This is the fifth post in a series considering the role of psychological research within the context of an architectural practice. The goal of this series is to provide answers to six key questions, namely, the why, what, who, when, how and where, of design focused psychological research.
When architecture firms consider undertaking psychological research, there is often uncertainty regarding who in the firm should perform the research. This is especially true given the challenges related to this type of research – challenges architects’ formal training rarely addresses. In this post we will deal with this question.
Asking who the researchers in a firm should be is much like asking who the designers in a firm should be. There is, unfortunately, no single answer that addresses this question sufficiently, largely because the design team required depends on the design task. So is it with design focused psychosocial research as well. Admittedly, ‘it depends’ is not a helpful answer and although variability exists, there are general contextual guidelines to consider which would help firms identify the appropriate individuals for specific research projects.
Rather than describing the characteristics of the ‘perfect’ researcher a series of questions will be proposed that need to be answered in order to identify the research context and needs. Answers to these questions help identify those best suited to address these needs as part of a research team.
Design focused psychosocial research involves more than just the administration of questionnaires or the observation of behavior. Similarly the research team extends beyond those who do the actual research. According to an article by Mickan and Rodger, the efficiency of a team is influenced by three major factors:
- the organizational context the team functions within,
- the characteristics of the individual researchers,
- the processes internal to the research team.
An accurate understanding of these three factors, and how it relates to a specific firm and research project, will enable the identification of the appropriate research team. Below follows an explanation of the first category as well as a list of questions to help define the research context. The characteristics of individual researchers and the processes internal to the team will be addressed in the next post.
Researchers are dependent on the larger organization for resources and guidance. The following aspects are therefore crucial to consider:
Firm purpose: Well defined firm goals help guide the research goals and contribute to a higher degree of motivation and commitment to the research project. It also helps identify the individuals who are most appropriate to include in research initiatives from an organizational point of view. Questions related to this category include:
- What is our firm’s vision, values and goals?
- How do these correspond to our research goals?
- What do we, as a firm, hope to achieve through the research?
- What are our short term, and long term, research goals?
- Who are best suited to pursue both these firm and research goals via new research initiatives?
Firm culture: Organizational culture consists of behavioral norms informed by shared values. Research flourishes where the culture allows for innovation, creativity and experimentation. Ideally researchers should not only advocate for shared firm values within their teams, but they should also shape shared firm values, and therefore firm culture, via their research process. The research initiatives of a firm should consider the firm culture. Regarding this category, the following questions should be asked:
- How does our culture allow for innovation and creativity?
- How do we as a firm define and view failure? Success?
- How can our values and firm culture support our research?
- How can our research shape, and challenge our values and our culture?
- Does our practice’s history and culture put us in a unique position to pursue research?
- How will research challenge or perhaps change our firm?
- Which individuals in our firm can best interpret and influence firm culture while pursuing research goals?
Roles and leadership: A general understanding of the anticipated research roles is indispensable when compiling identifying team members. Role descriptions should be clear enough to be understood by all, but flexible enough to account for change throughout the project. Leadership is essential to maintain a strategic focus regarding the research goals as well as the firm’s vision. Goal setting, team development and progress evaluation suffers when team leadership is lacking. Questions related to roles and leadership include the following:
- What are the primary roles required to undertake this research?
- What are the expectations and personal factors related to these roles?
- Will team members present findings to outsiders or do we only require in-house documentation?
- How flexible are these roles, can we maintain continuity even when those fulfilling the roles change?
- Will this project require senior staff as part of the team to facilitate interaction with clients?
- How do we want to develop and train our research team during the research process?
Group members: Design focused psychosocial research teams can benefit from a team with diverse task and interpersonal skills. Generally homogeneous teams tend to function with less conflict, where heterogeneous teams may help members develop underdeveloped skills while expanding their individual views. More will be discussed about the characteristics of individual members in a future post, but as a start, the following questions should be considered:
- What is the anticipated project balance between design and research?
- Will involvement from various design disciplines be helpful?
- Which personal skills will be most appropriate for the selected methodologies (e.g. interviews and focus groups vs observation and analysis)?
- Are there members with specific backgrounds, skills or interests that might benefit/hinder a project?
- How do we view potential for conflict within the group?
Resources: The availability of resources to support the research plays a significant role in the success of research teams. Required resources can include financial, technically or administrative support. Professional education and skills development is a category that is often overlooked. Where research requires interaction with building occupants, existing client contacts and relationships become invaluable resources that can be developed to the benefit of, not only the firm but also the client and building occupants. Depending on the type of research, costs of setting up and maintaining research teams can be substantial and should be considered when selecting team members:
- What type of resources will this project require?
- Are we willing to support research (financially, administratively, technically) given the uncertainty of the outcome?
- Do we have researchers with the appropriate skills or will training be required before research can be pursued?
- Do certain methodologies require special equipment?
- Do we require new software to enable data collection and processing?
- Do our proposed methodologies require us to obtain permission from building occupants and owners?
- Which individuals are best suited to identify, obtain and manage required resources?
The ultimately goal of research is not research itself; it is to understand and inform design while developing a growing understanding of the human and environmental impact of design decisions. It is ultimately a collective endeavor which cannot easily be prescribed. The five aspects described above refer to the structural characteristics, on the firm wide level, which directly influence team composition. In the next post, aspects related to the individual and the internal team process will be described. When considering these factors, firms will develop a better understanding of how to staff research projects and further its own unique research agendas.
Mickan, S., & Rodger, S. (2000). Characteristics of Effective Teams: A Literature Review. Australian Health Review., Vol.23 No 3. CSIRO Publishing.
An Introduction to Psychological Research in Architectural Practice
Why does psychological research in architectural practice matter?
Considering psychosocial research as a part of architectural practice
5 Points on the Nature of Psychosocial Research in Architecture