Asking the right questions

Last week I attended a workshop about how to foster interdisciplinary research between engineering, economics, environmental and social sciences.

In the workshop it came across strongly that while engineers and designers are good at answering questions, social sciences are good at asking them. It is important to ask the right questions from the outset of a project. As engineers and designers we may be guilty of asking the questions we know we can answer. For a bit of reading around asking good questions I would recommend – The Art of Powerful Questions.

My design education made it clear that while you may be an expert in one aspect of a project you needed to be able to communicate with the whole design team. Perhaps why that makes designers good project leaders. I’m more interested in what we can learn from other disciplines though.

Designers are a bit like magpies, we see shiny new opportunities and think how we can apply these new ideas in project. This was definitely the case in my research where designers were creating interventions to guide and shape user behaviour based on social science findings.

I found translating my research questions into an action on a pyramid diagram helped me visualise both my current thinking and intended direction. It explained how each stage built on the previous, how the scope of the work narrowed over time and what the outcomes where at each stage. Later on I mapped the methodology stages on to the diagram too. This helped in the write up stage as each section of pyramid related to a thesis chapter.

Research Pyramid with Methodology

Research Pyramid with Methodology

Has anyone else tried to visualise their research questions? 

It would be interesting to see how others have done this and whether this varies by discipline. I found it a helpful diagram to talk through in presentations but I’d also like to hear your thoughts on how it can be improved. After all a picture says a thousand words.

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