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Problem Formulation Essay

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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
– It applies to either problem-driven & theory-driven
• 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
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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