PhD research about research, or the challenge of the "meta" level

2017 edition

Enric Senabre

After nearly one year of intense documentation and exploration for the first stage of my PhD project, which started in February 2016, right now just before entering in the “fieldwork phase”, it seems a good moment to take a look back about the whole process. And also how I have been experiencing this intellectual effort and challenge at the personal level. The focus of my project is on co-creation in the context of collaborative research management, with the opportunity and privilege of connecting it with my professional activity as coordinator and PhD candidate at the Dimmons research group.

It has, as you can imagine, some “meta” implications: how two different methodological frameworks, Agile (from the practices of software development) and design thinking (as a wide paradigm of design methods connected to systems thinking), which were not originally developed in research contexts, can contribute to the regular tasks and dynamics of collaborative research practices.

But what we really mean by “collaborative research” today? Isn’t the majority of research a collaborative effort, one way or another? From joint writing of proposals or co-authored papers, to online networks of peers and the spread of digital methods for data gathering, collaborating in science and research seems rather the norm (as opposed to the idea of a solitary scientist in the laboratory, that academic expert in an “ivory tower”).

So first I’m trying to delimit a little bit more what “collaborative research” really implies, not only when it comes to co-writing, but also in terms of previous steps (like research design and planning, data gathering methods, or interpretation and dissemination of results). For that, I’m putting the focus on knowledge management for small-scale and large-scale team science, on the new and growing domain of citizen science, and on participative disciplines from social sciences, like action research or community-based research (constructivist approaches for collective inquiry projects and communities of practise, in order to do research “with” people rather than just “about” people).

Now I’m starting to define the materials and instructions needed for the collaborative ideation and development of several research projects where I’m going to be involved (as facilitator and also participant observer). This has been progressively a new element in the project, where I’m trying not only to develop this inquiry at the intellectual, conceptual and academic level, but also to ideally generate useful materials. In this case, a toolkit for the management of collaborative research that I can openly share and maybe other people reuse and test, even improve (as copyleft licensed material).

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