Lean Research

Rigorous - Respectful - Relevant - Right-Sized

Principles for conducting human-centered field research


Lean Research for International Development is an approach to field research in the contexts of poverty and development work which seeks to maximize benefit and minimize burden and waste for all stakeholders.
Building on human-centered approaches to development and design, Lean Research places the experience of the research subject at the center of the research activity. 
Lean Research is rigorous research that is also respectful, relevant and right-sized. By creating a respectful and enjoyable experience for human subjects in the context of research questions that are relevant to key stakeholders—including human subjects—Lean Research seeks to: 
Increase the quality of information gathered through research
Improve the usefulness of research findings for key stakeholders
Enable both the research process and outputs to benefit study subjects and their communitie

Lean Research Convening, August 2014

Lean Research convening, August 2014

D-Lab researchers and research participants relaxing together

Lean Research 

Lean Research is a framework and emerging approach to guide field research in the contexts of international development and humanitarian work. It is also a growing community of practice committed to developing, implementing, and learning from this approach. As an initiative, Lean Research emerges from the work of scholars, researchers, practitioners, donors, and students who are asking:

  • How can we conduct research in such a way that our research process and results benefit the people and communities we are researching? 
  • What changes do we need to make in the research process in order to minimize burden on research participants and maximize the value and positive impact of the research, both for research participants and end-users?
  • What does truly rigorous, respectful, relevant, and right-sized research look like in the context of communities targeted for development or humanitarian intervention? 

Lean Research Resources 

Find and contribute to our resources at Lean Research Hub, our new website and community portal. 

Download the Lean Research Declaration.

Sign the declaration here.

Download the Lean Research Framework.

Download the Lean Research Working Paper.

Download Root Capital's A Client-Centric Approach: Impact Evaluation That Creates Value for Participants.

NEW! Download Lean Research Case Technology Enabled Girl Ambassadors (TEGA) from Girl Effect.

Share your feedback here.

Lean Research Community 

The Lean Research community includes over 100 researchers, practitioners, donors, and policymakers working in the international development and humanitarian spaces. Our core activities include:

  • Working Groups
  • Events and Convenings
  • Research and Publications


Lean Research is jointly organized by faculty and researchers at D-Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University.