Importance Of Conceptualization In Social Research

When conducting research, it is very important that there be a unified understanding of key concepts, or variables. This is very important when conducting research because the researcher could be discussing a concept, in the context of their understanding, whereas others outside of the study, the audience, may have a completely different understanding of that concept. Differences in the understanding of these key concepts will render the research invalid and unreliable. For example, if I wanted to count the number of families in a certain area, what the audience might classify as a family may be completely different than what the research team classifies as a family. And then, you have discrepancies in the research.

The purpose of this image is to show the many different family forms that not everyone may classify as a "family"

Do you consider all of these forms a family? Maybe you do, but someone else might not. Vice Versa.  

Conceptualization is the process in which the researchers identify key concepts used in the research and provide a unified explanation of those concepts so that both the research team and the audience is on the same page. This process of conceptualization is important when coming up with your research question and survey questions. Let’s think in terms of The Tiny Children’s Garden. Our hypothesis is that by building an accessible garden in the Washington Park community, we believe that there will be an increase in community involvement in environmental participation. But what if we, as researchers, have a different understanding of accessibility or community involvement in environmental participation than others and have applied our understanding to the research? Then, what if we took our understanding of these key concepts and used that to come up with our survey questions? Those being surveyed wouldn’t be answering the questions based on your understanding of the key concepts, but based on their own understanding of the key concepts. Our research would lose its validity and reliability, as it’s not good enough to use your own conceptualization of a concept, while assuming others conceptualize the concept in the same way. The process of conceptualization ensures that the research team and the audience are on the same page when it comes to understanding these key concepts.

Questions to consider….

  1. Why is the process of conceptualization so important in social research?
  2. What negative consequences could we face if we do not conceptualize key concepts in our research?
  3. What other terms might we want to conceptualize when conducting our community based participatory research?