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Laurea UAS Guidelines

23 August 2013

Research Oriented Approach


A book section translated from Finnish. The original source is (Ojasalo, K., Moilanen, T.
& Ritalahti, J. 2009)

Identifying a
ment opportunity
and defining
Examining the
theory and
practice of
the subject
Creating the
knowledge base
Task definition
and scope
Planning the
approach and
Research orientated
and different forms
of publication
Assessment of
process and
1. RESEARCH ORIENTED APPROACH .............................................................. 3
1.1. The Role of R&D ................................................................................ 3
1.2. Characteristics of scientific research ...................................................... 4
1.3. What is research orientated approach? ................................................... 5
1.4. The nature and process of research orientated development ........................ 6
1.5. LbD: learning and research orientated development intertwined ................... 7
2. IDENTIFYING A RESEARCH/DEVELOPMENT OPPORTUNITY ................................ 9
2.1. Starting point: Problem-based research or a novel idea? .............................. 9
2.2. Preliminary plan .............................................................................. 10
3. EXPLORING THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF THE SUBJECT ............................. 11
3.1. Why is research literature and other literature needed? ............................ 11
3.2. Exploring the subject and the field ...................................................... 11
4. CREATING THE KNOWLEDGE BASE/BACKGROUND THEORY ............................. 13
4.1. What is the role of the knowledge base/background theory? ....................... 13
5. DEVELOPMENT TASK DEFINITION AND SCOPE ............................................. 13
5.1. Defining the development task/research problem .................................... 13
6. APPROACHES AND METHODS .................................................................. 14
6.1. Introduction to research orientated development methods ........................ 14
6.2. Approaches .................................................................................... 16
6.2.1. Introduction ............................................................................................. 16
6.2.2. Case study ............................................................................................... 17
6.2.3. Action research ......................................................................................... 17
6.2.4. Constructive research ................................................................................. 17
6.2.5. Innovation ............................................................................................... 18
6.3. Methods ........................................................................................ 18
6.3.1. Introduction ............................................................................................. 18
6.3.2. Survey .................................................................................................... 19
6.3.3. Interview ................................................................................................ 19
6.3.4.Focus group .............................................................................................. 21
6.3.5. Observation ............................................................................................. 21
6.3.6. Analysis of documentary evidence .................................................................. 21
6.3.7. Benchmarking ........................................................................................... 22
6.3.8. Process maps (Blueprint, etc.) ....................................................................... 23
6.3.9. Brainstorming ........................................................................................... 23
7. FORMS OF PUBLISHING THE PROJECT ...................................................... 24
8. ASSESSMENT OF DEVELOPMENT PROCESS AND OUTCOMES ............................. 24
References .......................................................................................... 26

1.1. The Role of R&D

Nearly all jobs and tasks involve some level of development in todays organisations.
Development work is carried out by businesses and other organisations to create new
procedures, methods, products or services based on the needs of the organisation and
the wider community.
Continuous development is needed in businesses
to improve profitability or to generate growth
to develop, test and commercialise new products and services
to create a functional organisational structure and to motivate the staff
to observe changes in customers preferences
to forecast future demand and other factors which have an effect on operations
to improve operations and develop processes
to enter new or international markets
to solve problems detected in the organisation.
Development activities have an increasingly important role in todays businesses and
The world around us changes continuously, and businesses must keep up with the
progress. On the other hand, merely adapting to changes is no longer enough for
success. The most successful organisations are those that have been able to become
proactive forces of development - they are the drivers of progress. The winners are
found among those organisations that not only can evaluate outcomes but that are able
to assess and anticipate future development prospects and to realise long-term
objectives in a range of different scenarios. For example, new types of business models
and earnings models have enabled businesses to cross the boundaries between different
industries to create new types of customer needs and earning opportunities.
The opportunities for innovation are better than ever before. Although innovation is
often seen as technology-led, many innovations have little to do with new technologies.
In a broader sense, innovation includes social innovations, new ways of doing things,
new practices, and translating practices into routines. Innovations can employ new
technologies or technical methods, but it is by no means essential. Many projects focus
on the softer forms of innovation, such as organisational reforms and business model
updates. For example, in the service industry, activities take place close to the
customer and solutions are sought for specific customer problems. Customers have a key
role in services and service innovation, and providing benefits for both the customer and
service provider is a target of development and renewal.
Development and research go hand in hand, and the letters R&D appear everywhere in
business: R&D department, R&D budget, R&D staff, etc. Research and development are
often intertwined, and many development projects have a research orientated
approach. In the figure below, research oriented development is placed in the middle of
a continuum. Scientific research is at one end of the continuum; at the other end is an
uncritical development approach that is based on personal ideas and perceptions. In this
book, the latter is referred to as common sense-oriented development. In this context,
common sense refers to the developers own, unscientific conclusions.

Figure. The nature of research orientated development (Ojasalo et al 2009, 18)

1.2. Characteristics of scientific research

Scientific research is based on the scientific tradition of research, which includes the
research problem, research questions, and finding answers to them using commonly
accepted methods. Before choosing the research methods, the researcher examines
general scientific-philosophical questions: the nature of reality (ontological questions),
the nature of knowledge (epistemological questions), and the methods of information
(methodological questions). Different scientific paradigms (positivism, constructivism,
and critical theory) approach these scientific-philosophical questions in different ways.
In scientific research, a theoretical framework is used to demonstrate which area of
scientific discourse is being participated in, and what new information will the research
provide. Research results are normally published in journals for the scientific
A wide range of books and textbooks on the philosophy of science is available. (e.g.
Niiniluoto, I. (1980). Johdatus tieteenfilosofiaan. Ksitteen- ja teorianmuodostus.
Otava, Helsinki.)
Scientific research can be divided into two categories: basic research and applied
research. Basic research refers to the gathering and production of new information,
science for the sake of science, without immediate links to practical applications.
Applied research is research that is based on the results of basic research and applied in
practice - often with a commercial value - with the aim of creating new or improved
products, tools, methods or services.

