Experiential Questioning and Gaming Research

And so we “gamed” it, played with uncertainty and had a little bit of everything!

Creative and experiential questioning, futures thinking and landscape, Schwartz scenario archetypes and causal layered analysis.

For two days, the University Center for Research and Development (UCRD) introduced a number of futures research methods, discussed digital research, deconstructed some topics and their alternative futures. The end was to generate and reflect on some themes that emerged in the workshop and discussed in the open space some plausible options to transform Northwestern University research.

Some indigenous “futures” concepts such as “masakbayan”, “kinabukasan” , etc. were discussed and assessed researchers learning styles and research paradigms  with culture, social transformation, the internationalization of local knowledge and digitization in mind.


Around 35 participants listed by the University Center for Research Development of Northwestern University (UCRD), officers and staff of UCRD and the RCEIAD attended the gaming research workshop facilitated by Shermon Cruz, Romelene Pacis and Karl Lenin Benigno.

Experiential Questioning

Experiential questioning  is a method that we’ve been working on  recently to help researchers design  self-actualizing research questions and engaged them to contribute more to their field of interests.

Groups were encouraged to reflect and share their experiences and to ask open and reflective questions like why? and how? on preferred themes and topics.

Experiential questioning aims to make  research  more  grounded, action-oriented and responsive to cultural, local and global contexts. The workshop applied action learning foresight  to facilitate a more reflective, inclusive, creative and interactive research event for Northwestern University.

We had participants share their experiences and insights to re-perceive research in a variety of context – community, cultural, local and global.

Participants  suggested and discussed some Monday morning questions such as research incentives, quantity and quality of research workforce, funding, expanding the research agenda, research output, journal writing, exploring social media tools for foresight research, etc. during the open space.

We opted to test our concept and sought to make sense of EQ’s four essential elements – intuition, logic, evidence and reputation in research.

Researchers were encouraged to consider them only if they find it enriching or useful in the research process:

1. Intuition – we learn from our experiences and we have to learn how to trust the small voice, the inner wisdom  inside us. Listen to your gut and our Aha! moment should guide us.

The inner journey of the researcher and his experience of research is as important as any research method, data gathering methods, etc. The self immersed in research can be transformative.

We should tap our intuition more and ask ourselves these questions:

Does this question excites us? What’s your gut feel about this question? Is there a sensation of wonderment? Amazement? Are you amazed by the question? Is there a mystical feeling in that question? Is it moving? Is it transforming?

2. Logic – we think therefore we are.

Idea and proof as well as grammar and reasoning must be crucial to our line of thinking as learning beings. We are hardwired to be logical  (abductive, deductive or inductive).  We infer, observe, hypothesize, gather and seek to explain relevant evidence. We have to define our problems as clearly as possible.

We might need to ask ourselves:

Can we apply systematic reasoning here? Are our assumptions valid and critical enough to generate new questions and insights? Are they rooted in the local, cultural, global, local and environmental, organizational, personal, etc.?

3. Evidence –  Our evidence should be consistent with our assertion.

In our case,  evidences are closely tied with epistemology especially in qualitative, normative, exploratory, philosophical or theoretical research.

Big data, trend analysis, emerging issue analysis, horizon scanning are some tools and methods used by forecasters to analyze future trajectories. New lines of thought on futuring such as evidence-based futures research developed by Aleriza Hajazi among others were recently introduced .

Hejazi (2013) asked us: “Have we ever wondered why so many “assumption-based” forecasts have been proved to be untrue? Have we considered that there could be more “evidence-based” ways of forecasting? Have we ever felt that “assumption-based” forecasting was just too much of a struggle and in many cases failed to trigger timely actions? Wait a minute—those questions have been around for about two decades, but what responses have we given to them?”

While the end of futures research is to probe by asking the question what is our preferred future? why is this our preferred future? is this really plausible? why? how can we achieve our preferred future? futures research, like quantitative research, uses and includes diverse data sets to produce a near accurate understanding of potentialities.

Hejazi (2013) also notes medical research and medical researchers can give futures researchers new insights  on how evidence-based futures research could be translated or modified to foresight practice.

