My Research Philosophy, Briefly
Dutch biologist Niklaas Tinbergen has greatly influenced my research philosophy. Essentially, Tinbergen says we must ask four questions in order to fully understand any behavior: 1) What is its current function? 2) How did it evolve or develop, historically? 3) What immediate environmental trigger causes it to happen? 4) How did this behavior develop over the lifetime of the individual?
Although "Tinbergen's Four Questions," as they are now known, were created with evolutionary biology in mind, there's no reason they cannot be adapted to cultural, social, or ethnographic research. I regularly use them to develop frameworks for understanding people.
More broadly, I keep these things in mind when researching:
*Start with the attitude that you don’t know what you don’t know and build from there.
*Ask the right questions of the right people.
*Don’t lose the forest for the trees and embrace holism within reason.
*Distill complex phenomena into key takeaways suitable for the audience, be they decision makers, managers, students, policy makers, or the general public.
*Look out for unintended consequences and edge cases that can affect your strategy.
*Diminishing returns are real: know when to stop and report out.
My Process and Methods
I’m a pragmatist who chooses the right tools for the job, budget, and timeframe. I'm comfortable with mixed methods and often use quantitative and qualitative approaches on the same project. My typical research process looks something like this, but things vary depending on scope:
*Use open-source research to get a feel for what is known and unknown about question.
*Conduct two or three open-ended ethnographic interviews with people who face the problem directly, which aids survey development and identifies blind spots. Depending on the research question, these interviews might be shortened and the sample size increased.
*Create a survey and administer it at the scale appropriate for the timeframe, budget, and statistical power needed.
*Use statistical analysis to put numbers around survey results, with deeper analysis if necessary and relevant, e.g. predictive models, survival analysis, hierarchical linear modeling, hazard ratios, factor analysis/dimension reduction.
*Report out using anecdotes from ethnographic interviews to bring the numbers to life, build empathy for users, and make findings more memorable and interesting.
My Technical Research Skills
*Statistical analysis using Stata or SPSS, with particular skill with multiple regression, logistic regression, survival analysis, factor analysis, and structural equation modeling. I really enjoy learning new methods, so I'm always up for that. Structural equation modeling is a relatively recent muse and Bayesian inference using Stata is next (I'll estimate a date when I update my priors).
*Survey development and administration using Qualtrics and Google Forms.
*Short and long-form ethnographic interviewing and analysis using ATLAS.ti and grounded coding schemes.
*Drawing data from public sources and tying it together with proprietary data.
*Using Tableau and Power BI to create visuals.
*Ideation and innovation development using design thinking and tools like mashups, card sorting, prototyping, whiteboarding, brainstorming, interviewing, and so on.