- The aim is to produce new theory
and to test theories.
- The tradition of scientific research
is followed: Scientific philosophical
questions are examined and answers
are sought to the research problem
using commonly accepted methods.
Background theory indicates which
scientific discourse the developers
are participating in. The results are
published in research journals for
the scientific community.
- The research can be "isolated"
from the subject, and interaction
during the research process may be
- The aim is to solve practical
problems or to produce new
practices, and often to produce
new information about workplace
- Development activity is
supported by systematic data
gathering both from theory and
practice and critical evaluation of
all data.
- A wide range of different
methods are used.
- Active interaction with different
- Writing and presentations to
different groups in different stages
helps to advance the project.
- The aim is to solve
practical problems or to
produce new practices.
- Data is collected
arbitrarily from practice and
- Decisions are largely
based on the developer's
own ideas, no justifications
are given.
- Minimal amount of
critical assessment.
- Minimal amount of
- Reports are not produced
until everything is ready.
1.3. What is research orientated approach?

A research orientated approach is important in development work for a number of
reasons. It facilitates more comprehensive and systematic consideration of the various
factors related to the development work, and helps to demonstrate and explain the
outcomes. Businesses, industries - even whole nations - have strong prevailing attitudes
and beliefs which inform their actions and how they view their operating environments.
For example, it is common for companies to believe that their products and services are
in order, that they are fully aware of their customers needs, that the customers will
always stay and be satisfied with the service, and that the competitors will always be
the same ones and operate in the same way. In reality, such beliefs have been proven
false in many industries. By then, it is too late for the company to take action - someone
else has probably examined the situation and analysed the operating environment. If
decisions are based solely on ones own, uncritical views instead of a research
orientated approach, the decisions can be influenced by common beliefs, and an
objective view is not possible.
The research orientated approach is often understood in too narrow a context. It
doesnt just refer to the use of research methods such as surveys or interviews. The
research orientated approach is something broader and more significant. It is a key
competence often needed in professional life. In a development project, the research
orientated approach is, first and foremost, a systematic, analytical and critical way of
implementing the project.
The research orientated approach also means that the developers own solutions and
data are based on existing knowledge. This includes an understanding of what is meant
by the dialogue between theory and practice. The ability to transfer theoretical
knowledge into practice should be present. This means that development endeavours
should be based on existing theories about the subject, and the knowledge base they
provide. The ability to connect the projects results and documented information to
theory is also needed. In a research orientated development project, the developer
should be able to show what knowledge base (theories) the work is related to and
whether it contributes new information. At its best, development work can provide new
practical theories - it can document and produce models for workplace practices. Tacit
knowledge at workplaces and the developers own experience-based professional
knowledge introduce challenges to the choice of methods. Private knowledge, personal
experiences and abilities cannot be used as research data unless they are subject to
critical examination.
In development work, new knowledge is gained in the very environment where the
examined activity is practised: information is produced and applied in the same
environment, and it comes from real-life activity and the need to address problems.
The research orientated approach manifests in development projects as
systematicity: development activity is not a collection of random actions
gathering of data: development activity is supported with research data and
practical information
analytical thinking: a range of different methods are used to identify, analyse and
provide different views
critical thinking: different views, personal choices, processes and results are
production/dissemination of new data: the process and the outcomes are
carefully documented.

1.4. The nature and process of research orientated development

Research orientated development projects can originate from various different starting
points, such as the development needs of an organisation or the desire to change
something. This means that research orientated development often involves solving
practical problems and producing and implementing new ideas, practices, products or
services. Typically, the aim is to draft solutions, develop and implement them. A
development project does not just describe and explain things: it searches for better
alternatives and takes them forward on a practical level. It could be said that research
orientated development questions the traditional view of scientific research, that
commonly accepted methods guarantee acceptable results. Indeed, the main difference
between scientific research and research orientated development can be found in their
goals: is the primary objective to produce new theory out of findings, or does the work
contribute practical improvements or new solutions. Naturally, this difference in
objectives informs the development process and the related approaches and methods.
Nevertheless, producing text and new data is also important in research orientated
development. Even though goal setting is aimed at achieving the practical development
objective, the project should also aim to produce new data from the practical activity.
When the importance of documentation and publication of results is given due
consideration, the project can produce entirely new vocational knowledge. For example,
when tacit knowledge at workplaces is documented, it can be used to regenerate the
competence and knowledge base, which then provides a good basis for future
development projects.
In research orientated development, project and development skills are needed in
addition to knowledge about the topic. As in all projects, planning and controlled,
timely progress are important in development work. Reporting is often done using
descriptions similar to project reports, outlining the starting points and objectives, work
methods, the process, and the outcomes. On the other hand, in addition to this
planning-centric approach, research orientated development can also be process-like
and unscheduled. Research orientated development starts from an idea stage, followed
by the development of different ideas through to a solution, its implementation and
assessment. In other words, research orientated development is about action, seeking
improvements to current states, and verifying the viability of ideas and solutions by
means of research. It provides a new approach to both theory and practical
implementation. Instead of theoretical goals, research orientated development is
primarily guided by practical goals that are supported with theory. The value of the
project outcomes is based on transferring them into practice and implementing the
developed ideas.
In addition to knowledge about the topic and project skills, the developers obviously
need development skills. This means initiative, the ability to evaluate own work,
innovativeness, interaction, networking, the ability to produce information, and
knowledge of a variety of different methods. The ability to apply, modify and create
new solutions is crucial in development work. In research orientated development, the
purpose of both existing theory and methods is to facilitate the attainment of
development objectives. What is important is the ability to identify and solve problems.
In other words, the production of new professional knowledge is not just about solving
problems. Research orientated development is about interaction, formulating and
exploring questions, producing information, forming new cooperative relationships,
seeking and guiding change, exploring uncharted territory, facing uncertainty and
handling unprecedented challenges.
Development activity is often described as a process, a series of consecutive stages. This
is because development takes time and it often consists of clear stages. Examining
development as a process helps to employ a systematic approach and to consider what
actions are needed at each stage before moving to the next one. For example, the
development objectives should be defined before deciding on the suitable methods.
Research orientated development is often a highly challenging task, and it can take all
the time that is available. Therefore it is highly important that the process is carefully
planned to ensure progress according to the schedule.
All development projects can be broken down and viewed as a simple process for
change. The first stage involves identifying the development challenges, setting the
objectives, and drawing up a plan for achieving these objectives. This is the planning
stage. The second stage of the change process is the implementation of the plan; this is
the implementation stage. And finally, an assessment is carried out to determine how
successful the change process has been. In many cases, the assessment provides a basis
for planning new development projects.
A student's development project can form a smaller component of a broader process for
change carried out at a business or other organisation. In this case, the development
task may involve only one of the process stages described above. For example, the
development task can provide support in the planning, implementation, or assessment
stage. Implementing changes in practices typically happens over a long period of time,
whereas a students development project is relatively short in most cases. For this
reason, when agreeing on the details of the development project, it is advisable to work
together to first determine what the entire change process is and to agree which stage
the student should focus on in his or her work. The students development work forms
its own process within that stage. The stages of a research orientated development
process are outlined in the following chapter, followed by a detailed examination of
each stage.
A typical research orientated development process is illustrated in a circle diagram on
the main page of this Optima workspace. These process models are needed in order to
form a holistic view of the stages involved. In practice, the process can rarely be divided
into such clear stages, and the stages can be difficult to differentiate from one another.
In many cases, the process goes back and forth between different stages before it
advances. You should not be concerned if your process does not progress exactly as
described here.

