Hi @rjs! I’ve been following your latest Twitter threads. Very interested in this pre-shape phase as I do a bit of it myself. As I am terrible at Twitter, my thoughts here:
My first went to fencing. I imagined myself putting up fence posts, trying to corral a wild stallion or bull. One post has no value, but it marks your start. Two posts just makes a line, also useless but now you have an initial sense of scale. Get to three, you finally have an outline. Triangulation is a term I saw in one Twitter response.
If your problem space is hilly vs. flat, you start to see the fence posts from different angles as you move around. It may change your view of the problem, and reveal some fence posts are in the wrong place, or uncover new areas of land obscured from view.
Each fence post is an insight from research. Put down enough fence posts, connect the dots, and eventually you get the silhouette/outline/boundaries/edges of the problem. Your shaped work will happen somewhere inside this fenced-in area.
My second thought was a microscope, focusing. When you first throw a slide under the microscope, it’s just a big blur. You start turning the knob and it stays fuzzy, then all of a sudden you start see forms emerge. But if you still don’t see anything, but you may have to move the slide around. Or change the power of your lens to get more detail.
If the slide content is thick (e.g. a thick problem vs. thin), you’ll be looking at different layers of the content, each with a slightly different view of the problem. With enough twiddling of the knob back and forth, you get to “see the problem” in focus. The stronger the magnification, the more you see.
I like the term forging, because the allusion to heat, energy and mental labor is appropriate for meaningful qualitative research. In the literal sense, though, I struggle with the analogy because the output of forging is often a finished, immutable tool like a sword, which feels more like a solution than a problem.
Thanks for setting up this forum. Never would’ve been able to squish this into 280 characters. =) Best of luck as you continue to think through this.