Research as a Daily Practice?
No way. How can something as convoluted and narrowly focused as research be part of a daily practice? Good question. Research always starts with a good question, so let’s try to answer that one.
But first – a little background context. In my professional life I spent much of my time exploring, practicing, teaching and writing about research methods in dance/movement therapy. Although I started with more traditional methodologies I eventually focused on qualitative, embodied and arts based methods that I felt reflected and enacted the values and practices of dance/movement therapy. Now that I’ve retired, I am playing ukulele, meditating, practicing and teaching yoga, and noticing the ways a creative/research process is alive in our world, everywhere, if we pay attention.
All kinds of research involve asking a question, gathering information about that question, analyzing that information, and answering the question. In some kinds of research, like the experimental method, the procedures involve a specific kind of yes or no question, controlling the setting in which information is gathered, measuring the outcomes and then answering the question. In other kinds of research the questions may be more open ended, the setting less controlled, the results not numerical, and yet the question can be answered. All kinds of research are based on previous experiences of the researcher and/or other people asking similar questions.
So what are the kinds of questions we might ask in our daily lives?
- What should I cook for dinner?
- How do I get my dog not to bolt out the door when we leave the house?
- How can I get my boss to recognize the value of my work?
- Where can I get a more comfortable sofa?
Some have to do with more controlled situations and measurable outcomes:
- How much will it cost to redecorate my kitchen?
- How do I make my commute shorter?
- How long does it take two Advil to kick in?
After we settle on a question that’s pressing enough to spend some concerted effort and time on, we have to be sure we understand the question. That means examining every word in the question, and being sure they are the words we mean.
Pressing question: “What should I cook for dinner?”
- What – some material substance is involved, probably food.
- Should – is there a judgement or evaluation inferred here? Who is doing the evaluating or judging? Do I really mean should or do I mean will? What are the risks and contingencies I need to consider?
- I – Is it really me doing the cooking? Am I the active agent of the entire process?
- Cook – refers to a process, presumably performed by the active agent, me. So we’re not talking take-out here?
- For dinner – Tonight? What’s the time frame we’re dealing with?
We adjust the question to mean exactly what we really mean:
What will I cook for dinner, six hours from now, based on what’s in my kitchen right now and what I can pick up as needed, for myself and three other people who don’t care what I serve as long as it’s edible?
Now we can start gathering information (data) to answer the question. This often involves a whole set of sub-questions:
I now have six hours until dinner, but what else do I have to do in that time? I make a mental list of my other responsibilities and figure out how much time I really have to make dinner, including shopping as needed, preparation, and the actual cooking.
What food is in my kitchen? I go to my cupboards and refrigerator and take note of what I’ve got.
What can I make with those ingredients? Now I can draw upon my vast personal experiences, or I can go to the infinite resources available about what others have cooked with those same ingredients in a similar amount of time.
As I peruse the recipes/data I organize it into categories. The most basic is accept or reject. There’ll be a whole lot of recipes/data that don’t fit my needs, so I can throw them right out. They require too much time, the ingredients are all wrong, I hate liver, etc.
My analysis will come up with several workable options, and they will determine whether I have to stop at the grocery store or not. I settle on a couple that require a visit to the grocery, and carry them in my mind or on my phone when I go to the store. At the store I gather more information, about the quality of the ingredients available, and narrow down my answer to a single recipe.
Results: Real life research question answered through a systematic practice of examining a question, gathering data and analyzing my findings. Spaghetti with meat sauce and sauteed spinach with garlic and parmesan cheese.