1.5. LbD: learning and research orientated development intertwined

In real-life workplace development projects, students apply learnt knowledge in
practice and, more importantly, learn a lot more. Development work teaches students
to be systematic, organised, and to engage in independent and critical thinking. In
addition, students learn how to gather and evaluate data, use latest scientific
literature, studies and other publications, and practice verbal and written
communication. Other key skills that can be learned in development work include
problem solving, interaction and cooperation skills, the courage to take action, and
responsibility for seeing things through. Ideally, developers can find development
opportunities independently, create a solution - often with others - and implement the
solution in practice. In addition, they are able to evaluate their own actions and the
output of their community throughout the entire process.
Development work teaches us to
Identify development opportunities and to engage in them with a goal-oriented
Gather data efficiently and systematically using different methods
Critically evaluate information acquired from different sources and our own
Identify interdependencies between different issues
Solve workplace problems and produce new solutions and new knowledge about
the workplace
Distribute information to other experts
Carry out development projects in a systematic way.
Although development work is often carried out in collaboration with others, it is often
inherently independent. Developers must focus on gathering data independently, on
self-leadership, and on a goal-oriented and critical approach to work. Independent
decision-making improves skills related to life-long learning and critical thinking. On the
other hand, networking skills are increasingly important in professional life. An
individual's progress is no longer dictated by personal strengths alone; social capital and
relationship networks are crucial. Real-life workplace development tasks can provide
essential skills for tomorrows employees. One of the foremost objectives of workplace
development projects is the sharing of expertise and the transfer of new knowledge to
workplaces and professional networks.
When learning takes place through real-life development activity, we call this learning
by developing. Learning by developing (LbD) is based on real-life workplace
development. The aim is to produce new products, services, operating models or
workplace cultures. The development project is rooted in the professional world, and its
progress requires partnerships, responsible collaboration and joint action. Learning by
developing is characterised by authenticity, partnership, experiencing, research and
Authenticity means that learning by developing is based on a real-life professional
development project focussing on a topic in which the student wishes to develop
expertise. The project idea may come from a workplace, from the student or a teacher,
or it can be developed together. Alternatively, the idea can be based on a problem,
which means looking for a solution to a real-life workplace issue. On the other hand, the
idea can arise from the need of reform - the objective is a new solution, or even
Partnership refers to collaboration, competence-sharing and learning together. The key
actors of LbD projects include students, workplace experts and tutors. Partnership
includes sharing and agreeing on roles. Recognising a shared value base is also important
when building partnerships. The community learns through the progress of the
development project. Goals are achieved by exploring together, by evaluating
achievements and milestones, and by accumulating shared knowledge. Project
participants continuously evaluate their own learning processes, shared learning, the
progress and effectiveness of the project, and new accumulated knowledge.
Experiencing refers to the importance of active and responsible participation by all
project partners in the joint activities, development and personal learning. Experiences
are gathered and shared. They arise as the process progresses and solutions are found.
Research refers to an investigative and critical approach, the application of research
data, and the accumulation of new data by scientific research methods. In LbD, personal
and communal learning, and the effectiveness and results of the project are
demonstrated by research-based methods.
Creativity is a resource for the development project. Development projects are often
inspired by a shared need for change: something new is needed, but the outcome is yet

