what Is a research scope?

Scoping is figuring out what, exactly, to explore for a study. It’s a Goldilocks problem: you don’t want the scope too broad, or you will not see patterns appear in the data, but you don’t want it too narrow, or the participants will tell you everything they have to say about it in five minutes. You want to get the scope just right–somewhere in between these two extremes.

The scope, in case you haven’t read Practical Empathy, is how you begin a listening session. It’s how you introduce the subject you’d like the participant to cover, and it’s the only question you think of in advance.

You can explore several different scopes over time, each examining an intent or purpose a person has before reaching for your solution. Each scope has its own study. Scopes are difficult–often it takes a week of discussion to figure out which scope to explore for an upcoming study. Sometimes you discover a scope is too broad or too narrow after the few couple of listening sessions, so you must adjust it mid-study.

Scopes are difficult to define because of the tendency to tie them to a technology or tool. This is the solution space. In this research approach, you want to explore the problem space. Your organization and its solutions should not be included or implied by the scope statement.

Here are some example scopes which define a particular problem space. The solution space appears in parenthesis:

  • Make sure the drivers in my commercial fleet don’t get us in trouble. (commercial vehicle speed tracking)
  • See if I can gain better insights from my engineering/scientific data. (statistical graphical software)
  • Figure out why my code isn’t working, to get it working how I’d like. (software API developers network)
  • Make sure we have reliable data storage access and future expansion. (data storage configuration automation)
  • Decide whether/how I can get a college degree/certificate, given my financial and family situation. (technical & community college marketing plan)
  • Guide a business toward success where my employees must drive to customer sites. (decide whether to build a better dispatch tool)
  • Decide what to get for lunch. (fast food restaurant)

I am available to help you define a good scope for your first/next problem space study; please get in touch.

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