Utilizing a logic model to identify clinical research problems: a lesson from philosophy of science
Cynthia R Collins
School of Nursing, College of Social Sciences, Loyola University, New Orleans, LA, USA
Abstract: Communication and decision making in the health care workplace often involve finding solutions to ill-structured problems in uncertain, dynamic environments influenced by the competing interests of multiple stakeholders. In this environment, doctoral-prepared nurses who practice as administrators, policy makers, or advanced practice practitioners are often compelled to make important decisions based upon evaluating the merit of colleagues’ proposals against some desired organizational or population outcome. Of equal importance is the nurse leader’s own capacity to construct a compelling argument or proposal that will drive the organization forward to meet the evolving needs for quality health care. Where do we learn the skills necessary to foster this kind of critical thinking in our professional communications? The author suggests that one teaching–learning approach can be found through the thoughtful application of the work of British philosopher Steven Toulmin. Toulmin defined a model for both the analysis and derivation of logical arguments or proposals that can be readily learned and applied for use in health care systems. This model posits that a substantive argument or claim can be evaluated based on the assumptions it presumes (warrants) and the strength of the evidence base (backing). Several of the social science professions have adapted Toulmin’s model to generate analysis and creative solutions to complex or emergent problems. The author proposes that an application of this model be included in the pedagogy of doctoral level Philosophy of Science or Nursing Theory courses. The Toulmin process often provides the doctoral student or novice researcher with their first real learning experience in defining the scope and inherent challenges of framing a clinical issue to be the focus of their scholarly translational projects. Several illustrations, which were eventually researched and further developed for capstone scholarly projects, are presented as exemplars of this process.
Keywords: Toulmin, argument, research process, hypothesis formation, nursing education
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