Big data could change the way we anticipate and/or forecast the future.

For now, it might  be imperative for us to ask more relevant and related questions:

Are our assumptions verifiable? Are our questions researchable? Does it lead to innovation? Can it help us reorder or re-conceptualize knowledge? Does it have the potential to create new knowledge and reframe meanings?

4.  Reputation – is a meta-belief about the integrity of a person, institution or in our case the integrity of a researcher or his/her research.

Reputation could come in the form of a recommendation or acknowledgement by or of a peer, community, other groups and institution outside our sphere of influence, etc.

Reputation could also mean as to how the “others know and perceive us”  as persons, as researchers.

Reputation may be shared by a multitude of agents and it can be epistemic, pragmatic-strategic  and memetic.

Questions such as do we believe in the credibility of our sources? Should we pay attention to negative reviews or to what my critics and reviewers are saying?Are our questions distinct, unique and authentic? Are our ideas offbeat or mockable? If yes, why does it matter? Are reputational concerns critical in the way we construct or perceive our questions? What is the journal’s reputation? What knowledge has value? What is natural? What is fair? (Bussey, 2013)

Questions such as are we mindful of the questions that we’ve been asking? Does the question allow us to create new spaces for learning, to grow, to be happy, to be contemplative, to be reflective, to be human and share our humanity? Does it help us cultivate our  reputation? Does it help us cultivate reputational solidity, integrity, and scholarship?

Experiential Questioning (EQ) is a first hand experience. EQ based questions  is a reflection, expression of the self or selves that is trying to create, re-create and expand itself. The impact could be  cognitive, affective, spiritual, etc.

To paraphrase Richard Slaughter here it is the “very sense of self” that is responding and inquiring.

 Creating Alternative Research Futures for NWU

And so we explored together and utilized the futures landscape, causal layered analysis and Schwartz scenario archetype to explore new opportunities for research development and to create alternative research agenda and futures for Northwestern University.

The focus was trans-disciplinary research and the aim was to create new insights by gaming it.

This is a part of a series of research workshops funded and supported by Northwestern University to explore new research areas and opportunities to deepen researchers knowledge, capacity and know-how.

The Futures Landscape

The knowability and governability of the future is a crucial issue to any institution or person who would want to learn, perceive or transform the future.

While the spectrum of “the future” are heterogenous, futures studies  and futures research exist to empower people and communities to know the future better and to understand their implications to the present, to imagine alternative and create preferred futures.

We employed the Futures Landscape  to audit who, what and where we are as researchers and as a research institution.

The futures landscape  has four categories of the future: the jungle (survival of the fittest, risk-making, fortress mentality); chess-set (strategy can do wonders but the future could be on a stalemate, there are losers and winners in the game of life);  the mountain tops (we have seen and experienced the vista of the way forward) and the star (the vision is actually reachable, it now has a detail and it is neither near nor too far).

Majority of the participants had university research in the “chess set” category.   However, the preferred was the mountain top. Participants envisions to see and experience research  as expanding, growing and always moving forward.

This gave us a conceptual or cognitive map on how researchers perceive themselves as researchers and the institution in the context of research in the future landscape.

Schwartz Scenario Archetypes

What do we really want to know? What research themes or topics can we fund or do? What decisions or issues will be helpful to us as persons, as a community, as human beings?

What factors – important and uncertain – could influence us and our decision-makers today to create the preferred research future? What are the possibilities? What are the what ifs? What are our scenarios? Which scenario do we prefer most? Afraid? Good? Bad scenarios?

Scenarios are not strategies nor they are predictions of the future. They are more like assumptions of alternative futures designed to champion possible risks and opportunities about specific strategic concerns (Schwartz, Ogilvy 2004). Scenarios are like movie scripts.

At a meta-level, they are a synthesis of different paths that lead to possible and plausible futures. They are a set of events or variables which helps in minimizing surprises and helps decision-makers expand thinking of diverse possibilities (Godet and Roubelat, 1996).

