Emmet Ó Briain wrote a LinkedIn article titled Defuse Dublin 2019 – The Big Green Button Myth: Resisting Dehumanised Research & the Corporate Constraint of Qualitative Insight   (Nov 7, 2019).

« If you enjoy the presentation below, please do read the original much, much longer article (which is more about how rationalisation in corporate culture is inimical to qualitative and creative thought). »

« In reality, most design and research practice takes place in organisational environments where managerial control is prioritised above meaning-making. »

« Within this logic, nothing is more predictable and consistent than an entirely standardised process. »

« Applied to research and technical practice, the justification of standardisation is often wrapped up within a ‘discourse of methodological merit’ — that automation and dehumanisation will lead to an increase in quality through the reduction of the ‘bias’ and ‘risk’ or, horror of horrors, subjectivity that anything involving humans carries.

Applied to interpretive qualitative research, the autonomy afforded to the researcher and researched by approaches such as ethnography and ethnomethodology are presented as sources of such risk.

So, instead, we end up with qualitative research with standardised instruments, with moderator flexibility and participant response constrained through tightly specified prompts and timings.

We end up with interpretive qualitative research bending to make itself amenable to values (efficiencystandardisation and rationalisation) that, applied to qualitative research, undermine not only its capacity to surprise, but its very purpose. »

« But the objectivity, certainty, clarity of standardised frameworks and models for working or the quantitative-experimental paradigm don’t improve upon or repair the subjectivity, the situated sense-making, the messy detail of the real world.

They simply obscure it.

And in so doing we lose sight of the interpretive and situated reasoning on which these metrics and standardised frameworks of practice rely on in use and in application. »

«Aristotle used the term phronesis to describe the practical wisdom (such as the practical wisdom derived from professional experience) that allows us to apply knowledge, judgement and intuition, in-situ to to make decisions.

Think of interpretive qualitative research — it is characterised by an ability to respond to emerging themes and tangents. The skilled qualitative researcher adapts dynamically to the contingencies of contexts they find themselves in, rather than tying themselves to a strict schedule or script.

This form of practical wisdom goes missing in standardisation and dehumanisation. »

« Discretion is another essential difference between the decision-making of humans & algorithms. When we routinise decision-making through algorithmic applications like automated qualitative moderation (yes, horrifyingly, this actually exists!), we lose this capacity for situated reasoning. »


Book recommendation:

« Firstly, read Plans & Situated Actions by Professor Lucy Suchman. It is astonishingly good… In 1979, Lucy Suchman joined Xerox PARC as a doctoral student in anthropology, a period of research which would form the basis of her PhD and the book it produced: Plans & Situated Actions, one of the foundational texts of HCI, CSCW and UX. »

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