AWARDS

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Research methodologies

As mentioned above, the scope for research in architectural technology is vast and the range of methodologies that may be employed is equally wide. Therefore, a brief explanation of some of the methodologies which can be, and are, used may help those setting out on a research project, no matter how modest or ambitious its goals. Choice of research methodology will depend upon a number of factors, such as the scope of the project and the available resources, so the choice of methodology is often a compromise. It may also be based on strong research traditions associated with a particular field, i.e. the research follows a common methodology. Whether one approach is better than another is often open to debate and it is not uncommon for researchers to use a combination of both quantitative and qualitative techniques. For example, Dana Cuff ’s book on architectural practice was based on qualitative techniques (observational research) while the study by Symes et al. of architectural practice relied on an extensive postal questionnaire (largely quantitative) supported by three case studies (qualitative). Whatever method, or methods, used it is useful to remember that no matter how extensive and rigorous the research it only provides an indication of how things are at a particular point in time. It does not prove a point beyond
reasonable doubt – there are guaranteed to be exceptions to every rule. Regardless of their scope, all research projects need to be designed and carefully planned to be achievable within the resources available. Thus time and money may well influence the methodology employed. The differences between quantitative and qualitative research are explored below.

Quantitative research
Quantitative research is based on the collection of data using scientific techniques, i.e. a numerical approach from which statistical analysis of the collected Towards a theory for practice data allows conclusions to be drawn which may (or may not) be representative of the larger picture being studied. Engineering and materials science are examples of fields where quantitative methods are the principal investigative tool, essentially concerned with the world as it is (measurables). There are two main methods as follows:
(1) Surveys. Postal (and e-mail) questionnaires are a useful research tool for gathering information from a large, albeit remote, sample relatively cheaply and quickly. Although they are usually based on question design that requires answers that can be quantified, there is scope for asking and collecting a limited amount of qualitative data to support the quantitative responses. Typical questions require the respondent to tick or circle an answer to a question, ranging from a simple choice from Yes/Unsure/No to slightly more complex responses such as Strongly agree/Agree/Neither agree nor disagree/Disagree/
Strongly disagree. Other questions may be designed that require the respondent to rank a list in order of preference, from 1 (first preference) to 10 (last preference). Telephone questionnaires serve a similar function, although they have the added benefit that respondents can ask for clarification if they do not understand a question and (depending on the design of the survey) there is more scope for asking questions that require qualitative answers.
Response rates will vary, although the better designed and better targeted the questionnaire the more the likelihood of a good response rate. Surveys can be repeated relatively easily to gain comparative information at, say, a later date.
(2) Experimental research. Setting up a research project under controlled conditions, e.g. the laboratory, is relatively straightforward given a sound methodology, the correct equipment and accurate recording. Such experiments should be easy to replicate, by both the research team and others for verification of the findings. Again, the data generated are primarily numerical.

Qualitative research
Qualitative research is primarily concerned with individuals’ perception of the
world and is particularly well suited to research on management and design
issues. Here the emphasis is on insights, using interviews (asking), observational
techniques (looking) and case studies (looking and asking).
(1) Interviews. Interviewing people is an effective way of gaining opinion and perceptions
and is widely used. A degree of caution is required because when
professionals, such as architects, speak or write about their work they are portraying
themselves as they wish to be seen, a professional image for public
consumption (Ellis and Cuff 1989). Therefore, it would be sensible to use a
second method of data collection to provide a cross-check to see that what people say they do is actually what they do, i.e. there is a need for observational research.

Observational research.
Looking at how people actually behave is potentially one of the most rewarding research techniques, but one difficult to conduct and difficult to repeat. The biggest problem with this type of research is that as soon as people know that they are being observed they tend to behave
differently to how they normally would because they are conscious of the fact that they are being observed. For example, pe
Case studiesople may behave differently if a researcher (a stranger) is present in their normal working environment or if they are being recorded on film, and this needs to be taken into account in the design of observational research. One way around this is to use discrete monitoring techniques, such as hidden cameras, although this approach raises a number of ethical concerns. A better and more honest approach is to use ethnographic techniques, essentially participant observation. The ethnographic approach is grounded in anthropology in that it allows the researcher to use naturalist modes of enquiry to account for the behaviour of humans.

. Case studies are used in building to describe the process of building and to illustrate the outcome of that process. They may also be used to illustrate the behaviour of, e.g. design teams. For comparative purposes it is usually considered necessary to include four different case studies to ensure
a degree of validity to the research. However, one case study may help to illustrate some of the main issues being discussed without seeking to be representative of the larger population.

4) Ethical issues
Research, by its very nature of enquiry, is invasive and care needs to be taken by the researcher at all stages in a research project to ensure that the interests of those associated with the subject being researched are not compromised, i.e. an ethical approach is required. The exact nature of the ethical issues will be related to the subject being investigated and the methodology employed. As a basic principle researchers must be open and honest with people and data. In the commercial world of building a number of areas may be sensitive and extra care is required.
For example, research into the uptake of new technologies, especially where they are product specific rather than generic, can have implications for the manufacturer. Sometimes, e.g. in the case of research into the uptake of new building products, the research is not published in the public domain simply because of its commercial sensitivity. Likewise, research into the management of the detail design process in professional organisations could affect the organisation and individuals concerned, especially if the outcome is critical of those being studied.
Thus researchers must concern themselves with ensuring that the people and processes involved are sufficiently well disguised to ensure anonymity. Not all research is anonymous, and some organisations and individuals may be keen to see their name in print. In such cases equal care must be taken to ensure that the
completed research is not just an enhanced marketing exercise for those being researched – research should be a balanced enquiry and, therefore, criticism is expected. Gaining the adequate permissions to carry out a balanced research project is a constant challenge for researchers. It is ethical to _ inform affected parties about the scope and nature of the research and the likely outcome before starting it _ obtain consent to do the research and also consent to publish it (without too restrictive caveats)
_ record all information accurately and in a manner that other researchers can follow should they wish to
_ respect the organisation’s and individual’s wishes for privacy and anonymity
_ offer something in return, e.g. a copy of the completed report or publication,
and not to forget to thank people for letting you into their private worlds.

