Have you ever made adjustments to your research design/methodology addressing all your dissertation chair’s feedback only to have her come back with five more things that need to be fixed? I have and it was frustrating. Maybe you inquired as I did, “why didn’t you tell me about these when you gave me feedback the last time around?” Of course, the reason was the decisions that I made when changing my research methodology caused the five new problems. Is there a way to reduce (or even eliminate) the number of new problems you create when you make changes to your methodology? Good news, there are techniques that you can use but you have to learn to think like Leonardo da Vinci.
Da Vinci Technique
The Da Vinci technique is described by Michael Michalko in his book Cracking Creativity. Michalko proposes that it is clear from Leonardo’s notebooks that he used a strategy of mixing and matching various components from a list of options in both his art and inventions. For example, when drawing sketches of faces he chose from a list of various nose types, ear types, eyes, so on and so forth. Sort of like playing with a Mr. Potato Head. The combination of your choices might be beautiful, or not. The Da Vinci technique has been used in more recent years for process design, benchmarking, and creative projects. But how can it be used to improve research design?
Research design is part art and part science. Creating a custom research design to fit your particular problem, purpose, and research questions requires creating a new combination of research methods and techniques. Unless you are replicating another study, the process of research design requires creativity. However, there are rules to follow which is the science part. Music is similar in that there are many combinations of notes that you can sequence to create a new song, but some notes simply don’t go together. Like music, once you make a few research design decisions (choose a few notes) then the options for the rest of the methodology are limited. One way to help with this task is to use the Research Design Canvas.
The Research Design Canvas is a framework for getting the “DNA” of your study developed and aligned prior to developing “pretty paragraphs” in a research prospectus or plan. The research framework is composed of nine components or parameters. Within each of these parameters, there are many options to choose from when developing your design. It doesn’t take many parameters and options within each parameter to result in a large number of combinations. The good news is the number of options for a research design is limited once a few key decisions are made such as the problem, purpose, research questions, and conceptual framework. For more on each of the nine Research Design Canvas components check out the Research Methods Framework section.
The Research Design Canvas allows you to mix and match various options and conduct thought experiments to check for congruence in the methodology. An example canvas from a recent study that I conducted is depicted here. It is based on the CEO leading transformation study that was published in two papers last year (Latham, 2013, Part 1 and Part 2). There is a PDF version of this example and a blank canvas template below. Research design is an iterative process so I recommend that you print off several blank canvases to use for multiple drafts of your next research project.
PDF of Example Canvas | Download
PDF of Blank Canvas Template | Download
Michalko, M. (1998). Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius (1st ed.). Berkeley, California: Ten Speed Press.