Interview to Michelle Sadler-Chilean medical anthro: collaboration, public policies and designers doing research part 2

May 5, 2010 at 1:27 pm 1 comment

Figure 1: My students [some are now colleagues]: Giovanna Roa, Margarita Ruiz-Tagle, Gabriela Warner &  Nicole Cristi organizing an applied qualitative research activity.

For Michelle Sadler, it is important to go with open questions into the field. With a broad thinking: “If you go with a rigid frame, related to the possibilities you have in the head, you don’t allow the innovation or the novelty to arise. You don’t go thinking out of the box. You need to see from other perspectives”. For her, it is important to communicate with people. She has changed the word patient for user to leave some common assumptions [in the biomedical area] behind. “…Many times, what happens in research is that researchers or people go with an assumption, with a pre-designed idea, so instead of going to raise new things, you go to check on what you want to find”. This anthropologist believes people can find whatever they want to because reality is complex, so the researcher has to be careful with the type of questions he addresses. “A research should be more open, it should allow that people tell you everything without placing categories a priori. The categories should raise in situ”. It is evident for her that it is a limitation of the quantitative approach, overall in the surveys, as they abolish the possibility of creating or obtaining new insights. Still she rectifies the idea of using the quantitative approach to tackle particular sections of the study. It should depend of the research design, but it is important to note that a qualitative approach can use small samples and yet achieve very relevant and innovative findings.

Cooperation is present in all the areas of Sadler’s work. Apart from collaborating internationally, as an academic in University, she collaborates with academics from other areas, social scientists and medicine. On her consultant firm she does share work with psychologists and sociologists. And in both of these areas, academy and private practice, she generates deliverables working with designers and also biomedical personnel: “in the FONIS (Fondo Nacional Investigación en Salud) were doctors, midwives, designers, architects, photographers, social workers, a super mixed group from social sciences, health and arts”. Methods for her rely in the assumption that you have to connect with people: “…try to connect in a more intimate way”. She believes in micro strategies: “the macro strategies don’t talk to people, they talk to a group that is too large and heterogeneous. They don’t touch the fiber, they don’t say: this is important to you because I understand what you are thinking, I communicate with you”. For her research, Michelle quotes a lot. It is relevant because she believes people can identify themselves with another person’s experience: “ Ah, this person went through the same I am”. It has to do with her case orientation to elaborate the manuals. People can see how other have changed and have gone through the same difficulties. She uses ethnography: “Ethnographic work implies transfer yourself to another context, being there, it’s a combination of techniques. It is observing, chatting, looking for material formats people use, meaningful contexts”.
Figure 2:
Designer Margarita Ruiz-Tagle her product development and testing as a student at PUC

For Michelle, it is essential to connect with people to design solutions for them, “being in the base of the perceptions of what is happening”. That is why it has become so trendy to do ethnographic research in marketing backgrounds: “There is a need to connect with the people, the target market, your group of end-users. What they need, what they think, what they perceive, what they feel”.“What market research lacks is that many times they say that is an ethnographic study and it isn’t. They go in context, perform two rounds, do 4 interviews to people and then they understood what is happening”. Even though marketers have realized it is the way to go, according to Sadler, they are not doing it correctly: For her, this doesn’t have anything to do with the research time extension. Is not that easy for nowadays anthropologists, to get funding for going to leave in a cultural context for years and years. But research should be taken seriously. She points out that a designer can do research: “I think anyone can make user research. In the end, doing research is dialoguing, and that doesn’t have much of a science. Is having a sensibility to place you in the shoes of others and observe in a more complex sense”. For her: “There is people that have that better than a social scientist without having a preparation in qualitative methods. That is a sensibility. You don’t need that much expertise, but sensibility”. I partly agree on her stance. There is a certain intangible skill that allows a researcher to be more or less empathic, more or less an observer and more or less a good insight creator.


Entry filed under: Design Anthropology, Design Research, Social Design.

Interview to Michelle Sadler-Chilean medical anthro: collaboration, public policies and designers doing research part 1 Design Politics, Empowered Graphics

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Legis  |  May 10, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    Probably it should say “They go in context, perform two rounds, do 4 interviews to people and then they SAY THEY understood what is happening”. Am I right?


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contact + citing (CC license)

Constanza Miranda PhD(c) design.anthro
* Currently @ DILAB
* Ex.VR @ Stanford's Center for Design Research [DesignXLab]
* Ex.Instructor @ PUC Chile [Design+Engineering]
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Design for Social Innovation initiative by Constanza Miranda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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