Operationalism

(Hello, world. This is the first post on Local Narratives. I’ve contemplated for some time on what I should discuss in my first post. After some thoughtful weeks, I arrived at the concept of operationalism and considered it to be a very suitable starting point. I have not written in a while, so I am a bit rusty. Please bear with me as I grapple with the right words to convey my thoughts to you. )

Operationalism: the philosophy and practice of defining indicators of a concept.

Success, health, well-being, satisfaction. These are just a few of many concepts that get tossed around at the meeting table when executives and other stakeholders convene to discuss their products or services. A common statement often made in the meetings is, “We want our new product to be successful in the market.” This statement has been made so many times that hardly anyone ever stops and asks, “What do you mean by success?” It’s as if everyone at the table knows what success is. Is this a valid assumption?

Oftentimes, the answer is a resounding no. Designers, engineers, researchers, executives, and other team members who take part in the product development cycle will define the success of the product or service differently. For this reason, it is vital to clearly define common terms such as “success” and create a clear set of indicators that will allow you to measure success.

Using the term, success, as an example may be too vague. Here is an example of a start-up company planning to launch a “user-friendly” consumer finance mobile app. Their goal is to “make personal finances easier to understand for the average American user and to help users make smarter financial decisions” Such a statement seems like a no brainer. Simplify hard to understand financial processes and assist the user in making sound financial decisions. How hard is that? Well, to be frank, it can be quite difficult.

First off, what does the company mean when they want to make personal finances easier to understand? Easier to understand to whom? Who is the average American user? How is that defined? What is considered a smart financial decision? What factors contribute to such a decision? These are a few of the many questions that arise when you begin to deconstruct a simple objective and really take a deep dive into understanding the product.

After breaking down and defining every single word of your objective (trust me, this happens), you have to decide how to measure the key concepts that define the goal. For example, you need to decide what indicates terms such as user-friendliness, smart, easy to understand. Once you’ve decided on the indicators, then you can finally continue on and select the appropriate research method to acquire the data.

The practice of operationalism is a very tedious process, but it facilitates intersubjectivity between different groups of stakeholders. This will help ensure that everyone has a clear understanding what their goal is, how it is defined, how it will be measured, and ultimately, how it can be reached.

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