Monday, 12 January 2015

Helping School Research Leads Ask Better Questions Part Three - The CIMO Format

In my last two posts I have looked at how the PICO format, which has been borrowed from evidence-based medicine, can help school research leads help colleagues ask well formulated and answerable questions.  In this post I will explore a similar approach,  
developed by Denyer & Tranfield (2009) for use in a social science or organisational context.  Denyer and Tranfield argue that well-crafted review questions need to take into both the organisational context and the relationship between an intervention and an outcome.  Adapting the work of (Pawson, 2006),  Denyer and Tranfield have developed a structured and contextual approach to developing an answerable question (CIMO) and which provides a better focus on both the context and the mechanism(s) by which change is brought about.

What is CIMO?
CIMO is an acronym for the the components of a well-formulated question for use in a social science or organisational context.

C — Context. Which individuals, relationships, institutional settings, or wider systems are being studied?

I — Intervention. The effects of what event, action, or activity are being studied?

M — Mechanisms. What are the mechanisms that explain the relationship between interventions and outcomes? Under what circumstances are these mechanisms activated or not activated?

O — Outcomes. What are the effects of the intervention? How will the outcomes be measured? What are the intended and unintended effects?
Denyer and Tranfield provide a worked example of a question framed with these components: 

“Under what conditions (C) does leadership style (I) influence the performance of project teams (O), and what mechanisms operate in the influence of leadership style (I) on project team performance (O)?” (Denyer and Tranfied, 2009 p 682)

Educational Examples
Using these elements it is now possible to frame answerable questions, several examples of which can be found below.

Under what circumstances does a further education college middle manager’s leadership style influence the academic performance of students, and what are the mechanisms of middle management leadership style which affect student performance (adapted from (Denyer & Tranfield, 2009)

Under what conditions does re-taking GCSE English provide an effective mechanism for developing 16 year old full-time further education students’ English skills, where those students previously achieved a grade D?  What are the processes associated with re-sitting GCSE English which affect English skills 

Is the use of flipped learning an effective mechanism for engaging  full-time 16 year old level one further education college students effective in reducing the risk of non-attendance, where there has previously been a history of non-attendance in school.  
What are the mechanisms of flipped learning which affect student attendance.

Under what circumstance are graded lesson observations effective in improving lecturers teaching where those teachers have previously been judged to be inadequate or requiring improvement, and what are the mechanisms of graded lesson observation which affect teacher performance.

So what are benefits of using CIMOs and phrasing questions in such a manner?
A number of benefits spring immediately to mind:
  1. CIMO provides a framework for formulating problems in a structured manner, and the very process of developing the question promotes understanding of the issue at hand.
  2. By formulating questions in this manner is that subsequently provides the basis for undertaking a systematic review and in particular provides guidance as to what literature to review and the data to be considered.
  3. CIMOs provide  a basis for allowing researchers/bloggers and tweeters to attempt to agree the question to which they are trying to contribute.
In future posts I will consider how school research leads can help colleagues critically appraise the relevant literature and produce critically appraisal of various topics.

Denyer, D., & Tranfield, D. 2009. Producing a systematic review. In D. Buchanan, & A. Bryman (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of organizational research methods: 671-689. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
Pawson, R. 2006. Evidence-based policy : A realist perspective. London: Sage Publications.


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