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Problem Formulation
MGMT 8101, Theory Building & Research Design
Notes by Prof. Andy Van de Ven
Plan for Class
• Questions & ideas about problem formulation – chapter 3
• Moves in formulating a problem
• Student examples of research problems (as time permits)
© Andrew H. Van de Ven, Carlson School, U. of Minnesota, MGMT8101 Theory Building & Research Design PhD Seminar, Spring 2007
Questions & Ideas about Problem Formulation
• Problem formulation is the anchor of a research
proposal
– It applies to either problem-driven & theory-driven
research
• Discuss key questions or problems you have about
problem formulation from the readings.
What is a Research Problem?
• Problems vary in clarity:
– A gap between expectations and outcomes
– An anomaly in our theory of the world
– An unclear but interesting issue
• Problems are:
– Perceived by someone; they do not exist out there.
– Often biased judgments; a Type III error
– Often imaginary; not grounded in reality
– Often uncreative, don’t go beyond the information
given.
Four Related Activities in Problem Formulation
Activities and their relations over time
Situating Problem
Grounding Problem
Diagnosing Problem
Resolving Problem
Situating the Problem
• Be reflexive – Problems don’t exist “out there”
– A problem from whose perspective? For what purpose?
• Focus – The topic or issue requiring attention.
– Who & what is in foreground & background
• Level of analysis – individual, group, organization
– What things are bigger, smaller, or attributes of problem
• Scope – How deep, broad, & long is the problem?
– Should decrease with familiarity; watch for scope creep
Grounding the Problem in Reality
• An exploratory study into the nature, context & what is
known about the problem domain
• Who, what where, when, why& how the problem exists
– in particular (up close) with example, anecdote or experience
– in general (from afar) with data on prevalence & context of problem
• Techniques...

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