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What is problem ID?

Problem identification is the initial stage in the scaling up process. To plan this stage,
one needs to: 1) formulate key research questions based on the objectives of the
project, 2) determine the data requirements, and 3) state how results will be used by
the team.

1993 © David S. Walonick, Ph.D.

We understand the world by asking questions and searching for answers. Our construction of
reality depends on the nature of our inquiry.

Until the sixteenth century, human inquiry was primarily based on introspection. The way to
know things was to turn inward and use logic to seek the truth. This paradigm had endured for
a millennium and was a well-established conceptual framework for understanding the world.
The seeker of knowledge was an integral part of the inquiry process.

A profound change occurred during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Copernicus,
Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, Bacon, Newton, and Locke presented new ways of examining
nature. Our method of understanding the world came to rely on measurement and
quantification. Mathematics replaced introspection as the key to supreme truths. The
Scientific Revolution was born.

Objectivity became a critical component of the new scientific method. The investigator was an
observer, rather than a participant in the inquiry process. A mechanistic view of the universe
evolved. We believed that we could understand the whole by performing an examination of
the individual parts. Experimentation and deduction became the tools of the scholar. For two
hundred years, the new paradigm slowly evolved to become part of the reality framework of
society. The Age of Enlightenment had arrived.

Scientific research methodology was very successful at explaining natural phenomena. It


provided a systematic way of knowing. Western philosophers embraced this new structure of
inquiry. Eastern philosophy continued to stress the importance of the one seeking knowledge.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, a complete schism had occurred. Western and
Eastern philosophies were mutually exclusive and incompatible.

Then something remarkable happened. Einstein's proposed that the observer was not
separate from the phenomena being studied. Indeed, his theory of relativity actually stressed
the role of the observer. Quantum mechanics carried this a step further and stated that the act
of observation could change the thing being observed. The researcher was not simply an
observer, but in fact, was an integral part of the process. In physics, Western and Eastern
philosophies have met. This idea has not been incorporated into the standard social science
research model, and today's social science community see themselves as objective
observers of the phenomena being studied. However, "it is an established principle of
measurement that instruments react with the things they measure." (Spector, 1981, p. 25)
The concept of instrument reactivity states that an instrument itself can disturb the thing being
measured.

Problem Recognition & Definition

All research begins with a question. Intellectual curiosity is often the foundation for scholarly
inquiry. Some questions are not testable. The classic philosophical example is to ask, "How
many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" While the question might elicit profound and
thoughtful revelations, it clearly cannot be tested with an empirical experiment. Prior to
Descartes, this is precisely the kind of question that would engage the minds of learned men.
Their answers came from within. The modern scientific method precludes asking questions
that cannot be empirically tested. If the angels cannot be observed or detected, the question
is considered inappropriate for scholarly research.

A paradigm is maintained as much by the process of formulating questions as it is by the


answers to those questions. By excluding certain types of questions, we limit the scope of our
thinking. It is interesting to note, however, that modern physicists have began to ask the same
kinds of questions posed by the Eastern philosophers. "Does a tree falling in the forest make
a sound if nobody is there to hear it?" This seemingly trivial question is at the heart of the
observer/observed dichotomy. In fact, quantum mechanics predicts that this kind of question
cannot be answered with complete certainty. It is the beginning of a new paradigm.

Defining the goals and objectives of a research project is one of the most important steps in
the research process. Clearly stated goals keep a research project focused. The process of
goal definition usually begins by writing down the broad and general goals of the study. As the
process continues, the goals become more clearly defined and the research issues are
narrowed.

Exploratory research (e.g., literature reviews, talking to people, and focus groups) goes hand-
in-hand with the goal clarification process. The literature review is especially important
because it obviates the need to reinvent the wheel for every new research question. More
importantly, it gives researchers the opportunity to build on each others work.

The research question itself can be stated as a hypothesis. A hypothesis is simply the
investigator's belief about a problem. Typically, a researcher formulates an opinion during the
literature review process. The process of reviewing other scholar's work often clarifies the
theoretical issues associated with the research question. It also can help to elucidate the
significance of the issues to the research community.

The hypothesis is converted into a null hypothesis in order to make it testable. "The only way
to test a hypothesis is to eliminate alternatives of the hypothesis." (Anderson, 1966, p.9)
Statistical techniques will enable us to reject a null hypothesis, but they do not provide us with
a way to accept a hypothesis. Therefore, all hypothesis testing is indirect.