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Research questions and research design

Normative Research Director Rebecca Pardo gave a series of presentations as an internal "workshop" with the Normative team to discuss research in a design context. This is the first of the series.

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Research questions and research design

  1. 1. Research questions and research design Rebecca Pardo Research Director
  2. 2. For now, let’s go with something like… “systematic inquiry that gathers information that is subject to analysis for some purpose” So, what do we even mean by research?
  3. 3. research = systematic learning?
  4. 4. systems. systems. systems!
  5. 5. ahem.
  6. 6. Purposes of research - when should you do it? descriptive exploratory explanatory describing without explaining figuring out problems/questions making sense of observed phenomenon what are libraries like? which populations are served by libraries? why aren’t people placing holds on our library apps?
  7. 7. Topics are good, but questions are better because you can answer them Specific research questions can help you figure out: Questions vs. topics vs. problems • What data to collect • How to analyze it • When you’re finished
  8. 8. sometimes it’s one masquerading as the other!
  9. 9. “healthcare”……………………………………………………………topic, not question “people are not using condoms”……………….………problem, not a question “condom use and socioeconomic status”……..…a set of variables, not a question “should healthcare be socialized?”……………………a question, but not testable. matter of opinion “how can we improve healthcare?”……………………a question, but too vague “why don’t more people use condoms?”………….a reasonably specific question
  10. 10. Kay, I have a question. Now what?
  11. 11. More questions!
  12. 12. Do you know the answer to this question? Has someone else already answered this question? Can you answer it with available time and resources? Will you be able to collect the data? Qualifying your research question
  13. 13. Framing the question as just the absence of the solution you want to suggest —circular reason, implying the answer —e.g. “how can we use mobile technology to increase condom use?” Built-in assumptions —that condom use is desirable —that use of mobile technology can have the effect of increasing condom use Do I already know the answer?
  14. 14. Don’t reinvent the wheel; you don’t always have to do primary research A little review can make what we do more valuable —Help you narrow your question —Maximize research participants’ time and clients’ resources Has someone already answered this?
  15. 15. Consider the time, work and cost involved in: Data collection Data management Data analysis Sharing the above with other people Do I have the time and resources to answer it?
  16. 16. Even if you have the time and resources, can you actually get the data you want? Can I actually collect the necessary data?
  17. 17. You’re trying to understand a behaviour that is controversial or sensitive, e.g. condom use Participants don’t trust you or lack sufficient incentive to participate Participants are part of a community to which you are an outsider and cannot access based on your age, gender, cultural background, whatever There are ethical problems with collecting the data (for more on this, see previous workshop!) The data is proprietary or classified The answer to the previous question may be no if…
  18. 18. Okay, you’ve vetted your question. Now what?
  19. 19. Now you need to figure out the right methods to answer your question.
  20. 20. Which comes first? Choosing questions and then figuring out methods? OR Choosing questions that can be answered by the methods that are available to you?
  21. 21. Different methods yield different data What kind of data do you need to answer your question? Who? What? Where? When? How many? or even… Why?
  22. 22. You want to get this?* Try this People’s answers to questions when you already know your questions Survey People’s own accounts of their experience when you’re not sure what’s important Real time accounts; details they might forget; a record for them to reflect on later Actual behaviour in “natural” settings Understanding if people can accomplish specific tasks with a particular technology, including it it’s clear to them, what is clear and what is confusing Open-ended interview Diary study (Participant) observation Usability test *This is not an exhaustive list, but a guide
  23. 23. Research design Who will be conducting the research? Who will be analyzing it? Are these the same people? If not, how will others on the team get access to “raw” data? Will interviews/other interactions be recorded and transcribed? Who will be present during interviews, testing, etc…? Participant selection: how many people do you need to talk to? Is the client doing this part, or are you? Who will have access to the data and in what form; how will it be shared?
  24. 24. In summary, we should be systematic about research because 1. Better research = richer understanding of social life and what it means to be human and alive in this world = more informed design = personal and professional fulfilment
 2. It’s actually less risky and saves $$$
  25. 25. That being said, it’s iterative Plan to return to and re-evaluate questions Narrow questions as you learn more. This might mean reviewing secondary research or from your own data
  26. 26. Thank you If you have any questions or feedback I’d love to hear from you. Find me on Twitter at @msrmp or

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Normative Research Director Rebecca Pardo gave a series of presentations as an internal "workshop" with the Normative team to discuss research in a design context. This is the first of the series.


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