Design Research

Understanding the experiences, needs and challenges of children, youth and families with mental health needs is a complex undertaking. Design research, which is a qualitative approach, offers a flexible research method that picks up on the nuance of vastly different experiences. It seeks to understand the people experiencing a problem or service, their needs, and the challenges they face (whether they are service users or providers). Most importantly, design research aims to uncover why people make certain decisions, what drives their needs, how they approach and troubleshoot challenges they’re confronted with, and what might influence the behaviour of the stakeholders and the services that comprise their encompassing system.

It’s important to note that the value of quantitative research cannot be disregarded within certain contexts. For example, there is much that can be learned from demographic and service usage statistics. However, quantitative research of this kind can be limiting. It requires that researchers understand the exact area of inquiry, and are able to ask specific and rigid questions, offering limited but often “true” outputs.1

While quantitative research is a strong approach in established domains, it has limited usefulness when addressing questions that have not first been qualitatively explored and framed.2 Where the research area is less understood (as in the exploration of individual experiences), design research offers a competitive approach that can adapt to, and embrace, the diverse findings that will inevitably result.

Service designers, Polaine, Løvlie, and Reason, describe the difference between design research and quantitative or marketing research in their book, Service Design: From Insight to Implementation. They suggest that, typically, quantitative market research aims to collect responses from a large number of people, which, “can yield some ‘truths’ that are statistically significant and correct.”3 However, this approach won’t uncover why people behave the way they do. Without an understanding of why a situation is the way it is, and why the stakeholders involved make the decisions they do, good intentions can be paralyzed without actionable insights.

Critical to the ongoing momentum and success of an initiative such as this is the idea that:

Statistics are not very actionable for designers—we need to know the underlying reasons…One [approach] is not better than the other, but for our purposes, qualitative research yields more useful insights that we can use as a basis for design than quantitative research’s ‘truths’ do.4

Qualitative research also offers greater flexibility, allowing researchers to adapt their line of inquiry and data collection techniques in response to what is learned in initial research stages.5 This allows researchers to approach groups of participants differently, allowing them to be fluid in their questioning, and more able to build on the early responses of participants. These attributes made design research well-suited to this project.5

Design research allows many insights to be gained from a small number of participants. Polaine, Løvlie, and Reason suggest that where market research may interact with 100 people and identify 10 “truths”, design research can engage 10 people, and gain 100 insights.6 The engagement phase involved deep dive engagement for over 100 hours with 12 people and families and three online surveys with people and providers with over 100 total responses. After this level of engagement, it became clear that the research team was approaching theoretical saturation: “the point in data collection when new data no longer brings additional insights.”24

This is typically the basis for determining a sufficient sample size in purposive sampling. As the team pursued its core question—what are the experiences, needs and challenges of people and families with addictions and mental health needs in Waterloo Wellington—fewer and fewer novel results arose, and the engagement phase came to a close.

References

  1. Creswell, J. W. Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative and Mixed Methods Approaches. London: Sage, 2009. Print.
  2. Polaine, A., Løvlie, L., & Reason, B. (2013). Service Design: From Insight to Implementation (p. 38 – 40).
    Brooklyn, New York: Rosenfeld Media.
  3. Polaine, A., Løvlie, L., & Reason, B. (2013). Service Design: From Insight to Implementation (p. 38 – 40).
    Brooklyn, New York: Rosenfeld Media.
  4. Creswell, J. W. Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative and Mixed Methods Approaches. London:
    Sage, 2009. Print.
  5. Creswell, J. W. Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative and Mixed Methods Approaches. London:
    Sage, 2009. Print.
  6. Family Health International, et al. Qualitative Research Methods: A Data Collector’s Field Guide. N.p.:
    FLI, 2005. Print.
  7. “ARCHIVE: Tackling wicked problems: A public policy perspective.” Australian Public Service Commission.
    Commonwealth of Australia, 2007. Web. 13 Nov. 2014. 14 <http://www.apsc.gov.au/publications-
    and-media/archive/ publications-archive/tackling-wicked-problems>.