Some advice from seasoned co-designers

Hi there,

Could some well informed helpful researcher advice me please if I’m locating co-design as a methodology within an appropriate epistemology? I’ve located it generally within constructionism based on the fact that co-design is coming from the participatory/action research domain. This ‘logic’ is based on Crotty’s research framework, however I’ve also come across more recent paradigms such as pragmatism and critical realism which seem to suit complex problems that co-design attempts to solve. Phenonomology is frequently referred to by Liz Sanders too in her writings, which would lead me to believe that constructionism is not a bad choice. Your advice is greatly appreciated. Thanks Sandra.

Oh yes co-design, and many human-centered design methodologies, definitely can be categorized as a form of constructivist learning.
Since with these design methodologies you are including experienced reality as a necessary step to form concepts and generate knowledge (phenomenology) and do experimentations within that reality without a priori generating a hypothesis (action research / grounded theory approach), and study the practical effects (pragmatism) to give rise to a new reality, embedded in a culture/society, social constructivism fits as the basis of your epistemology.

I know I am taking a ‘tight turn’ there and I may not be accurate in all details, since I have only worked with researchers as a student and as a research assistant under professors, but this has become my view of the methodology. It may be helpful to you to read articles by my old professors Caroline Hummels, Kees Overbeeke, and Kees Dorst. For example:

It’s an interesting discussion, I hope you want to continue it here. What are you working on?

Hi Ralph,

Thanks for your reply. I’m happy to know that I’m on the right track with constructionism/constructivism - these two terms seem to be interchangeable, as you and I are using them to describe the same theoretical perspective. I’ve noted that established writers of research such as Crotty and Creswell use these terms differently too, to mean the same perspective. It’s not a major issue, but seems to get more apparent when it moves into a distinction with ‘social constructionism’. As you have pointed out social constructionism would suit my co-creation methodology better, so thanks for those insights and for your contextual views of pragmatism and phenomenology. You’ve touched on a lot of terms that I’m reading and writing about.

The main reasons I’m grappling with committing to an epistemology is mainly when discussions about ontology are brought into the discussion. Again these terms seem to be used synonymously with each other, however from an ontological perspective my own personal raison d’etre would be one of Objectivism, simply because a tree is a tree in it’s own right independent of people’s perceptions of it… I can see the strengths of this ontological view when it comes to our planet and how people have wrecked it. I think I need to just stop over thinking this and let the argument for my thesis stop at an epistemological level - as the main concern of doing a thesis is to position myself within a particular knowledge paradigm. It’s difficult to not think deeper, as there are so many complex health and environmental problems to be addressed. Stephanie Di Russo, brings up some interesting insights on why design needs a new knowledge paradigm: Why design needs a critical reality check – I think ∴ I design

Thanks for the link to your old professors. I’ve read some work from Caroline Hummel, her paper on resonant interaction was really interesting. Where I’m based in IT Carlow in Ireland, my lecturers look to Dutch research, so it’s very coincidental that you’ve responded to me! My research is based on a group of nurses and is to do with how they access information within in the fragmented structure of the health services here in Ireland. It’s a long road, but very interesting none the less.
Nice to read the W.B. Yeats poem in memory of your old professor Kees Overbeeke.

What’s your research about these days?

Thanks for taking the time to respond. Sandra.

A simple question.

What is the objective of applying ontology to a nurse’s access to information?

Hi there,

The ontological view is in relation to my own personal views - nothing really to do with how nurses access information. It’s more to do with my thinking on how I see them as part of the design process. Hope that answers your question. p.s. I should have added, ontology for the nurses has to do with how they see themselves partaking in the design research.
Here’s a video that may explain it better: What is Ontological Design? - YouTube

With regards to the research itself, how does this differ from handling Hawthorne?

With regards to the video, how does this differ from behavior change?

Hi iab,

Thanks for your interest, I’m not familiar with Hawthorne, but I’ve just quickly Googled it. Out of interest do you recommend this for the ideas of knowledge transfer in organisations? As regards the video behaviour change is what is fundamentally needed all round for any kind of meaningful change.

I’m just trying to determine the objective to applying ontology to design in general and to your design research itself.

To the research, you stated you are interested in how the nurses see themselves partaking in the research. I am trying to see how this differs from the Hawthorne effect and what impact that creates on the outcomes of the research. If it is the same, fine, but if it differs, I am interested in that difference.

To design in general, same thing. Is ontology something beyond behavior change? And again, if no, fine. If yes, how do the two differ?

Which makes an interesting circular effect in that design changes behavior in which you will need to design to the new behavior, etc, etc.

Hi there,

I’m not sure how it compares to the Hawthorn effect, maybe you can compare once I’ve given you my views from this side. From the Co-Creation perspective, how nurses see themselves is vital to the success of the research outcomes. I’ve interviewed nurses individually to gather their views, feelings, thoughts you name it on how they access information to help them in their jobs, how they feel about their work environment, views on IT systems etc. (there’s a lot of background to these particular nurses which I won’t go into here now), but it’s complex rather than complicated. Data is gathered and synthesised to collate themes and patterns arising from their views. For Co-Creation to work effectively, the participants need to be open to it. They’re not going in blindly to the process, the idea is that they become empowered by the process so they take ownership of what they need to change in their working lives. If their attitude, or mindset falls off the wagon then the project stalls. Also depending on their own motivations for participating in the research - they will have their own underlying reasons good bad or indifferent - participant selection is an important part of the co-creation process, but there are deviants and you just can’t predict the behaviour of participants.

Your last point is an interesting one indeed… I certainly believe design does change behaviour, and more specifically mindsets.

I agree. Ideally, you need participants to champion an idea.

I wish you the best, but in my experience, you are going only to find 1 or 2 champions in a group. Most will be neutral, and 1 or 2 can be openly hostile. Pretty much follows any normal distribution curve. The key to that is make sure the 2 negative ones don’t poison the majority of neutral folks. I have seen that happens and you might as well toss your research at that point.

Also as important is to coach the champions. Peers follow peers. The researcher is the outsider and is viewed with some level of cynicism. Be prepared to support and provide the necessary tools to the champions and you are likely to have good data.

Thanks for the good well wishing, I need lots of it. I’ve already encountered the whole plethora of ‘types’ of participants that you’ve just described, so I fully understand what you’re saying there. Thanks for your feedback and suggestions, much appreciated.

Another tact you can take with your respondents is to show their input matters. This is about the only actual advantage the research has over an actual product launch.

We find it most valuable to prototype as soon as possible in get it into the respondents hands. We always go through several iterations and most of the time we will go back to a previous site to test a new iteration. It demonstrates we listen and implement what the respondents say. It gives them a great sense of value. Only helps when you use them in the future for a different research.

A launch on the other hand, the customer gets what they get. And while we certainly listen to their input for a gen 2 product, the responsiveness is no where as fast as we do in development.