2.1. Starting point: Problem-based research or a novel idea?

A research orientated development project starts from identifying and understanding a
development need and the factors related to it. Development projects usually focus on
a business or workplace, and the objective is to bring about some kind of a change.
Possible objectives include
1. Refining and productising a new business model, product or service, or expansion
to a new market
2. Development and redesign of processes,
3. Developing new models or methods, or
4. Developing a new workplace culture.
The project planning stage centres around consideration of what is expected of the
project in the workplace, and how these expectations relate to the workplaces daily
operation. This provides the basis for drawing up the initial development objectives.
As described, development starts from identifying a development need and the initial
objectives. Finding a suitable subject for development is a crucial stage in many ways.
Although students often carry out development projects commissioned by commercial
companies or other organisations, the ability to identify development opportunities in
organisations, work practices and occupations is nevertheless very important.
Development projects can be problem-based or regenerative. Problem-based
development seeks solutions to practical problems or challenges.
Suitable subjects for development typically include a current problem of an organisation
(e.g. discontent among staff, high staff turnover) or other areas that require
improvement (e.g. low sales).
The current problem can manifest in areas such as customer complaints or issues
identified by members of staff. Broader problems include issues such as a drop in
profitability, underuse of a new IT system, or high wastage. These issues require
thorough additional investigation before the actual development task can be accurately
Regenerative development refers to new solutions which are often sought at different
interfaces. The objective can be a new business model, product or service, business
process reform, or generating a new workplace culture.
As described, development starts from identifying a development need and the initial
objectives. Finding a suitable subject for development is a crucial stage in many ways.
Although students often carry out development projects commissioned by commercial
companies or other organisations, the ability to identify development opportunities in
organisations, work practices and occupations is nevertheless very important.
Development projects can be problem-based or regenerative. Problem-based
development seeks solutions to practical problems or challenges.
Suitable subjects for development typically include a current problem of an organisation
(e.g. discontent among staff, high staff turnover) or other areas that require
improvement (e.g. low sales).
The current problem can manifest in areas such as customer complaints or issues
identified by members of staff. Broader problems include issues such as a drop in
profitability, underuse of a new IT system, or high wastage. These issues require
thorough additional investigation before the actual development task can be accurately
Regenerative development refers to new solutions which are often sought at different
interfaces. The objective can be a new business model, product or service, business
process reform, or generating a new workplace culture.

2.2. Preliminary plan

Once the development opportunity has been identified, the initial development
objectives can be defined. Development often involves a broad issue or topic, and
objectives can help to narrow the focus in the early stages.
However, these early objectives are often indicative only, since there normally isn't
enough practical or theoretical data at this stage to draw up a final project definition.
For example, if a service company has received a number of customer complaints
recently, the quality of service can be identified as a development opportunity.
When determining initial objectives, it is worth keeping in mind that research orientated
development should also provide the kind of information about the workplace and its
development that can improve and regenerate its competence and knowledge base. For
example, if the project concerns the quality of a companys services, the developer
should consider not only the developed solutions, but also the overall role of the quality
of service in the company as a whole.
A vast amount of experience-based, tacit knowledge is hidden in workplaces along with
situational knowledge and competence that develops as part of social interaction within
professional communities. Without research and documentation, all this information
would remain as tacit knowledge of a handful of individuals or workplaces. This
empirical knowledge should be made available to everyone to benefit from and to refine
further. The more the tacit knowledge of workplaces is disseminated and refined, the
more developed, defined and widespread it becomes. This should be taken into
consideration from the early stages of the development project.

3.1. Why are research literature and other literature needed?

Research literature is an important part of research orientated development. Theory is
an important tool that helps to understand the background to the development
opportunity and the solutions. Research literature helps to understand the broader
subject and to narrow and define the project objectives. Literature can provide
information about how other research and development projects related to the same
topic have been implemented and what kind of results they have produced. These
results can often be directly utilised in further development projects. Research
publications can provide tips about which methods are available and have been
previously used to study the phenomenon in question.
Typical source materials for development projects include specialist books which are
available at universities and other libraries. Electronic books are also available on many
topics. However, the best sources for scientific research are international scientific
journals. Research articles published in these journals are often available online.
Scientific journals publish limited, in-depth research results, and they are often more
recent and up to date than textbooks. Information published in journals can also be
more reliable, as the articles are subject to rigorous peer review before publication.
Research articles are often written in English due to its status as the de facto language
of research in business and economics. The language should not be seen as a barrier to
finding and reading scientific articles, since these articles can provide a fast source of
new information.

3.2. Exploring the subject and the field

Before project planning can begin in earnest, it is important to have thorough
knowledge of the subject. If background information is neglected, and the history and
the current state of the subject is not explored in sufficient detail, it can result in a lot
of unnecessary work. The lack of background information can even lead to the wrong
subject being chosen for development, if the researcher only looks at the symptoms
(e.g. fall in sales) and not the actual causes (e.g. staff exhaustion due to poor
organisation of work).
Instead of superficially considering how the project should be implemented, the
developers should take time to explore the nature of the issue in sufficient detail.
Assumptions and starting points based on previous studies and practical evidence are
taken into account in a successful development project. Identifying and exploring the
core question of the development project provides the best starting point. This requires
a robust knowledge base which combines workplace and organisational knowledge and
information published in research materials and other sources. Fact-finding is an
important, often time-consuming stage which should be completed thoroughly. Rigorous
fact-finding saves time in the later stages and usually ensures better results.
Information from various different sources is required before the development
objectives can be defined in detail. This includes information such as 1) company
background information, 2) leadership philosophy, company values, strategies, etc. 3)
individuals attitudes and observations, and 4) information about the sector and
operating environment. For example, closer examination of the sector and operating
environment can reveal issues that take the project in a completely different direction
than viewing the phenomenon purely in the context of a single company. The situation
can involve challenges which apply to the sector as a whole, such as foreign competitors
entering the market, changes in legislation, reduced strength of consumer spending, or
changes in consumer behaviour. Another reason why it is important to understand the
sector as a whole is to ensure that the solutions produced in the development project
are based on the reality of the company and its everyday operations, and not solely on
generic, theoretical business models and concepts. For example, in a development
project involving a restaurant business, it is important that the structure and practices
of the industry are identified and understood. Useful information about different
industries and changes in the operating environment can be found from various national
and international statistics, reports and studies conducted by different public
organisations. These are often available online.
At this stage, it is advisable to go on site to observe the organisations environment and
daily events, conduct open interviews and discussions, and collect documentary
evidence about the subject. For example, the management and staff can be asked to
explain in their own words what they do, how, why, when and where. Different types of
group discussions and brainstorming sessions can be used at this stage. These methods
can give practical insight into the subject, help identify development needs, and provide
opportunities for discussing and planning the project together. This increases
understanding of decision-making motives within the company and other factors related
to the development project. At the same time, project participants can familiarise
themselves with the concepts and terminology of the environment. It is important not to
force links to concepts used in research literature or other sources. Instead, the aim is
to understand the concepts that are commonly used in the environment and later
examine the patterns between those and established concepts.
Data and ideas are documented as information about the subject is accumulated. It is
useful to keep a diary during the observation visits and record or type out all discussions
so that the material can be easily revisited in the later stages of the project. In
addition, all sources of information should be carefully logged, as they can be difficult
to remember afterwards. In the early stages of the project, many dont realise the vast
amount of information that is accumulated over the course of the process and which
makes it impossible to remember all events and details. It is vital that the initial fact-
finding stage is also the first stage of a systematic development process. Documented
data is easier to interpret, and it can be revisited again and again. In addition, it is
easier to base decisions on documented data rather than recollections alone.

