Research Proposal

The power of context has fascinated me ever since I read Malcolm Gladwells book ‘The Tipping Point’. In relation to this topic he looked at the fundamentals of groups by researching book clubs and innovative manufacturing companies such as Gore.

In December, I chose to investigate this topic by looking at groups vs individuals using research from secondary sources. I read a journal article about foster parent training that investigated two types of training: group sessions vs home visits to individual families. I read another journal article which explored the appeal of worthless groups, trait self esteem and group dynamics. I was able to draw some conclusions from the secondary research but I did find myself with a lot of new questions. One, in particular, was:

“Why do people give up groups?”

I would like to bring my recent experiences of primary research into practice and explore this question. I want to know, directly from ordinary people, why they chose to stop attending any groups/clubs/societies they used to go to. An interview would be an appropriate method for gaining this kind of information because, through interaction, they result in descriptions and explanations. Their structure can be tailored to suit the kind of information needed from them. I will conduct semi-structured interviews, with individuals, so that I have set questions and goals but can deviate from this should any interesting points come up. From this, I may gain insights about group membership I would not have otherwise considered.

I would not be able to get these insights using research methods such as observation. Such methods would tell me what people do – I want to know why they took the decision to do it. From my experience of watching people at a bingo hall I know that ‘people watching’ provides information about how people behave. Observing groups in their natural environment would let me see how they interact and whether this affected attendance. This would be particularly relevant to my journal article about worthless groups. Interviews are however the better route for getting opinion based answers to questions – which is what I want for now.

In my previous experience with interviews I had a sheet of prompt questions. Whilst this was helpful I would prefer to have something more natural that my interviewee could interact with. I looked into finding such a thing on the Service Design Tools website and came across ‘Issue Cards’. These are basically cards with an image, word or even small description relating to the subject. I would place the cards on the table to induce a conversation. This would encourage interpretation, leading to different responses, depending on the assumption the interviewee makes about the card. I would need to be careful just how ‘open to interpretation’ my cards should be because I want answers that relate to group membership. Would the topic of the interview be enough to direct them?

To counter this potential problem I would test out different Issue Cards by conducting an experiment based around the concept of Polysemy. Images mean different things to different people, something I found out the first time I did this experiment. From experience I know that adding text helps to fix the meaning of images. I would test all my Issue Cards by asking ordinary people what is going on in each one – what they think it means. For example I might want the person to tell me how they found time to be part of a group. Would I use a picture of a clock or a calendar? What text is needed? This experiment would help me work this out.

Polysemy is very complex so I am aware that using Issue Cards could still fail. If I sense that my interviewee is having difficulty then I would try using the  ‘Cognitive Walkthrough’ methodology. This is another tool recommended on the Service Design Tools website and involves going through the stages of a clients journey. In the case of my interviews, every time a new group was mentioned I would encourage the interviewee to draw the various stages they experienced. (I would have some pens and paper already on the table whether or not I used this technique. I have found out – through using the ‘Group Sketching Technique’ – that getting people to draw what they are talking about is a great way of getting more detail) For example, if they mentioned seeing a flyer I would get them to draw it. I would encourage them to describe various details such as it’s location and what made it appeal to them: Was it the group itself? Did it imply anything? Do they mention colour or imagery? This would then lead on to their first interaction with the group and I could get them to draw things like the first person they met.

Whichever design tool I use I can anticipate that people will tell me about their first impressions. I am therefore going to read ‘Blink’ by Malcolm Gladwell which looks at rapid cognition. Similar books, such as ‘Snoop’ by Sam Gosling, together with advice from tutors have helped me discern how to produce reliable results. One way of doing this is to ensure that I do not know the participants. To do this I will either contact friends of friends or utilize the University of Dundee’s Hermes service. To allow for the latter I will carry out the research during term time. Arranging time between classes for myself and participants may prove difficult. From experience I have learned that good results can be achieved by asking as little as seven people. Considering all of this, I estimate that it will take me four weeks to carry out the research. It will then take a fifth week to analyze the results

I would like to review the results myself first then look over them with a group of other people. I will be able to experience the difference, first hand, between working along vs working in a group. This secondary experiment will be a complimentary appendix to the research. In fact it hints at future research avenues for the project. I could conduct interviews with groups of people – one of which would be the individual I spoke to for this project. I could analyze the data given by the individual in both scenarios as well as my experience with both types of interview.

This is not a dead-end project nor is it a dead-end subject. It is a relevant direction which will provide valuable information that will feed into the groups vs individuals topic.


Barthes, R. (1967). The Rhetoric of the Image – Elements of Semiology. In: Innis, R. E. (ed). Semiotics – An Introductory Reader. London: Hutchinson & Co Ltd.

Gladwell, M. (2000) The Tipping Point. Great Britain: Little, Brown.

Gosling, S. (2008) Snoop. London: Profile Books Ltd.

Hampson, R. B., Schulte, M. A., Ricks, C. C. (1883) Individual vs. Group Training for Foster Parents: Effectiveness Evaluations, Family Relations, vol. 32, no. 2, pp. 191-201

Haupt, A. L., Leary, M. R. (1997) The Appeal of Worthless Groups: Moderating Effects of Trait Self-Esteem, Group Dynamics: Theory, Research and Practice, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 124-132

Paton, J. A. (2010). Reading and Reviewing. [Online] December 2nd 2010. Available from: [Accessed: 5th April 2011. 6th April 2011]

Service Design Tools. (2009) Tools. [Online]. Available from: [Accessed: 5th April 2011. 6th April 2011]

Service Design Tools. (2009) Cognitive Walkthrough. [Online]. Available from: [Accessed: 5th April 2011. 6th April 2011]

Service Design Tools. (2009) Group Sketch. [Online]. Available from: [Accessed: 5th April 2011. 6th April 2011]

Service Design Tools. (2009) Issue Cards. [Online]. Available from: [Accessed: 5th April 2011. 6th April 2011]

W. L. Gore & Associates, Inc. (2009) Our Culture. [Online]. Available from: [Accessed: 5th April 2011]


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