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The desk research element plays a vital role within the strategic design research and intervention framework. Approaching from the angle of sense-making, imagination, and orientation, this early phase process is crucial for expanding the research spectrum, exploring the structural reality of problems, and deepening the research relevance. The benefits of this process are centered around divergent thinking, imagination, and exploration with curiosity. This element lays the groundwork for multiple other phases, such as horizon scanning, recalibration, or design principles.


The primary goal of this element is to broaden the research spectrum by identifying more interdependent aspects of the system, explore the structural reality of problems, and deepen the research relevance by leveraging the current state of the art in key areas of the challenge space.

Four lenses into desk research

  1. Building Bridges: Desk research is like building bridges across knowledge gaps. It connects isolated islands of information, making it possible to traverse from one idea to another, discovering new paths and relationships along the way.
  2. The Star Map: Just as astronomers use a star map to navigate the vast cosmos, desk research maps out the universe of knowledge. It identifies key celestial bodies (experts, key theories), traces constellations (research domains), and spots shooting stars (emerging trends).
  3. Unfolding the Origami: Desk research is like unfolding an origami figure. Each crease and fold represents an existing piece of research. As you unfold it, you see how it all connects, revealing a comprehensive view of the whole.
  4. Weaving a Knowledge Tapestry: Every piece of research information is like a thread. Desk research weaves these threads together, creating a rich tapestry that represents the current state of the art in a particular field of study.


  1. Identify Research Objectives: Clearly define the research objectives and areas of focus to guide the desk research process effectively.
  2. Deep Dive Exploration: Dive deep into each source, critically evaluating the content and extracting key insights, theories, models, and empirical evidence. Take comprehensive notes and annotations using tools like, a collaborative workspace, to capture and organize these insights systematically.
  3. Research Assistance: Chat GPT can serve as a virtual research assistant, providing quick access to information and helping with literature searches. Ask specific questions or request relevant articles, papers, or sources related to your research topic.
  4. Concept Exploration: Engage in conversational exploration with Chat GPT to delve deeper into complex concepts or theories. Discuss different perspectives, ask for explanations, and seek clarifications to enhance your understanding.
  5. Contextual Insights: Chat GPT can offer contextual insights and perspectives on specific research areas or domains. Discuss current trends, debates, or challenges within your field to gain a deeper understanding of the context and identify research gaps.
  6. Curate Sources: Use, a bookmarking tool, to capture and organize relevant online sources such as research papers, articles, reports, and websites. Collect a diverse range of sources from reputable academic journals, industry publications, think tanks, and other relevant platforms.
  7. Critique and Review: Seek feedback and critical evaluation of your research work from Chat GPT. Present your ideas, methodologies, or preliminary findings, and engage in a dialogue to identify strengths, weaknesses, or areas that require further refinement.
  8. Cross-Disciplinary Exploration: Chat GPT can provide insights from various disciplines and help bridge knowledge gaps between different fields. Engage in cross-disciplinary conversations to explore connections, discover relevant theories, or identify potential interdisciplinary collaborations.
  9. Synthesis and Analysis: Identify patterns, themes, and connections among the collected insights. Analyze the information to uncover gaps, discrepancies, or emerging trends. Apply a critical lens to ensure the reliability and validity of the synthesized knowledge.
  10. Systems Thinking: Adopt a systems thinking approach to understand the interdependencies and relationships among different concepts, disciplines, and stakeholders. Explore how these insights fit into the broader context of the challenge space.
  11. Database Creation: Build a comprehensive database using, organizing the distilled insights into categories, tags, or themes. Create a structured repository that allows for easy retrieval and sharing of information across the research team.
  12. Continual Updates: Regularly update the database with new findings, emerging research, and relevant trends to keep it up-to-date. Stay connected to academic and industry communities to remain informed about the latest knowledge developments.


The desk research element is relevant for all target audiences, providing specific benefits such as fostering curiosity and imagination essential for exploring complex problems. These benefits include expanded body of knowledge, bridging the gap between theory and practice, leveling up skills and understanding for designers, addressing complex challenges more effectively for NGOs, and driving strategic value and improved decision-making for corporate customers.

Implementation Tips

To successfully implement the desk research element within different contexts, consider the following guidelines: collaborate with interdisciplinary teams to ensure a comprehensive understanding; use AI deep dives, literature reviews, and expert interviews for efficient insight identification; regularly update and maintain the curated database for continued relevance and value; and be flexible and adaptable to suit the specific needs and objectives of different organizations or projects.