4.1. What is the role of the knowledge base/background theory?

In order for the project to succeed, it is essential to have a thorough understanding of
the topic and to find a suitable approach to the development task. The right approach
can be identified using theoretical concepts that can be applied in the subject area in
question. In research, existing theories are often referred to as literature review or
background theory. In this book, existing information that provides the basis for the
planning and implementation of development projects is referred to as the knowledge
base. This term was chosen because it is descriptive of its purpose as part of the
development process: the knowledge base is a collection of relevant knowledge that
provides the basis for the development work. In short, the knowledge base is a system of
concepts and their relations. It is a purpose-designed set of information based on
systematic thinking.
The knowledge base describes the key theories related to the subject, any existing
models that describe these theories, and the latest research results. Theory is a group of
principles or definitions that systemise a specific phenomenon. It guides the search for
new information and provides a structure for collected data. Theories and models are
based on the concepts that describe the subject. Concepts are the building blocks of
theories and models. They are integral to the success of research orientated
development projects because they
provide a basis for communication
indicate the chosen approach
help to analyse and define the phenomenon.

5.1. Defining the development task/research problem

The development task is a detailed definition of the project objectives. For example, if
a service company finds that the number of customers and sales has plummeted in the
previous six months, the development task definition could be to design and implement
new services based on customers' needs.
The development task often involves producing a tangible output, practice or a written
presentation of development proposals.
Development tasks can also involve modelling. Models are developed for various
different purposes at workplaces. For example, product modelling involves defining a
brand, product type, purpose of use, specifications, special requirements, competitors,
market share and development needs. In process modelling, the entire process is
defined including the division into work stages and the logic for the division, the
procedure and controls for each stage, the feedback systems, operational conditions,
problems and development suggestions.
Defining the development task is often more difficult than imagined. The development
objectives are given thorough, in-depth consideration at this stage. If the issues are not
considered thoroughly and the objective is too generic, it does not support the practical
measures of the project.
It is also important from the point of view of the post-project review that the
development task is defined in detail and that clear success indicators are established so
that the outcomes can be evaluated afterwards. Depending on the task, quantitative
metrics can be used to measure areas such as growth in sales, the operating margin or
the number of customer contacts, reduced delivery times, or reduction in staff turnover.
The success of the task can also be monitored using various qualitative metrics such as
observations and interviews. These are particularly suitable for measuring improvement
in areas such as customer-perceived quality or staff welfare.
Naturally, it is worth bearing in mind that the development task can change and take a
different direction over the course of the development process. In this case, the
amended task definition is documented along with the criteria for its success.
As the above shows, there are differences between defining a development task and a
research problem. Nevertheless, many students use a research problem or question in
the project plan instead of the development task, such as "What affects?" or "What is the
cause?". If the intention is to find answers to these kinds of cause-effect relationships,
the student should be prepared to examine the results based on variables and to carry
out sufficient amount of statistical analysis. Conclusions that are based on simple
frequency or percentage distributions do not provide a robust basis for solutions or
decision-making needed in areas such as manufacturing or marketing.

6.1. Introduction to research orientated development methods

Before choosing a method, it is necessary to consider the general approach for carrying
out the development work. While development projects can be implemented without
paying specific attention to the approach, having knowledge about different approaches
can facilitate project planning and linking the research approach to the work. The
approach is not a method or a technique; it is connected to the development objective
on a more holistic level. Four approaches are described later in this book: case study,
action research, constructive research, and innovation.
The development task determines which approach is the most suitable for the project in
question. If the development task involves producing written development proposals,
the case study is likely the best approach. If the project is designed to produce a
concrete staff induction guide, constructive research is the most suitable approach.
However, since the approaches overlap in certain areas, some development projects can
indicate several suitable approaches. It is worth remembering that the same methods
can be used in different approaches, and all methods are suitable for at least one of the
Once the development objective and task have been determined and consideration has
been given to the approach, it is time to start planning the methods to be used in the
development work. It is possible - and advisable - to use a range of different methods,
including ones that have not been traditionally used in scientific research. This chapter
provides an overview of both common and less well-known methods.
Research methods are traditionally divided into quantitative and qualitative methods.
Typical examples of quantitative methods are questionnaire surveys and structured
surveys which involve asking the same questions in identical format from a large number
of respondents. The group is a sample of the examined population. Quantitative
methods are suitable for testing a particular theory. Theories include hypotheses -
arguments and assumptions - which are tested in surveys. For example: the argument is
"The speed of the service process has an effect on customer satisfaction. After the
survey, the hypotheses are reviewed. If the hypotheses hold true, they are verified; if
the hypotheses don't hold, they are falsified.
When using quantitative methods, the researcher should have sufficient theoretical
knowledge of the subject in order to be able to measure it controllably. This means that
the questions are drafted so that they can measure the validity of the theory, instead of
coming up with a random selection of questions. The survey material (data) is analysed
using statistical methods, and the information can then be generalised to the
population. When using quantitative methods, the researcher does not influence the
research subject. Researchers should distance themselves from the object of the
research, and in many cases, they do not even have contact with the research subjects.
In quantitative research, the precision of the study is evaluated in terms of reliability
(of data) and validity (of indicators).
Typical qualitative methods include thematic interviews, open interviews, focus groups,
and participatory observation. Qualitative research methods are used to gain a better
understanding of a topic where little prior data exists. When using qualitative methods,
the number of research subjects is considerably smaller than in quantitative research,
but the volume of analysed material (e.g. transcribed interviews) is often high. In other
words, the aim is to gather a lot of information about a narrow subject in order to gain a
better and broader understanding of the phenomenon. Since the objective is to produce
new data, existing theories are not as important in the design of qualitative methods as
they are in the design of quantitative methods.
The basic purpose of qualitative research is to describe real-life events. In this context,
reality is seen as a multifaceted whole that cannot be arbitrarily divided into
components. Qualitative methods use purposive sampling. This means that the object of
research is a consciously chosen topic about which the researcher wants more
information. In qualitative methods, it is typical for the researcher to be close to the
subjects, often even taking part in the activity. The researcher can also use his or her
own interpretations about the phenomenon.
It is essential to provide a detailed description of the research process and justifications
for the interpretations so that the reader can use them to make conclusions about the
reliability of the research. The reliability of results can be improved by triangulation.
This means that the phenomenon is examined from multiple points of view, typically
with the aid of different materials and data gathering methods - sometimes even
multiple researchers.
It is important to remember the basic differences between quantitative and qualitative
methods in order to understand the different starting points of the methods and to be
able to use them correctly. That said, the line between quantitative and qualitative
methods becomes unclear in research orientated development: the methods have mostly
instrumental value in that they can help to find the best possible new practices. Some
traditional methods are examined in the following chapter, including different types of
interviews, observation, surveys and analyses of documentary evidence. Examples about
forecasting-related methods and brainstorming methods are also provided, along with a
few other methods which may provide new ideas for development projects.