Using Schwartz Scenario Archetypes – best case, worst case, outlier, and business as usual – participants explored the futures of and tried imagining  alternative futures:

1. Ilocano food –  Oh My Gulay! (Worst Case), The Way We Were (Business as usual), Sulit.com/Sarap (Outlier),  Wow! Pagkain (Best Case)

2. The future of Northwestern University enrollment and graduates – Most Wanted Avatar, Freedom University / IronMan (Best Case); Adopted U / I am a parasite (Outlier); Most Unwanted / No Choice (Worst Case); Today is Tomorrow / Juan Tamad (Business as Usual)

3. The future of the City Laoag and incidence of flooding – Noah’s Flood (Worst Case); Waterworld (Business as usual); City Resort (Outlier); Flood Free Laoag (Best Case)

4. The future of ship vessels in the Philippines (the incidence of ship crashing and collision was alarming) – Cruising on Seas (Best Case); Cap Net (Outlier); Titanic (Worst Case); In the Navy (Business as usual)

5. The future of academic learning.

Causal Layered Analysis

On the second day, the groups were introduced to causal layered analysis, one of several futures techniques used to inquire into the causes of phenomena – litany (the news headline, pop futures), systems (social and structural causes, systems), worldview (ideology, philosophy, epistemic) and myth/metaphor ( concerned with images, arts, the emotive dimensions of an issue).

The CLA incast  expanded the range and meanings of the scenarios.

Different ways of knowing the futures of their preferred topics were explored. The vertical aspect of the scenarios were analyzed and a number of policy actions to create alternative and transformative research futures emerged.

The groups particularly the food futures group and the sea vessel group were serious about pursuing the research and to write an article like building a literature review and/or conceptual paper, a case study on the future of  Ilocano food and ship safety in the Philippines.

The future of the city group  contemplated on the possibility collaborating with the City of Laoag in particular the City Engineers and the City Environment Office to explore Laoag City alternative and preferred futures with flooding in mind.

The University Center for Research and Development will sponsor an institution-based research to explore alternative research futures for Northwestern University.

Some images from the two day workshop here:













Gaming Research Workshop University Center for Research and Development, Northwestern University, Philippines, 2013

Gaming Research Workshop University Center for Research and Development, Northwestern University, Philippines, 2013


Bussey, Marcus. Strategic Foresight Workshop Course Presentation. De La Salle University. 2012.

Cruz, Shermon. Personal notes on the two-day  Gaming Research: Digital and Futures Research Basics at Northwestern University, 201 3.

Inayatullah, Sohail. Casual Layered Analysis: A Reader. Tamkang University Press. Taiwan. 2004.

International Foundation for Action Learning. Managing the Unknown through Questioning. Retrieved December 22 from http://ifal.org.uk/ . 2013

Slaughter, Richard. The Biggest Wake Up Call in History. Foresight International. Australia. 2010.

Aleriza, Hejazi.The Future of Evidence-based Futures Research. Retrieved on December 26 from  http://www.wfs.org.blogs/alireza-hejazi/future-evidence-based-futures-research. 2013.

Schultz, Wendy. Infinite Futures. The Schwartz / GBN Approach Maximizing Focus. Retrieved on December 26 from http://www.infinitefutures.com/tools/sbschwartz.shtml. 1996.

Digging into Data and Digitizing the Social Sciences

John Willinsky, Stanford University, Curating and Digging into Data, Montreal, Canada, 2013

John Willinsky, Stanford University, Curating and Digging into Data, Montreal, Canada, 2013

The surge of large data sets has changed the way we interpret and used data in research recently.

Digging into data research tools as digital pundits called it has opened new opportunities for persons and systems to analyze massive data to anticipate the future, understand mainstream trends and gain insight from emerging issues to innovate and create new products, knowledge and social platforms.

The introduction of smart personal devices and applications to the global marketplace has equipped and enabled societies to “make sense” of data sets and persons to spread and share knowledge in less than the speed of thought.

In a data and network driven world, the breadth and sophistication of digitization will continue to grow and learning in the social sciences might just get better and weirder in the immediate future.

Just imagine what social science knowledge, learning and public interaction/interfaces would be like in a big data-driven society?

