Research rooted in the generosity of learners: process reflections

In late November, as I was seeing the end of the tunnel of my Masters coming closer, I decided it was time to start my next research project. One outside of academia. One driven by sheer curiosity. I had a new found respect for research that I didn’t before.

I wanted to commit to this research process with a few goals in mind:

  1. To continue practicing doing design-based research
  2. To document the learnings from the research while it is in progress
  3. To be open to letting the research be guided by the participants

I put a question out to the world, via twitter:

What are you doing at the intersection of innovation and design-based education?

So, here are some of my process reflections.

The value of a super vague question

Often times when research begins, there is a question that leads the process. Sometimes that question is designed to try and validate an assumption and other times it is a leading question trying to figure out where to head next. At least that is how I look at the utility of a research question. For this process, I started with the latter. I have no specific research journey in mind. I have no idea who the intended participants are, what the learning outcomes might be, or how long the research will take. And typically that is not the best way to start a research process. It certainly would not be the best way to get funding or to meet a deadline. Luckily for me and for this research, I am bound by neither money or time. Instead I am bound by social accountability and researcher curiosity. It does mean that if you are following this research process, that there will not be regular updates or reports to come out of this. I am hoping I will be able to share reflections from time to time and who knows what will come out of this in the end.

The generosity of learners

Ask and you shall receive. I naively threw a super vague question out into the twitter world and was expecting a few responses from people I already knew. Instead, I got a a lot of retweets and connections to folks I didn’t know. It was truly amazing and generous and reminded me that people doing innovative work – especially those who would respond to a super vague question about it from a perfect stranger – are really excited to talk to people about it. I ended up connecting with a bunch of folks doing really cool stuff. To be honest, so many people ended up wanting to chat that I actually had to take a break. It was the end of the year and my whole family got sick. And now, I am feeling guilty for leaving some of that generosity on the table.

The push and pull of research 

Now that some time has passed, I feel like I owe it to the research to get back at it. I am pick up where I left off with a new lens and new questions. The initial question I asked was vague and open. That served its purpose to get off the ground, but now I know that I need to push a little deeper. In another post, I will talk about some of my initial research findings including: how innovative work begins within an institution, who is likely to champion that work and the value of slowly growing a movement.

What’s next?

In the next few months, I am going to share back what I learned with the initial interview participants, seek new participants, and start investigating these new questions a bit more. These are no easier to digest or dissect, but they feel especially relevant to a lot of conversations I am having.

  1. How do you build ownership of innovative work across a system or institution?
  2. How do you address the tensions in the work of change management or systems change?
  3. How do we use competition to support collaboration when working in wicked problems?

None of this is going to be solvable in a short time frame or by me alone, obviously. So I am relying on the vagueness of the questions, the generosity of learners and the push and pull of the research to get me through.