions, and want to be humble in the face of my own inevitable, but hopefully small and rectifiable, failings to conduct research that holds to the intentions I’m stating here.
  4. Social Justice. Someone wise once explained this concept to middle schoolers in a way that I love: “You know bullying & being mean to people? It’s the exact opposite of that.” It’s that simple. At the same time, the question of what it means to have a just society, better the world, reduce suffering and a million other variations on doing well by others is no doubt a complicated one. And so I intend my research to come from a place of not presuming “the answer” to this question, but rather of presuming that it may need to be answered again and again, always from a place of kindness and compassion towards others.

By giving voice to these intentions, it’s my hope that I give them power to inform the work I do as a researcher. I’m sure as I delve deeply into this practice that’s so new to me I’ll have more to add, but for now this seems like a good place to start.

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2 Responses to “Setting Intentions for Research: Integrity, Utility, Humility and Social Justice”


  1. 1 Barry Joseph September 27, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Rafi, And perhaps it was implied, but part of your practice is not just to “set your intentions” but do to so publicly. Is that one of your intentions as well and, if so, I’d be curious to hear more about why.

    • 2 Rafi Santo September 27, 2010 at 5:18 pm

      Well, I think that there are a couple of reasons. One is accountability. When I say something in public, and I think when most people do, they’re more likely to both hold themselves more accountable as well as make it possible for others to d so as well. In this way, I think it can make intention setting more powerful, kind of in the way that an organization might have core values that are stated.

      Also, I think that airing my thoughts means they’re more likely to be heard by people that might have some good insights into these issues, and might help me think them through, whereas if I keep them to myself, I just have one little person iterating on them. :)


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