Will cloud-computing and open access enable publics to turbo charge public debates?  What types of knowledge could emerge in a social sciences driven by macro and micro network digital platforms? Will knowledge divide and access persist in a data driven society? What is the role of cultural contexts in digging into data? What would social science knowledge be like when historians and human rights advocates, computer scientists and information technology experts collaborate to create new questions and generate new insights in the social sciences?

The security of our personal data and reputation as researchers and scholars are paramount, how could we fine-tune existing computationally based research methods and techniques to secure privacy and safety of our respondents and informants? Are our systems hackable?  Is big data safe, ethical, sustainable and achievable? Can we really gain more insights and questions by wading through much more data?

Are big data a boon for researchers from developing countries? How can global South countries and scholars participate and contribute in the challenge of creating new social science knowledge using large data sets when access to big data are limited?

These are some of the questions that computers scientists,  social scientists, historians, philosophers, futurists, policy analysts etc. tried to explore at the Digging into Data (DiD) Challenge conference held last October 12 at the Palais de Congres de Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Organized by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the DiD event, that was held in conjunction with the 2013 World Social Science Forum,  explored diverse ways of using  large scale data sets and application to generate new analytics and  insights.

The conference featured the research results of the 14 DiD funded researches that linked big data to create, sustain and propel new knowledge repositories.

To fortify research innovation around the world, ten international research funding organizations collaborated to sponsor the Digging into Data Challenge.

Many of the past and current DiD sponsored projects were published in notable news magazines such as the New York Times, Nature, Times in Higher Education among others.

The papers presented applied a broad range of analytical tools to dig into digitized books, newspapers web-searches, sensors and cellphone records to analyze and synthesize the insights emerging from large scale data sets.

Their purpose was  to create and/or re-create novelties,  ideas, hypotheses, mental maps and knowledge frameworks to leverage the social sciences in the digital age.

Of the 14 DiD award recipients, the projects ChartEx, Digging into Metadata, Digging into Human Rights Violations, Digging by Debating, Digging into Social Unrest, Digging into Trading Consequences, Data Mining the 1918 Influenza Pandemic and the Data Driven Project into Western Musical Styles impressed me the most. This is not to say though that the others were less significant or unimpressive but rather that their topics were more relevant to my area of concern and research interest.

Generally, the researches that I mentioned explored new ways of harnessing the power of data to understand how  data could shape public opinion, influence policies, social movements, economies and how computational computer capabilities and tools intensifies processes and impact of researchers in the social sciences and humanities.

The ChartEx project for instance aims to build  an interactive ‘virtual workbench’ to allow researchers to dig in to the records and study  people’s lives in the 12th and 16th century.

Using medieval charters, historians could now extract information about places, people and events in pre-census and birth registry eras.  The importance of recovering stories can help researchers create a richer descriptions of places and people in history.  It could help historians visualize or perhaps reinterpret the past that would make sense for people in the digital age and the future.  (For more http://www.chartex.org/)

The Digging by Debating project on the other hand seeks to implement a multi-scale workbench they called “InterDebates” to dig into millions  of digitized books, bibliographic databases of journal articles, and comprehensive reference works written by experts. Starting with 2.6 million volumes of digitized Google Books collection, the project targets to develop new ways of searching and visualizing interaction in the social sciences particularly philosophy and psychology. The purpose is to help the public map the interactions and to analyze the arguments these resources contained. ( Click http://diggingbydebating.org/ )

Another is the “Digging into Human Rights Violations: Anaphora Resolutions and Emergent Witnesses” project. This research aims to develop systems that could help researchers, human rights advocates and courts divulge details and records of human rights violations and reconstruct their stories from fragmented collections of archival records of witnesses reports and reveal patterns of historic disappearances and violence. Key purpose is to develop software that could aid qualitative researchers to analyze human rights violations data. The project performed an extensive literature review of data on human rights violations and political science research methods. Their findings include, particularly in Canada, that human rights violation research lacks analysis from primary data; that most articles examined only publicly available secondary source with a narrow geographic focus. (Check http://digging.gsu.edu/)

For more of the DiD projects, the official website here: http://www.diggingintodata.org/Default.aspx

At the Digging into Data Challenge Conference 2013, Montreal

At the Digging into Data Challenge Conference 2013, Montreal

Challenges and Insights

The researchers shared their research experiences and offered some “remarkable insights” that funders, researchers and future DiD challengers must note.  Their take on open access and big data solidified previous analyses and assumptions about digitizing the social sciences.