6.2. Approaches
6.2.1. Introduction

The development task can be approached in a number of different ways. Before
choosing and designing the methods for the development project, it is advisable to
consider the approach to planning the work. Choosing the approach in development
projects is similar to choosing a research strategy in scientific research. Examples of
research strategies are case studies and action research, and both of these can also be
applied in development projects. In addition to case studies and action research, this
chapter focuses on constructive research and innovation, as both of these are typical
approaches that can be applied in development projects.
The approach does not refer to the selection of the actual methods, such as interviews,
surveys, brainstorming, etc. Naturally, the chosen approach will dictate the choice of
methods to a certain extent, but it is worth remembering that nearly all methods are
suitable for all approaches. For example, different types of interviews and observation
can be used in all approaches. It should also be noted that a development project often
suggests a number of possible approaches. For example, if the object of development is
the quality system of a company, the approach is likely to have characteristics of a case
study, action research and constructive research.
Therefore, the choice of approach should not be too strict; the approach can be drafted
creatively by combining the most suitable elements from different approaches. Needless
to say, such choices must be explained and described clearly in reports related to the
development project and in other publications. For example, the project should not be
referred to as action research, if it does not have the key characteristics of action
research. If the development project approach mostly resembles action research with
some elements of constructive research, it is important to specify which research
approach is applied in which part of the project and to indicate which elements of these
approaches are excluded from the project.
The choice of approach should be considered carefully so that the research aspect can
be engaged in the project in a meaningful way. The following chapters provide
descriptions of typical approaches that are suitable for development projects. These
approaches do not have a single universally accepted definition. Here, they are
described from the point of view of development projects.

6.2.2. Case study

In case studies, the objective is to produce research data about the subject - the focus
is on traditional research objectives. The case study approach is suitable for
development projects in which the aim is to gain a deep understanding of the state of
an organisation, and the task is to solve a specific problem or to draw up development
proposals by research methods. If the project is a pure case study, the change is not
actually implemented as part of the project, nor does it involve any concrete measures.
Instead, the aim is to produce development ideas or proposals for solutions to observed
problems. In other words, a case study is an in-depth examination of a subject in its
environment. The case can be a company, department, personnel group, product group
or customer group, system or process, etc. In case studies, researchers typically use a
number of different data gathering methods in order to achieve an in-depth and
comprehensive understanding of the subject.

6.2.3. Action research

Action research focuses on producing research data and implementing a practical change
at the same time. A typical subject involves changing the way a particular group of
people or an organisation operates. The focus is on the practical implementation and
evaluation of the change, which means that the development process can take a long
time. A key characteristic of action research is the participation of the organisations
people in the development activity.
In other words, a group of people act together in this type of research. The research
subjects should be seen as conscious actors. They are active participants - subjects - in
the research and development process itself. The work or activity is developed and
analysed within the community, alternatives are developed to solve the observed
problems and to achieve the identified goals, and new data and theories are produced
about the activity.
The participatory development methods offers various benefits to the researcher and
developer. A jointly developed idea is often a much better solution to the development
problem than ideas that come from outside the organisation. This is because the
members of the community know the challenges of their work better than anyone else -
provided that they are ready for change. Bringing a researcher into the group provides
outside insight and theoretical competence which can be crucial for finding a solution to
the challenge or problem. Whats more, a solution discovered by the workplace or
organisation itself may be accepted more readily than a proposal from an outsider.
Action research orientated development projects are usually based on a number of
different methods. This is especially true of projects which have active participation by
community members and their interaction is utilised in the project.

6.2.4. Constructive research

In constructive research, the objective is to solve a practical problem by creating a new
construction, a concrete output such as a product, information system, guideline or
handbook, model, method or plan. In other words, the change is directed at a concrete
object in constructive research, whereas in action research a typical objective involves
changing the way people operate. Nevertheless, similar methods can be used in both
approaches. It is important to link the change to existing theory. This is one of the key
differences between constructive research and consultation. Close dialogue between
practice and theory is characteristic of the constructive research approach. The
implementation of the developed solution, and the evaluation of its practical usefulness
and benefits are integral to constructive research.

