In the Eating

Grounding the validation of investigative designing in the experience of stakeholders

RUST. C, (2009) In the Eating: Grounding the validation of investigative designing in the experience of stakeholders, International Association of Societies of Design Research Conference, Seoul, Korea, October 2009

I wrote and presented this paper as part of a special session at the IASDR conference, organised by Stella Boess of TU Delft. Stella wished to explore the question of how knowledge arising from the use of designed artefacts in research might be validated.


This paper describes an approach to practice-led inquiry that puts the tacit knowledge of stakeholders at the centre of the research process as a research instrument but also as an important resource for validating the results. I will describe how this was done in several projects conducted over the past 10 years and how evaluation with relatively small groups of people who have relevant tacit knowledge might be justified.

The research that I examine here addresses questions that may not be suitable for more analytical or quantifiable research, for example because they cannot be atomised into manageable components, because they explore ill-defined or “wicked” problems or because the most relevant reference point for evaluation is tacit rather than explicit knowledge. Such problems may be addressed by methods designed to employ tacit knowledge but validating the methods is often challenging, given that practice-led research in design is a relatively new field of activity so there is a limited amount of prior research to draw on for methodology.

However theories of tacit knowledge and wicked problems can provide a starting point for the methodological framework required and this paper will seek to develop some ideas that might contribute to such a methodology. In particular it will examine how experts with rich tacit knowledge might play a part and why it would be valid to work with very small numbers of such people, how the tacit moves of designers might form valid ways of processing the data that they encounter and how the artefacts of the research, in themselves, might be an important source of validation, for example by allowing assessment of the techniques employed.

Key words: Tacit Knowledge, Artefact, Practice-led

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