The Epistemist

…on the knowledge journey

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Reserach design draft completed

May 25th, 2009 · No Comments · dissertation, knowledge

I have finished the writeup for my dissertation research design (deliverable for KA 753B); here is an excerpt with the problem statement and the method overview.  This will go into my concept paper.

(Full text here).

Research Problem

In most cases, when a person is faced with a challenge or a problem, he resolves it through an individual cognition process, and by accessing his personal knowledge base, which may include known facts, information and existing experience in solving similar problems, plus the knowledge about how and where to access additional resources. This type of problem-solving is a solitary and slow process, and may be quite inefficient, especially in a time-sensitive situation. It may also be ineffective if the prior experience or readily available resources are not adequate for the particular type of the problem.  In some environments, people are beginning to turn to collaborative problem-solving instead. More often than not, this collaborative problem-solving is not a part of a structured, well-defined issue resolution process, but rather is a product of self-organized, ad-hoc collaboration between weakly connected, cross-functional team members.  Experts and non-experts “swarm” over a problem until it is resolved. Only one person in this group has the actual responsibility to resolve the problem, and yet the group assumes collective ownership of the challenge. The groups are typically very small – 3-7 people. None of the participants in this collaborative problem-solving event may have the complete knowledge set that would allow them to solve the problem individually, but by integrating their individual experiences and knowledge banks, they co-construct the new knowledge about the problem at hand that gives the group the tools to solve the problem.

I am interested in understanding and describing the qualitatively different ways that the participants in these “swarms” make meaning of their experience. My main research question is: “How do people in collaborative problem-solving groups understand their experience?” If we knew more about how the individuals involved understand their experience, it might help us understand the genesis, operation, dissolution, and re-emergence of such groups.


The method I am planning to use is phenomenography. The reason I am considering this method is that it is well-suited for understanding the experiences of people, and especially for uncovering the differences between the ways people process their experiences.

Phenomenography is a second-order research method. In the first/second order dichotomy, first-order research describes the phenomenon as the researcher experiences it, while second-order research method focuses on other’s descriptions and experiences with the phenomenon.  Phenomenography originated in Europe as a method to explore students’ conceptions of a learning process (Booth 1997; Marton 1981a; Marton 1981b; Marton and Booth 1997; Marton and Pang 2006; Renstrom, Andersson and Marton 1990). The method has since been applied to other group learning and sense-making scenarios (Andretta 2007; Collin 2006; Osteraker 2002; Paloniemi 2006; Prewitt 2005; Vallee 2006). A particular strength of phenomenography is its focus on the differences between the way individuals experience a process or a part of a process. As a result, the variety of points of view can create a rich fabric of meaning. In addition to enriching our knowledge of the meaning-making, phenomenography offers a strong practical application: since some ways of understanding the experience are more productive than others (Marton 1994), focusing individuals on understanding their experience in these more productive ways will help them   to contribute and cooperate better. With this in mind, an ordered and prioritized list of people’s conceptions may help managers coach and mentor employees to support and promote the valuable mindsets. It also may help create better problem-resolution outcomes by focusing participants on a particularly productive way of framing the experience, and accelerate knowledge transition from tacit to explicit.


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