Conceptual Model

Skill theme: 
Synthesis & Insights
Synthesis & Insights

Working with data, especially in Exploratory Research, Sensemaking Workshop, or Interview Debrief, you juxtapose ideas and meaning to create new insight. As those sparks of insight emerge, they need to be captured and then conveyed in a way that allows for sharing, re-interpretation, and stress-testing for validity and interestingness.

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The challenge

Interpretations of qualitative data are slippery. Some are insights, some interesting, some are inane. At the moment these thoughts suggest themselves, it's hard to know which kind you're dealing with, and the rate at which we generate these interpretations only increases when we work rigorously. It’s unrealistic to expect any other team member is as close as the data as you, or would draw the same conclusions with similar exposure—humans need abstracted models to tame complexity and build shared understanding.

If they are to become well-formed and drive the work forward, they need to be shared, and actionable. Throughout the process, these insights may occupy your awareness persistently, or quite briefly—and you will never know if the unexamined ones could have been useful. The organization needs artifacts that teams can adopt and extend.

The approach

Consider how to capture and refocus on potential insights as they arise. Writing them, and better, sketching them, allows you to create an impression you can work with over a longer time period than active working memory allows.

Therefore, capture any idea that may frame new perspectives or explain patterns in the data as a conceptual model. . Sketch these ideas out and re-evaluate them as new data comes in, building on what appears viable, discarding what doesn't. 

These early models will become the basis of future reporting to the team, packaged in whatever format best conveys the impact (chart, graph, model, sketch, etc.) Leverage the vocabulary and mental models of your audience, including established or prior concepts, to help create transitional bridges. Consider the worth of investment in “producing” your concepts or frameworks to be more visually appealing, or to work as a tool.

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Socialize strong frameworks with your Effective Reporting, and use them as the basis to User Needs Inception or Design Sprint. Take untested framework ideas into your User interview and look for behavioral evidence that will weaken or enrich a potential insight.

Last updated:
Apr 28, 2020 13:57


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