On the basis of the methodologically founded concept of participatory, socio-scientific (futures) research that has been presented so far, we can arrive at some specific reflections about the methodology of this specific research strategy.
Scientific data collection during the course of future-oriented planning and development processes
With the help of case studies from the category of participatory futures research, it is possible to trace the course of a (future-oriented) project or perhaps even of a series of projects. At the same time, it is also possible to shed light upon the interplay of a variety of factors. As is generally known, knowledge and information about the respective object of research are acquired in close connection with the future-oriented course of practice. Data acquired in this manner includes empirical evaluation material from the respective project context (e.g., analysis of future-oriented needs and/or requirements, results of future-oriented workshops or conferences, etc.) as well as knowledge, based on which or in comparison with which project-oriented evaluation and empirical data can be assessed or interpreted in a theory-guided manner (e.g., data obtained from the analysis of literature, theoretical knowledge, everyday knowledge and/or corporate know-how of the practitioners involved in the action process, etc.).
When applying empirical and hermeneutic methods of socio-scientific work, it must not be forgotten that none of the research methods are scientific “inventions”. They originate from everyday life and are mere improvements and/or clarifications of day-to-day actions (questioning, observing, comprehending, interpreting, describing, measuring, comparing, etc.). The author of the present article holds the well-founded opinion that, in principle, both in futures research and in participatory practice research (action research) all known and tried-and-tested empirical and hermeneutic research methods from the area of the “variable-configurative research strategy” (see above) can be used. It is futile seeking for an “independent” methodology of futures research or action research [2, p 21].
With regard to all manifestations of participatory research, a clear distinction should be made between research methods and intervention methods capable of changing current practice (including methods of moderation, activation and promotion of communication).
Notes on splitting the research process into phases
In connection with the processes of participatory futures research, it should be taken into account that the research part as well as the practice part naturally bring about changes in the conditions to be examined, resulting in a modified ACTUAL status after every research phase which then forms the starting point for further critical reflection and/or for the planning and implementation of innovation processes. Participatory (futures) research is thus an iterative process. Each of these consecutive research and/or development phases constitutes the following research steps:
Phase 1: evaluation, critical-reflexive analysis and definition of the ACTUAL status
Evaluation and description of the ACTUAL status
The empirical (and project-history related) evaluation and/or empirical material (including the contexts of justification that are based on scientific and/or everyday theories and used in the respective project) should portray as accurate a picture of the current development status of the respective examined practice context as possible. After the evaluation process is complete, the documentation material in question must be discussed, and perhaps modified, by researchers and practitioners together.
Critical-reflexive analysis of the ACTUAL status
The researchers consolidate theory-guided knowledge, based on which or in comparison with which the respective practice-oriented evaluation and empirical data was or is critically-reflexively interpreted or analysed.
Discursive evaluation of the ACTUAL status
After this consolidation of knowledge, a critical-reflexive evaluation and definition of the ACTUAL status occurs as part of the discourse between researchers and practitioners.
Phase 2: critical-reflexive analysis and definition of the TARGET status
As long as researchers who assist in projects possess adequate, scientifically founded know-how about the respective field-specific development tendencies, it is possible to deduce quite a large number of plausible future developments or “futures” from the critical-reflexive evaluation of the ACTUAL status of the examined practice context and perhaps to portray them in the form of scenarios.
In the planning-oriented discourse with practitioners assisting in the respective project context, the subset of desired and feasible innovations, which is relevant for concrete planning, is filtered out from the total number of plausible future developments (scenarios). The documentation of arguments and criteria that are relevant for taking a decision is incumbent on the researchers as part of the discourse process.
Clarification and definition of objective
As the next step, the respective project-relevant innovation objectives must, in close cooperation between researchers and practitioners, be clarified in as concrete and operationalised a manner as possible and then defined.
Graphic description of the required TARGET status
Subsequently, the development status of the respective project context which is to be expected at the end of the respective medium-term planning period should, in close cooperation between researchers and practitioners, be described graphically and in as much detail as possible.
Phase 3: implementation planning
In the conflict between the ACTUAL-TARGET comparison, the interventions needed for the innovation-oriented development from the ACTUAL status to the TARGET status are analysed action-theoretically and defined and planned in close cooperation with practitioners (“implementation planning”).
Future-oriented research projects must, by definition, exclude the execution of planned intervention(s), i.e., in a stricter sense, exclude implementation (with the exception of the occasional, initial implementation steps).
Phase 4: process and product evaluation
Owing to this future-oriented perspective, process evaluation is limited to the phase of evaluating the ACTUAL status up to implementation planning, where the iterative character of the project development planned for the (medium-term) future should be taken into consideration to the extent required.
Product evaluation and/or impact analysis is therefore limited to implementation planning and/or at best to a (naturally speculative) assumption about the impacts.
The huge amount of data that is obtained at the most varied data levels during the course of participatory (futures) research projects constitutes a fundamental problem of this research approach.
Often enough, an incalculable number of “data graveyards” were and are created as a result of such R&D projects. In addition to the obvious need to carefully consider what data is really necessary for the respective research context, structuring the data material that is accumulated during the project in a manner that is both practical and suitable to the object of research becomes absolutely essential.
The instruments for data structuring, whose features must be conceived in the initial phase of a research project and further developed during the course of the project, are related to the analysis of innovation processes on the one hand and the analysis of the conditions system (of the ACTUAL and TARGET status) on the other.
Due to space constraints, these important research-technical problems can only be touched upon briefly here.