Discover more from Known Unknowns
Before we get all excited from the title of this post, I’m not here to talk about our daydreams, or the things we do in our ‘personal time’.
Instead, we’re going to talk about the optimistic lies we tell ourselves - our fantasies about the way we wish the world to be, and what that means for research.
Not too long ago…
A while back I was working at a consultancy as a researcher on a project that involved helping people improve credit scores. There was an interest from the client in creating a tool that would help people grow their score from bad to good.
But as we started the research for the project, we learned that
people have no clue what goes into a credit score (see below)
they didn’t understand the implications of an improved credit score.
In essence, we had dreamed up a fantasy about what people wanted that simply didn’t reflect people’s actions and attitudes in reality.
COVID-19 has become one of the most polarizing issues since… well probably whatever we were talking about immediately before the pandemic.
Some people (such as myself) are very concerned about the virus and have made major behaviour changes to avoid getting, and subsequently spreading, the virus. In Canada, where I live, we have had a relatively low caseload and low transmission rates. That is, until October.
In response, the province of Ontario has instituted local, and now provincial-wide lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus. Yet, cases have continued to rise. How can this be?
This tweet provides some answers 👇
That’s right, while Toronto and the surrounding areas were in lockdown, more people from lockdown areas shopped at Halton malls than local Halton residents. But surely, our leaders are setting a better example?
Let’s turn to Dr. Tom Stewart, head of Ontario’s largest hospital network and part of the provinces COVID19 Advisory Committee for more.
How it started 👇
How it’s going 👇
Dozens of Canadian politicians at the provincial and federal level, from all parties, have had their winter-holiday international travel exposed leading to resignations, half-hearted apologies, and some truly extraordinary tweets.
Like this one from the Ontario NDP, who shared a video of a provincial minister calling into a meeting from the Caribbean! You can hear the ocean in the background!!!
Lockdowns, in name only
So what does all this mean? And how does this related to research?
As researchers, we often say that we “represent the user”. This is incorrect. We aren’t supposed to represent the user, we are supposed to represent reality.
This is often very difficult as reality rarely corresponds nicely with the beliefs and aspirations of the teams we work with. However, it is critical to outline what is true about our reality, and where our hopes and beliefs about the world do not coincide.
The reality of our COVID19 situation in Canada is that there will be no more lockdowns. Or at least, there will be no mass compliance with lockdown orders, be that among the populace or our political leaders.
That means that our choices as individuals, and our policy prescriptions, must change. They should be based on the reality that most people will not comply. Interventions should probably focus more on things individuals can do to protect themselves and their families, and identifying and interfering with potential super-spreader events.
This is a depressing truth, but it is our reality. And as researchers, reality and not idealistic fantasies is what we need to represent.