Non-conventional Methods of Applied Psychology

From Frank Heller and Pieter Drenth



During the Executive Committee meeting in San Francisco in 1998, we were asked to look at the issue: Non-conventional Methods of Applied Research and its relation to IAAP policy and report back. It is now appropriate to tell you how this request came about.


Six senior members of IAAP, including four members of the Executive Committee, had put in a suggestion for a symposium in San Francisco under the title: Non-conventional Methods in Applied Psychology. This symposium was turned down. No explanation was given although we asked the question. Frank was a member of that group, Pieter was not. Names are not really important at this stage and four years have passed. What is important, however, is that the San Francisco selection committee decided to censor this topic. No other explanation makes much sense. The applicants were qualified and there was no duplication of topic and there was lots of space since the attendance was much smaller than hoped for. The selection committee presumably consisted of well-qualified senior applied psychologists. Why was this symposium turned down? Frank raised this question and Pieter Drenth and Peter Dachler agreed to join and look at this matter and report to the Executive Committee.


Our Report

 In Stockholm, Pieter and I produced an interim report, which said that looking back at the IAAP record of conferences and meetings we could not discover that this issue was ever discussed. It is always possible that we missed something. There were many discussions around conventional methods (techniques relating to questionnaires, tests and interviews). Following this report, Charlie Spielberger kindly suggested that we should organize a symposium on this topic at Singapore to make up for lost time.  We have done this under the title:” Extending Methodological Options” and Elizabeth Nair made it into an Invited Symposium with a double period of four hours. Thank you.

In this final report, we want to share with you our reasons for pursuing this topic.

We feel that in the 21st century, applied psychology will be seriously restricted in the contributions it can make to examine, address and perhaps solve urgent problems facing human society. There are already indications that 20th century problems have been left on the shelf or have been addressed by other social science disciplines that have been more willing and innovative to adjust to changing needs. We believe that applied psychology has enormous potentials for entering relatively new or unexplored fields of investigation and we have advantages  vis a vis other social sciences particularly in our training in rigorous methodologies. We want to start a debate on “Extending Methodological Options” without sacrificing rigour although the relevant meaning of rigour may usefully be reconceptualized. Imposing a censorship on this topic will not help applied psychology to face the future.