Their experiences  were compelling and I was able to note some of them:

  • computational based research could enhance the quality and context of our research questions and help us find new ways to construct  more relevant questions. Also it helps us better understand the dynamics and link of large data sets, creativity, questioning and insights to digital humanities and the social sciences.
  • Constant dialogue between and within disciplinary perspectives is a must. A shared understanding and horizons shapes our research designs, approaches to development, processing of testing our methods and analysis of outcomes.
  • Knowledge dissemination is a must as “data do not travel easily”.
  • Conference presentations and journal publication can expand researchers audience and reach.
  • Importance of libraries, archives and data repositories are highlighted in digital research.
  • Distance is quite a challenge for coordination and handling of collected datasets. Face to face meetings is beneficial and developing a team identity is a critical research component.
  • Feedback are extremely important. Distance makes meeting rare and expensive.
  • Clear mutual understanding can help resolve difficult interdisciplinary and technical issues
  • Use a shared online workspace for easier sharing of document , reports, communication, etc.
  • Develop a shared glossary of terms.
  • Bid data success supports small data agendas.
  • Pay attention to technical infrastructure

The Case for Open Access

John Willinsky, a professor of education and a distinguished innovator at the Stanford School of Graduate Education, keynoted the DiD event.  Willinsky passionately advocated open source software, open data and access, use and re-use of data for research to expand the reach and effectiveness  of digital scholarship and communication.  Willinsky discussed the usefulness of data curation to scholarship, science and education and said that institutions and funding agencies should ensure that data are suitable for use and available for discovery and re-use.  There are other subsets of the larger curation process which includes archiving and preservation (UC San Deigo, 2013).  Willinsky’s message revolved around topics of data creation, data curation, digging into data to create new and alternative pathways and the case for open access as a public good.

For more discussion on open access, open journal, open software and scholarly publishing read John Willinsky’s paperback The Access Principle or check the Public Knowledge Project at http://pkp.sfu.ca/.

Invisible labor and big data collaborations

The afternoon presentation was keynoted by Sally Wyatt, Chair of the World Social Science Forum and Professor at the Netherlands Royal Academy of the Arts and Sciences. Wyatt’s presentation revolve around changing research contexts and data-based collaboration work.

Focusing on issues of digital scholarship in the humanities and social sciences,  Wyatt observed that knowledge creation and dissemination goes beyond the development and use of new computational tools.  The invisible cognitive contents and blind spots that influence knowledge codification, creation and communication could change our ways of knowing and perceiving digital data. The costly duplication of re-using data, fraud in the validation of results, conflicting interest, the lack of digital infrastructure, unstable access of remote resources and areas to digital knowledge, legal and ethical complexities, the learning, data gap, distributional constraints and digital waste among others could hamper credibility of digital data and research.

For more about digitization, invisible labor and the virtualization of knowledge check out Sally Wyatt’s forthcoming book Virtual Knowledge: Experimenting in the Humanities and the Social Sciences here http://research-acumen.eu/wp-content/uploads/VirtualKnowledge-MITpress.pdf

Openness and Digitizing the Social Sciences

The key actors and participants adjourned in an open space to discuss further their experiences and insights on how to improve the digital research methods and processes, sustain their projects and deepen interdisciplinary research.

Notes from the 7th Phil National Health Research Convention

The 7th Philippine National Health Research System Week was held in Ilocos Norte a week ago.

The conference discussed the PNHRS research agenda and explored alternative pathways to advance people’s health, access and delivery in geographically disadvantaged areas and marginalized communities.

Roughly around 500 more or less number of delegates attended the three day conference.

Research Challenges in IP Communities

The pre-conference discussed some highs and lows of indigenous peoples (IP) health research.

