The Lean Research Framework

Published by MIT D-Lab
Published by MIT D-Lab

PDF icon The Lean Research Framework


Lean Research offers a guiding framework for conducting research and evaluation built upon four principles of good research practice. In order for research to reduce burden on participants and maximize value for stakeholders, it should be: 1) rigorous, regardless of methodologies employed; 2) respectful towards research subjects, implementing partners, and others engaged in the research process; 3) relevant to research subjects, partners, and decision-makers; and 4) right-sized, in terms of protocols and costs compared to the potential usefulness and impact of the study.

The four principles of Lean Research are not new but are often pitted against each other as trade-offs. Lean Research emphasizes conducting research in ways that reflect and exemplify all four principles and challenges researchers to identify opportunities to implement them in an integrated fashion. As a broad framework and approach to social science research, Lean Research can be applied regardless of whether the methods are quantitative, qualitative, or mixed.

Drawing lessons from lean manufacturing as well as human-centered design, Lean Research focuses on continual improvement of the research process, particularly at “touch points” where researchers interface with research subjects, local partners, and others engaged in research production. It seeks to improve research outcomes by improving the experience of those most directly involved in research production--particularly the research subjects--and by orienting the process around their insights and priorities. It challenges researchers to improve upon existing practice and opens a space to innovate new ways of approaching familiar steps in the research process.