6.2.5. Innovation

Innovation is closely related to constructive research. The two approaches overlap in
many areas. The biggest difference is the novelty of the outcome. In constructive
research, the outcome is not necessarily an innovation, which is why the two approaches
are discussed separately in this book.
An innovation refers to a new type of product, service, process, operating model, etc.
that produces financial or other benefits. The implementation and commercialisation is
important: an idea or invention alone is not an innovation. There are many different
types of innovation processes. The key stages of any innovation process are usually data
gathering, generation of ideas, the evaluation and shortlisting of ideas,
conceptualisation and commercialisation.

6.3. Methods
6.3.1. Introduction

A variety of different methods are used in development projects. In research literature,
the methods are usually divided into quantitative and qualitative methods. Variety of
methods is a crucial factor in development projects: using a range of different methods
provides different types of data, points of view and ideas. When a number of methods
(surveys, interviews, observation, benchmarking, analysis of documentary evidence) are
used, the differences between qualitative and quantitative research are no longer
Collaborative methods such as brainstorming are often used in expertise development
projects. Development work is rarely carried out alone by a single person. Usually, the
developer is in some way involved in the group that the subject concerns. Therefore,
sound practical solutions are not the result of the transfer and application of knowledge
alone - new solutions require close cooperation and mutual understanding between the
When choosing the methods, it is important to first consider what kind of information is
needed and for what purpose it will be used. Using a range of different methods
provides different types of data and points of view. It is therefore advisable to use
several different methods at the same time. The methods complement one another,
providing certainty for decision-making in the development project.

6.3.2. Survey

Surveys are suitable for situations where data about the subject already exists but it
needs to be verified. For example, a service company may have a good understanding of
what aspects of its operations are important to the customers, but it wants to carry out
a survey to determine how well it has realised these aspects in its operations. In a
development project, surveys are useful for determining the starting point or for
assessing the project results in the final stage. A survey is usually conducted by asking
the same thing in the same manner from a large group of people.
The survey can be a paper questionnaire or an electronic questionnaire, or it can be a
telephone survey conducted by an interviewer who completes the questionnaire. There
are many stages to the planning of a survey. It is important to determine in detail what
information is needed. The survey analysis should also be carefully planned before
conducting the survey. Surveys should be based on an existing knowledge base. The
concepts are converted into measurable variables.
Questions should be clear and easy to answer. An important part of surveys involves
establishing the population and the sample so that conclusions can be made from the
survey results and the universal applicability of the results can be assessed.
The results are normally presented as distributions and indicators.
Survey reliability assessments are based on the concepts of validity and reliability.

6.3.3. Interview

There are various types of interviews, each designed for a different purpose. The
structured interview is closely related to the survey in terms of its purpose and method.
The interviewer uses a predesigned, detailed interview framework that is used in all
interviews. A semi-structured or thematic interview is ideal in a situation where the
research subject is not fully understood and the interviewers must avoid leading the
For example: the management of a service company is unclear about what the
customers value in the company, and these factors need to be established before a
survey can be designed.
In a thematic interview, the themes are carefully planned in advanced, but the wording,
order and emphasis of questions can vary between interviews. In a thematic interview
process, later interviews can be adapted based on earlier ones if these reveal
interesting issues which were not anticipated.
An open interview is more flexible than the other types described above. It resembles a
discussion rather than an actual interview. It is suitable for acquiring in-depth
information about what people really think or why they behave in a certain way, etc.
Open interviews require a lot of time and skilled interviewers who can listen, interpret
and steer the discussion.

6.3.4.Focus group

Focus group refers to a type of interview where a group of people (typically 6-12
individuals) discuss a theme given by the interviewer. The focus group can be a very
useful method in development projects. It often brings up valuable ideas for product or
service development.
The advantage of focus groups is that they provide a fast way to collect information
from a number of people simultaneously. Topics are often discussed in more depth than
in one-to-one interviews. The group members can help each other remember things that
would not necessarily come to mind if the members were interviewed alone.
Participants are often forced to explain their opinions when the others respond.
Compared to one-to-one interviews, focus groups often provide a more truthful picture
of the issue due to the fact that the interviewer's role is not as prominent. The group
itself steers the discussion forward using everyday language.

6.3.5. Observation

Depending on the objective, observation can also include a number of different
methods. Observation is a highly recommended method for all development projects. It
is often easier to gather useful information by observing real-life situations on site
instead of using surveys or interviews.
For example, observing customer behaviour or discussions among staff can provide a lot
of useful ideas.
When observations are collected systematically - for example, by keeping a field diary
throughout the entire development process - observation becomes an important
development method. The diary can be a simple notebook kept at hand for writing down
However, in most cases observation is more systematic. The observer can monitor
selected situations, such as meetings or customer service situations. Observations can be
made as an outsider or by taking part in the activity.
Mystery shopping is a widely used form of observation. It is used to measure properties
such as the quality of service. In mystery shopping, the observer makes observations in
the role of an ordinary customer without revealing the nature of the assignment to the

6.3.6. Analysis of documentary evidence

Documents produced at workplaces for various purposes can provide a lot of useful
information about the development subject. These documents include memos, project
reports, minutes of meetings, notifications, handbooks, websites, annual reports,
budgets, statistics, reports and databases.
Documentary evidence analyses are usually used in combination with other data
gathering methods to provide additional insight into the development opportunity.
Sometimes, the existence of certain useful documents is not known, and some
documents may be unavailable for confidentiality reasons.
Analysis of documentary evidence requires a critical approach and careful consideration
of what purpose each document has been produced for and by whom, since these factors
can affect the nature of the information contained in the document.
If the volume of documentary evidence is high, it is advisable to select a sample for
analysis. Diaries can also be considered documentary evidence. Research subjects are
requested to keep a diary, which is normally drawn up using clear questions that are
answered periodically. This can provide valuable information about individuals jobs,
consumer behaviour, travelling habits or leisure activities.

