UFHRD 2014: 5 June, key note on HRD research and design science, Prof Eugene Sadler-Smith

Back at the UFHRD conference and the post-lunch key note address.

Change dthe title to “(Quite) grupy old men, mars bars and epistemology”. Noted a slide from a talk yesterday as a list of critics of HRD: the grumpy old men including “Sadler-Smith 2014”!

Looked at the issue of relevance and rigour in HRD and critiqued by academics as overly descriptive, needs ot be evidence based and criticised as ambiguous over goals and how to achieve them. But these issues have been present since the foundation of HRD academic journals. It is time to find a solution to the double-bind of relevance and rigour.

Could design science be a productive line of inquiry to resolve some of these issues in HRD research.

Design science positioned in terms of explanatary sciences and field problems and artefacts. Looking to SImon’s work on ‘.sciences of the artificial’. Simon distinguishes between explanatory sciences that describe, explain and preduct the natural and social worlds. While design science is concerned with developing actionable knowledge for designing solutions in the real work (field problems). But these interact, eg, Newton’s second law (explanatory) is used in air travel / engineering (design science), or at the Forth Road Bridge as a solution to the field problem of trains crossing the Firth of Forth. Engineering is a design science as is medicine and more recently in education and management. Leads to the question of what are the field problems in education or management, eg, teaching complicated problem-solving, how to plan for complexity/ uncertainty.

In the case of the design science perspective for HRD, what might be the field problems of research and professional practice? But proactice can be seen as a distinctive component from the research where practice is applied knowledge.

Which brings us to the issue of the artefact. Artefacts have a purpose in addressing a field problem and so are moulded to the context, eg, sunglasses moulded by sunshine. But what artefacts does HRD produce (eg, learning materials, procedures, products…) as central to the process of design.

It is also worth noting that design science is not ‘mode 2’ research as design science is concerned with the product of research, nor applied science and not action research but can be related to all of these.

How to do design science:

1. design proposition; 2. design science logic; 3. testing the logic and 4. applying the logic. The design proposition depends on a logic pf prescription (in this context, use this intervention to generate this desired outcome by achieving a specific mechanism). Creates a logic of Context, Intervention, Mechanism, Outcome (CIMO). Management and HRD literature tends to focus on intervention and outcomes and so ignores the generative mechanisms as these are grounded in explanatory science (as well as decontextualised). It raises the question of what is meant by theory in a CIMO logic.

In the application of the CIMO logic, multiple interventions are often required. This fits well with HRM in terms of strategic HRM/D discussions of bundles of interventions/ practices. Eg, Hodgkinson and Healey (2008) used psychology theory to develop design propositions for scenario planning.

Simon: the essence of the design problems resides in assemblages of components.

Testing the CIMO logic depends in locating generalisations valid across different contexts and is pluralistic in termsof methods. In education, use design based research, using a VLE in science education to promote complex inquiry skills – generates generalised findings and falsifiability.

HRD research and design science – is it of any use? Since 2007 there have been some papers referring to design science in the HRD journals.

But management academia privilege the eexplanatorysciences over design sciences (Van Aken 2005). Design science may assists HRD in overcoming issues of relevance to practitioners in the production of actionable knowledge.

The epistemological implications of a design science in terms of what knowledge is and how it might be created – is there a specific type of HRD knowledge and theory to be produced. Researchers should co-create with practitioners on developing design propositions and that interventions are tested in multiple contexts.

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