Why Replication Matters In Healthcare Design Research
Maybe you’ve heard about the latest research scandal of a retracted paper in the journal Science. It was a fascinating study about changing minds, and I heard an interview with the study team on the radio show This American Life one Saturday while doing errands. As a researcher, it was one of those parking lot moments where you sit in the car because it’s just such an amazing story—and about research!
Unfortunately what sounded too good to be true probably was, and one of the study co-authors ended up contacting the editors of the journal to ask for a retraction. He had been delivered some pretty sobering information about some “irregularities” in the study that were discovered by another research team.
So what’s the point? More and more, we are drawn to the big wow story, at the peril of losing all of the small steps it takes to create a body of knowledge.
Here’s what happened: The original peer-reviewed paper was published in December 2014, and some graduate researchers, also amazed by the study, wanted to take it to the next level. They contacted the authors of the paper, who responded to questions. But before they started building on the concept, they first wanted to replicate the results. That’s when things started to go awry.
The graduate researchers weren’t getting anything close to what the initial study reported, and a closer look started to expose some difficulties.
An underpinning of research is replicability, which allows us to validate findings. To then be generalizable, different researchers should be able to use the same protocol on a different group of people, or a different setting, and come up with similar results.
It’s why research gets documented the way it does. What was the methodology? Who were the participants? This was the aim of the second set of researchers who were excited about the opportunities to test another issue. Unfortunately, replication seems to be the poor step-child of research and is often overlooked or considered less interesting.
Especially in the healthcare design field where replication seems to be sparse, maybe we need to find a place or a new kind of report that provides the opportunity to share findings and get a better handle on what we really do and don’t know.
People often ask The Center for Health Design what they should research, where is the biggest gap. Our first response has to do with aligning research with strategic goals and other organizational initiatives. Someone has to care about it internally, or it just won’t happen.
But, there’s an underlying theme to the question: People want to break new ground and study what hasn’t been done before. This is important when there’s so much we don’t know in healthcare facility design, but there’s also power in replicating what others have done.
We all want to do the next big thing, but sometimes, a bigger and better thing is to do the same thing—again … and again.