6.3.7. Benchmarking

In benchmarking, the development subject is compared to another subject - often a best
practice. A suitable benchmarking partner can be found in a completely different
The basic idea of benchmarking is learning from others and questioning own operations.
When best practices are adopted from other organisations, their application in the
target organisation requires creativity, which leads to something new being created.
The aim is to help identify any weaknesses in the organisation and to produce objectives
and ideas for their development. Benchmarking is a highly useful method in the
development of quality, productivity, operating processes, work practices and other
areas of an organisation.
Benchmarking can trigger ideas and inspiration that provide new insight and
breakthroughs. For example, exploring solutions that were originally developed for
different industries can reveal new opportunities for their application in the developed
Best practices can be sought by comparing the indicators (metrics) of different
organisations and choosing some of them for closer examination. Information about best
practices is available in publications such as articles, books and the internet. Online
sources include news sites, company websites, patent websites and the websites of
different organisations.
Benchmarking can be carried out as a visit to the reference organisation. In order to
glean as much benefit from the visit as possible, the objectives of the comparison should
be determined in detail before the visit, and a list should be drawn up for the planned

6.3.8. Process maps (Blueprint, etc.)

Process analysis examines the business process in order to determine where and why
problems exist. Based on the analysis, solutions are then sought for the identified
problems. As part of the method, a process diagram is drawn up to illustrate the process
stages, the possible problems of different stages, and the proposed solutions.
The process analysis is a useful method in service organisations development activities.
The blueprint is one form of process analysis. It involves drawing a roadmap for the
service processes. The process map includes the processes of both the customer and the
service provider, and their interfaces.
The blueprint provides a way to examine the service system as a whole from the point of
view of both the service provider and the customer, and to identify critical points of the
service processes.

6.3.9. Brainstorming

Brainstorming is one of the standard methods of creative problemsolving. The aim is to
produce ideas in a group setting. In a brainstorming session, a group of 6-12 people led
by a coordinator (facilitator) looks for new approaches or solutions to a problem.
The objectives of the session are identified and defined in the beginning of the
brainstorming session. This is followed by a warm-up aimed at breaking unnecessary
preconceptions and any issues that restrict free thinking. The coordinator explains the
principles of the brainstorming session. The idea stage begins with a free exchange of
ideas without explaining them (evaluating ideas is not allowed at this stage). The
coordinator writes the ideas on a whiteboard or flipchart, and ideas are developed and
combined continuously. When the flow of ideas begins to slow, the coordinator tries to
revitalise it, for example, by using other methods explained in this chapter (excursion,
In the selection stage, the presented ideas are reviewed and evaluated according to the
coordinators instructions. Participants can take turns to speak to ensure that everyone
has a chance to voice their thoughts. For example, the coordinator can propose the use
of the 3+ technique. The ideas can be evaluated by having each participant mark the
best idea/ideas with the plus sign. The idea with the most plus signs is the most feasible
according to the group's majority.
A number of variations of the standard brainstorming exist. In bodystorming, each
participant writes down as many ideas as he or she can think of. The idea notes are
placed on the wall, leaving empty space between each note. When the flow of ideas
stops, the participants begin to walk around and read the ideas of others. The ideas are
developed further, and each new idea is written down and placed near the original idea.
Alternatively, brainstorming can be carried out around a table by using a mind map or
individual idea cards. In the idea card variation, each participant writes his or her ideas
on separate cards. When the flow of ideas stops, the cards are handed over to another
person who continues to develop the ideas further. Finally, the ideas are placed on the
wall, and they can be evaluated using a method such as the plus method described
The size of the group is important. Inexperienced brainstormers may initially find it
difficult to come up with imaginative ideas in a small group. On the other hand, a bigger
group can make it easier for a participant to be a silent observer and thus affects the
participants engagement. The advantage of a bigger group is that everyone who is
involved in the solution can be engaged in the development activity. Whats more,
people commit to a solution much easier if they have been involved in its making.
The group facilitator has a key role in terms of the productivity of the brainstorming
sessions. Brainstorming sessions need a leader who ensures that rules are followed, who
speeds up the process if necessary and provides a rhythm for the session (based on the
participants needs and requests). Brainstorming sessions can last anywhere from five
minutes to two hours. Breaks are recommended. The group facilitator should be well
tuned in to detect any problems in the brainstorming session and to steer the group. The
facilitator ensures that ideas are not evaluated during the idea stage. The ideas can be
evaluated later, for example, the following day, and the best and most feasible ideas
are shortlisted. Participants should take turns to speak, especially in a large group.

Different types of R&D reports
Verbal presentations
Press releases
Thesis presentation

The final stage of the research orientated development project is the assessment.
Assessments are also carried out in earlier stages to guide the process and to provide
feedback to project participants. The purpose of the final assessment is to identify the
successes of the project. The assessment involves systematic data gathering and data
analyses. The results can be compared to predetermined criteria to evaluate the impact
of development activities and the progress of the project. A sound assessment requires
identifying and describing the project objectives and inputs, the process and the
The assessment typically focuses on the projects 1) inputs, 2) change process, and 3)
outcomes, and the relationships between these factors. Different levels are examined:
activities can be assessed at the individual, group or organisation level. The assessment
can focus on the planning of the project, the clarity and achievement of objectives, the
development methods, the logic of activities, and interaction and commitment. Project
outcomes are evaluated based on criteria such as the outcome's significance, simplicity,
ease of use, applicability in other contexts, repeatability, and neutrality. Key questions
How well were the project objectives and task achieved?
Are the changes the result of the development work?
Which development activities had the most influence in terms of the achievement
of objectives?
Were the objectives achieved within reasonable costs?
Are the project results ready for dissemination?
Possible assessment methods include observation, surveys (e.g. workplace environment
survey), interviews (e.g. participants), and analysis of documented evidence (statistics,
databases, the organisation's indicators, etc.).

Ojasalo, K., Moilanen, T. &Ritalahti, J. 2009, Kehittmistyn menetelmt
Uudenlaista osaamista liiketoimintaan. WSOYpro, Helsinki.