Rapid calibration is a vital element within the strategic design research framework. This process is often used during the early phase of research, leveraging an existing database of signals, trends, and insights or directly in the field to make sense of the challenge space in immersion.
The process of rapid calibration is fundamentally about anchoring our understanding to a specific contextual reality, thereby creating a well-defined reference point for the unfolding research journey. The term “contextual reality” emphasizes that the understanding or perspective is calibrated to a specific set of circumstances rather than being abstract or generalized.
It requires an examination of where we stand, what we know and what remains unknown or ambiguous at this stage. This process serves to synchronize the collective understanding of all stakeholders involved, aligning them to a shared perceptual baseline regarding the challenge space.
It essentially acts as a bridge for transitioning from a nebulous understanding to a more structured and nuanced comprehension of the given context. The central goal of the rapid calibration process often means to effectively make use of early notes and existing database of signals, trends and early insights. This alignment is crucial for establishing a cohesive direction for the research and intervention phases that follow and to start identifying gaps among various stakeholders.
Four lenses into rapid calibration
- Pilot’s pre-flight check: Rapid calibration is similar to the pilot’s pre-flight check. Just as a pilot inspects the aircraft systems, fuel, and weather conditions before takeoff, this process assesses the signals, trends, and insights to ensure the research journey is prepared for any situation.
- Tuning an orchestra: In an orchestra, each instrument must be tuned to the same standard for the ensemble to produce harmonious music. Similarly, rapid calibration ensures that all stakeholders are “tuned” to the same understanding, aligning their perceptions and expectations of the challenge space.
- Navigating a ship through fog: Rapid calibration helps in navigating the ship (the research process) through foggy waters (uncertainties, gaps in understanding). It assists in avoiding hidden rocks (blind spots) and ensures the ship arrives at its destination (goals of the research).
- Briefing after reconnaissance: Just like scouts returning from reconnaissance and giving a debrief to the troops, the process allows stakeholders to share and understand what’s been observed in the challenge space, adjusting their plans accordingly.
The methodological approach used within this element is rooted in several academic disciplines, including design research, systems thinking and collaborative sense-making. By leveraging a curated database filled with an abundance of signals, trends, and insights, the process provides a comprehensive and collaborative framing of the current state of understanding of the challenge space. This includes a complete picture of the available information and a systems map of the people, topics and categories involved at that particular stage of the project (often the start).
Collaborative sense-making: Welcome a diverse range of cognitive preferences and foster an environment fertile to collaboration where stakeholders feel invited and rewarded for sharing insights and perspectives.
- Quality conversation: rely on active listening to ensure a thorough understanding and consideration of the varied perspectives presented. Implement reflexivity to acknowledge and address the inherent biases and assumptions that may emerge during these dialogues.
- Acknowledging politically situated nature: Recognize and discuss the research’s political dimensions and the researchers’ positions. Engage in discussions that consider the relationships between the social, technological, economic, environmental and political factors influencing the challenge space.
- Comprehensive framing: Facilitate the framing of the current understanding of the challenge space. Use visual tools such as mindmaps and sketching to lay out the early categories, themes, their relations and particularities.
- Care for the unknown: Embrace uncertainties by acknowledging and exploring what is unknown. Encourage stakeholders to share their questions and concerns and create a safe space for navigating the unknown together.
- Identifying gaps and blind spots: Engage in a critical discussion to identify gaps and blind spots to help iterate and inform the need for exploring new tracks.
The rapid calibration process is critical for bridging gaps in understanding and assumptions among stakeholders in the design thinking landscape. Particularly useful at the beginning of projects, this method can be used at any stage to address emerging or persistent alignment challenges. This rapid session proves valuable when there is a perceived lack of common ground—diverging perspectives, unidentified opportunities, or differing paths forward.
Its key advantages are multifaceted, saving time and swiftly aligning all involved parties. The benefits of this approach extend to increasing the quality of research by providing a refined understanding of the challenge space, informing design through more comprehensive context analysis and enabling more effective decision-making.