Research Philosophy and Process

The Expertise Management Methodology (EMM) is a broad applicable methodology to utilize each other’s expertise to make progress in problematic situations. Just like Soft Systems Methodology (SSM), EMM is a methodology, not a method. It can be regarded as a framework based on systems thinking and action research. Users are free to apply suitable methods and techniques for the problematic situation at hand, including quantitative methods. EMont is the foundation of EMM and is used to capture expertise in the form of human activity systems concisely and precisely.

More general information about research philosophies and the research onion of Saunders can be found in Research Philosophies.

Research Philosophy

Expertise Management Methodology (EMM) is rooted in systems thinking, especially soft systems thinking although there is also room for hard system approaches like System Dynamics and and critical systems thinking like Critical Systems Heuristics. However, unlike SSM, which can be regarded as an interpretive approach in which human actors or stakeholders construct their own interpretation of the world, EMM favors Critical Realism (CR) (R. Bhaskar, 1 januari 1989). CR assumes a systemic reality that exhibits causal relations between entities. EMont is used to make these causal relations between entities explicit. But at the same time, CR acknowledges that human actors give meaning to problematic situations, which corresponds to worldviews in soft systems thinking. Systems thinking and CR are closely related as discussed in Systems Thinking, Critical Realism and Philosophy (John Mingers, 1 januari 2015).

In our experience, stakeholders find it difficult to share ideas about abstract issues such as community resilience in general. Therefore, the starting point for investigation is always a concrete problematic situation. This is what we call a case study. A case study is explored in line with the SSM process steps. By means of abduction (L. Magnani, 1 januari 2001), a generalized EMont model is devised that explains the phenomenon in the case study best. Typically, the model will not give all the answers, that is, there are blank spots and assumptions. These are taken as a direction to further explore problematic situations by means of additional case studies typically resulting in a refined and adapted EMont model.

Abduction process.

Abduction can be regarded as a mixture of induction and deduction, but less strict and more geared towards innovations. This befits Expertise Management where we explore new ways to utilize stakeholders’ expertise to make progress in wicked problems. Abduction is a cyclic process in which a Body of Knowledge and Skills (BoKS) is constructed and refined systematically.


The concept of situation is central in Expertise Management Methodology (EMM). A situation contains actors who perform activities to achieve goals. Usually, it is possible to formulate a shared goal in an abstract sense. The way to achieve the goal, however, might differ because of differences in worldviews and specific, individual concerns. For instance, in the community resilience domain, we strive for a resilient community populated by individuals willing and capable of helping each other in case of disturbances. An individual is part of the community and is supposed to support the community, and in return the community supports an individual. This situation is problematic in the sense that it is often not clear what is expected from each other, and some individuals are free riders, not willing to support the community at all but do rely on the services provided by the community. With EMM, a structured process is provided to address such problematic situations. Basically, the process steps of SSM are followed, but again EMM is a methodology in which the process can be adapted to one’s own liking. SSM recognizes four steps, which are not necessarily performed in the given order. These steps are adapted for EMM purposes as follows:

  • finding out (conversations with stakeholders);
  • model building (constructing EMont models);
  • discussing and debating (interpreting EMont models);
  • taking action (building a Body of Knowledge and Skills (BoKS)).

However, it should be kept in mind that the EMM process has a broader scope than in SSM. The goal is to construct a BoKS in a particular domain following an abduction cycle of induction and deduction. This results in knowledge and skills structures in the form of EMont models. In contrast with SSM, different worldviews are retained showing how things can be done and why in particular situations. The objective is to describe good practices, or bad practices to be avoided, borrowing ideas from potentially more than one worldview. Developing a BoKS in terms of practices, either good or bad, is the counterpart of the SSM process steps of accommodating worldviews and taking action.


The keyword here is understanding. This is the reason why an engagement in a conversation with a stakeholder is preferred over conducting an interview because the goal is to find out the stakeholder’s beliefs and assumptions of what is, or ought to be, going on in a situation. This approach differs from the more traditional closed or semi-structured interview using standard questions and a topic list, although there is nothing wrong by being prepared in this way. The purpose is to delve deep in how a stakeholder perceives a situation in order to really understand it.

EMont elements can be used to guide a conversation and to analyze it afterwards. In particular the PQR-formula is of use since this formula helps probing into the stakeholder’s beliefs, desires and intentions. By internalizing EMont elements, and having background information at hand (e.g., a topic list), the right questions can be asked. Because EMont elements can be applied recursively, there is always a next question to be asked. For instance, the PQR formula distinguishes between the “what” and the “how”, but by digging deeper, a “how” becomes a “what” for more specific “hows” at a next, deeper level.

By guiding a conversation in this way, the task of coding a conversation afterwards becomes trivial since it can be done with the same EMont elements. A coded conversation as such can be translated directly into a EMont model. The resulting EMont model is used to get feedback from the stakeholder for verification and validation purposes. For some stakeholders, an EMont model might be to technical for their liking. If that is the case, a rich picture can be used as an alternative to model the situation in a more appealing way.

Besides EMont elements, other techniques can be applied in a guided conversation as well. For instance, the technique of rich pictures can be used to visually structure and to enrich a worldview in the course of a conversation. A particularly useful technique is the 12/24 boundary questions of Critical Systems Heuristics (CSH). CSH sharpens a worldview by focusing on second-order observation to investigate the viewpoints taken, that is how the stakeholder looks rather than what a stakeholder sees.

Practical hints and tips are given in the Facilitator Guide to engage in a conversation with a stakeholder.


Some researchers dismiss the guiding conversation or narrative approach as non-scientific on grounds of its N=1, non-repeatable characteristics. They are right from a positivist point of view (see Research Philosophies). However, the goal is not to find universal truths in a social domain using the scientific method, which is often equated with positivism. It can be questioned whether such truths exist in the first place. The scientific method applied in a social domain can be summarized as: for you, but not with you. The goal of Expertise Management Methodology (EMM) is to find a mutual understanding in often complex situations, typically with disagreement over worldviews. Disagreement is not something to shy away from, on the contrary, it is an important stimulant for questioning one’s own worldview.

Interpretation is about the mutual understanding of stakeholder’s viewpoints. By conducting guided conversations, nuanced viewpoints of a situation are established. The viewpoints are expressed in EMont models - or alternatively, in rich pictures or any other suitable modeling technique – to serve as a base for interpretation by stakeholders in the form of a dialog. Not only the directly involved stakeholders can join the dialog, but also professionals, researchers, and experience experts. This approach can be characterized as: for you, and with you. So, the N=1 approach of a guided conversation is broadened to N=many by means of a mutual understanding of a situation involving many stakeholders and experts.

Statement: Research approach must be “for you, and with you”, instead of “for you, but not with you”.

Aspect: Cultural Identity, Principle: Determine the right direction, Principle page: Principles and Ground Rules

Statement page Statement
Investigating Identity Group identity refers to a person’s sense of belonging to a particular group.
Research Philosophy and Process Research approach must be “for you, and with you”, instead of “for you, but not with you”.

Principles, aspects and statements overview

Again, the main goal is not to accommodate worldviews per se, but rather to find a mutual understanding of worldviews. However, a mutual understanding might lead to accommodation as a spin-off, but this cannot be guaranteed because stakeholders may still disagree, or a particular accommodation is vetoed by someone in power. The social theory of a sustainable, collaborative learning society describes a process to overcome situations in which an acceptable compromise for all involved is out of the question.