We were able to jot down some significant points raised by panelists and participants:

Free Prior and Informed Consent is prohibitive; Create more ‘enabling mechanisms or drivers’ for IP research

– the free prior and informed consent (FPIC) process is prohibitive; it delays and discourages the conduct of indigenous peoples health research.

NCIP processes and procedures appears to delay IP health research. The strict rules and procedures to obtain ‘consent’ enforced by NCIP on ‘mining application permits’ are applied to ‘research activities’. This process was considered ‘ridiculous’ by many of the participants. It could delay a research for about a year or two. It could disrupt plans and momentum of researchers and research participants.

The National Commission on Indigenous People, the Philippine National Health Research Council and IP researchers  should convene a forum to discuss the issue further.

Key actors should collaborate to design a more practical approach in securing ‘consent’ and/or ‘certifications’ to conduct research in indigenous peoples communities.

LGUs can help facilitate to improve coordination on the ground

The involvement of LGUs in the research process is critical to IP research. Partnership and Memorandum of Agreements (MOAs) with local governments can improve process and coordination on the ground. It could mitigate some problems and address some challenges in practice.

IP as Co-Owners of Knowledge Generated/Created

IPs should be considered as ‘co-owners’ and ‘co-creators’ of knowledge derived in research. They must be entitled with the benefits (non-monetary/monetary) that may be obtained from research.

Forum on IP intellectual rights and heritage

A forum on IP intellectual rights, research and heritage is a good avenue to explore the issue of co-ownership. The ‘commercialization of IP knowledge systems and impact to IP health access and services’, issues of ‘pricing’ and the possibility of ‘disempowerment’ (their inability to access their own knowledge is possible) are some challenges anticipated by conference participants.  Many IP communities are known to have experienced abuses by groups, educational institutions, people’s organizations and non-government organizations. The latter get the funding and recognition without acknowledging IPs as sources of knowledge, co-creators, etc.

Theory in action, transformative research and the blurring of research and advocacy 

Tribal leaders and communities expects their “researchers” to do more than just ‘research’. More often than not researchers are seen by IP communities as ‘authorities’, ‘policy advocates’, ‘social workers’, ‘development workers’ or ‘advocates’ of their issues and causes. They view researchers as ‘communicators’ of their issues and knowledge in particular their right to access a responsive and adequate health care and government services. Their intention to share knowledge is informed by an outlook that ‘researchers’ could help them transform their lives.  They ‘see’ researchers as a ‘moral critic’ of government services and actions.

While researchers wish to see themselves as ‘testers’ and ‘creators’ of theories, indigenous peoples and marginalized communities wish them to obtain/achieve, if not outright, policy-based and program of action based solutions.

Participants tried to offer some of their outcome based solutions.

Perhaps, research in developing countries like the Philippines should adopt a more flexible and context-situated research design to create more impact .

A blurring of research and advocacy is crucial at the grassroots level.  Is advocacy an increasing feature of health research? Apparently, yes.

Folkloric narratives, ‘hero’ myths and legends is an emerging issue of health research; IP knowledge systems has the potential to disrupt current conventions of health research.

At the Phil Health Research, Paoay, Ilocos Norte, 2013

At the Phil Health Research, Paoay, Ilocos Norte, 2013

Soundbites and some things to work on Monday Morning

Here are some soundbites and policy proposals recommended by conference participants to transform health research, improve health access and service delivery:

– establish a workable/more pragmatic process to integrate ‘ethics’ in health research and the research review process;

System should allow feedback and innovation (self-assessment, external independent assessment system, ethics review committee, etc.) to occur. A strong network of ‘ethics research review committees’ could facilitate this. Panel was advised to explore more ‘ways and means’ to improve quality of health research systems and ethics.

A decentralize approach to ERC with an external independent assessment system with feedback is a plausible option.

-More research training to upgrade research capacities and mentoring for peer review and journal writing;

– Conduct roundtable discussions to explore ways for researchers to contribute more to universal health care efforts;

– Focus at sustaining partnerships at the local level;

– engage in more action research;

– funding available to encourage; accommodate more health research.



pnhrs-2013-synthesis @ http://www.healthresearch.ph