Over kinderen, hun psychische problemen, hun ouders en hun behandelaars.

OPEN: tools for discovery and re-framing

In the previous three posts, I described the concept of OPEN and our design research using projective cards. I described how we’re focusing on emotion as the key to getting the online tools right. In OPEN, instruments from two realms come together: that of scientific and of design research. Design research borrows techniques from the sciences, but applies them to support a creation process with a different kind of results and different standards for judging their usefulness.

Dit is de vierde post van James Boekbinder over de ontwikkeling van OPEN. U kunt ook zijn eerdere bijdragen lezen:
– OPEN: where non-professionals contribute insights that improve treatment
– OPEN: Telling us what they didn’t know that they knew
– OPEN: “My day was a 0!”

By including instruments from design research in the toolkit, we strengthen the research process in three key areas: discovery, re-framing and what principal Intel engineer Maria Bezaitis called ‘strangeness’, i.e., access to people who we need but are not always closely in contact with.

Discovery and re-framing

In her article on a taxonomy of models for the design process, Joanne Mendel divides them into a four-step framework (the diagram below is from her article) .

Mendel frameworkIt’s especially in quadrant 1 (Discover) and 2 (Re-frame) that design research techniques can add value for researchers. Techniques like ‘contextual inquiry’, done early and frequently, help find patterns in attitudes, behaviors, goals and obstacles in an open way. This can help uncover the areas most likely to produce new and productive hypotheses.

An example from another field may serve to illustrate this. Consider research to understand poor school performance. One extensive study looked at differences in parental and social attitudes towards education. Another study looked at how students worked (alone or in groups).

The first study produced controversial findings about the differences in attitudes towards education among different ethnic groups. Translating these findings into interventions will not be easy, even if the groups concerned were to agree. The second study found that students who studied in groups achieved better results. This study might produce an intervention that can be implemented more quickly and have a more immediate effect.

The above is not intended as a critique of these studies, but rather as an illustration of the importance of considering different framings of a problem early on. Researchers tackling problems in the area of child and adolescent psychiatry will certainly make similar choices in the first phases of research design, with implications for the support or creation of interventions.


The idea of the ‘degrees of separation’ (best known to most people in the work of Stanley Milgram and the benefits of the ‘strength of weak ties’ (Mark Granovetter) are now well known. These insights have acquired new importance with the emergence of digital social media.

Intel engineer Maria Bezaitis points out that while digital media significantly expand our networks, mediation by algorithms means that we are being ever more firmly embedded within the networks we are most familiar with (as evidenced by categories like ‘friends’, ‘colleagues’ ‘others who liked this’). So paradoxically, we are less likely to find Granovetter’s ‘useful strangers’. She points out that people can’t be divided into ‘close’ and ‘distant’, but rather are always a combination of the two: “A more effective way to think about my relations might be in terms of closeness and distance, where at any given point in time, with any single person, I am both close and distant from that individual, all as a function of what I need to do right now. People aren’t close or distant. People are always a combination of the two, and that combination is constantly changing.”

OPEN’s design aims to bring these kinds of ‘useful strangers’ closer to researchers by offering access to respondents based not only on individual metadata, but on research themes and profiles created out of ongoing research results. These can help researchers to discover new ways of framing questions, and new people to ask, early on in the process. The more this happens, the more powerful the system becomes.

James Boekbinder Over James Boekbinder

interaction designer | filmmaker | self-educated system thinker | first US citizen on the payroll of Lenfilm | researcher | in love with partner from Russia | content strategist | in love with Amsterdam | educator of young designers at Rotterdam University of Applied Science | in love with cat from Greece

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