Research – an iterative process
One of the biggest misconceptions about research is that it follows a predetermined, well-planned route, from identifying the scope, to reviewing the literature, deciding on a methodology, data collection, data analysis, and finally the presentation of findings, represented by the inverted pyramid in Fig. 15.2. Experienced researchers will be familiar with a much more iterative process. This is an important point to make because just as individuals have different learning styles they also have different approaches to data collection and presentation. Whether we start with a title, or with access to some data, is largely a matter of individual preference and circumstance; what is more important is not so much the order it is done in, but the outcome of the process, the deliverables. Figure 15.2 indicates the main phases in a research project and their logical progression over time, during which the scope for uncertainty should decrease. The iterative process is represented by the feedback arrows.

Title. For reasons that should become clear from the discussion below, many research projects start with a working title which broadly
(1)describes the research being undertaken. The final title of the research is usually determined once the research is complete and may need adjusting simply because more is
known at the end of a research project than was at the start
.


(2) Literature review. Searching for, finding, reading, analysing and criticising work already carried out on a particular field of study is necessary for a number of reasons. First, and most obvious, the literature review will provide an indication of the work already done in the field on which the new research project
will build. Second, the literature review will reveal the methods used by other researchers and may well highlight shortcomings with the methodologies employed. No literature review can ever be exhaustive, nor can it ever be complete, because during the duration of the research project other research may be published which cannot be ignored. Sometimes this new work can be helpful, (e.g. additional comparative data), sometimes it may necessitate an adjustment in the research being conducted. Either way, it is necessary to be aware of new developments in the field to ensure that the new research has validity.

(3) Methodology. It is not unusual for people new to research to confuse the literature search with the methodology and/or get confused as to what the methodology should be. It is very simple. The methodology describes how the data will be (and were) collected and how they are to be analysed. In essence, the researcher is telling the reader how the research was conducted. This allows the reader to make an informed opinion on the data and should also allow other researchers to repeat the research at a future date should they wish to do so. Once the methodology has been decided upon it is good practice to conduct
a small trial (a pilot study) to test the design of the research. From this test an indication as to whether the data collection exercise is feasible can be established and any modifications made before data collection starts.


(4) Data collection. Whatever method is used for collecting the data it is essential that they are recorded legibly and consistently and time scales are adhered to. Different methodologies have different protocols for recording information
.
(5) Data analysis. There are two different approaches to data analysis. The first is to complete the data collection phase and then analyse the findings. The second is a progressive approach to data collection where data are collected and analysed as a series of predetermined steps, with the results of the intermediate analysis informing future data collection. The approach used should be clearly stated in the methodology.

(6) Conclusions and recommendations. Once the data collection and analysis are complete the conclusion and any recommendations can be written and the new research findings discussed in relation to the work that has already been published (and identified in the literature review).

(7) Dissemination. The outcome of the research, the deliverables, should be disseminated widely. There is little point in doing research and then failing to communicate the findings to the parties that may need it.

Research expectations
A number of widely held expectations are expected from research projects. We should expect a piece of research to have the following characteristics:
_ The research should be meaningful and a catalyst for new work.
Higher National Diploma (HND) or Higher National Certificate (HNC). These were, and still are, highly regarded awards providing essential skills for the technologist in practice and which now form a bridge to the undergraduate degrees. At the start of 2001 there were over 140 institutions offering Architectural Technology at HND and or HNC throughout the UK and the Republic of Ireland (BIAT 2001) demonstrating the strength of the BTEC awards. The first degree programmes were developed at Luton and Napier, and followed by Leeds Metropolitan and Sheffield Hallam Universities (Mason 1999).
These pioneering institutions proved that there was an alternative to architecture (and building degrees) and the market has responded. Now there are 32 institutions offering degrees in Architectural Technology in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, 20 of which are accredited by BIAT (BIAT 2001). With others starting up around the world this represents a rapid growth in provision from modest beginnings. Curricula vary between different universities, although the three core areas of design, technology and management are the underpining characteristics of these degrees. In part, this is due to BIAT’s deliberate policy of not being prescriptive, merely offering guidance (and an extensive checklist if accreditation is required), and in part due to institutions creating the degree out of existing modules from associated degrees, such as Architecture, Building Surveying and Construction Management. The effect of this is increased choice for students within the architectural technology discipline.
In May 2000 the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) published separate benchmark statements for architecture and architectural technology (QAA 2000). The academic standards for architectural technology are based on subject knowledge and understanding of three core areas, namely:
_ technology
_ design, procedures and practice
_ procurement and contracts (management).
Positioning is a challenge for the designers of the new undergraduate courses:
where exactly does the technologist sit in the overall scheme of things? Anyone who has tried to answer this question (and hence justify the degree) will agree that it is not easy, since the technologist in practice can operate in the same role as an architect, or specialise in detailing or contract administration. In practice boundaries are constantly shifting. With evolution from architectural assistant, to technician to technologist, professional roles and responsibilities have also changed and it is sometimes difficult to find agreement on what an architectural technologist does in practice. To some observers, the technologist forms the link between design and production, detailer and project co-ordinator. At the other end of the scale some see the technologist in a similar vein to the traditional role of the architect, specialising in building design, construction and its management – the new ‘master builders’.

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