Sunday, 2 July 2017

The school research lead and the FINER questions in life

In last week's blog we looked at how school research leads could help colleagues answer  So What questions. i.e.  Does your question really matter? What would happen if we didn’t answer your question?  Would it make a difference to the life chances of pupils or the well-being of colleagues?  Hopefully colleagues will now have given you a range of different questions that they wish to be answered. Unfortunately, - given competing demands for attention and resources - you will only be able support colleagues answer a relatively small number of these questions.  So in this post, we will look at a couple of ways of trying the prioritise the questions that matter.  We will then seek to answer the question, why it is important to take the time to formulate questions clearly?

How to ask the most appropriate question?

Straus et al (2011) have suggested a series of filters which could be used to identify the most appropriate question to ask in a particular situation.  I have adapted the suggested filters so they can be easily transferred to the setting of a school.

       Which questions, if answered, will be most useful for your pupils/students/learners' well being academic or personal?
       Which questions will be most useful for your subject leaders, heads of department in gaining a better understanding of the issues at hand?
       Which questions will be most useful in helping to improve the department, school or college?
        Which questions is are most likely to re-occur and will need to be revisited in the future
      Which question is most interesting to your as an evidence-based practitioner and contribute most to your personal professional development?

The FINER questions in life

Alternatively you may wish to use the FINER mnemonic developed by (Hulley et al., 2013) to help you think through what are the most important questions to answer.

  •       Feasibility are there sufficient resources, be it capacity and capability – to adequately answer the question
  •       I: Interesting : Is the question interesting to those given the task of researching the answer to the question.
  •       N: Novel Is this a recurring problem/question or something which is new to the school and may become an on-going issue
  •       E: Ethical Have ethical issues been identified and considered 
  •       R: Relevant is it relevant to the school and is going to influence school policy and practice
And some final words

Being able to develop well formulated and answerable questions is a fundamental skill for an evidence-based practitioner.  However, for school research leads - it's not enough to be able to helping to well formulated questions, you will also need to be able identify those questions that really matter to the school and should be supported with time, attention and resources.


Hulley, S. B., Cummings, S. R., Browner, W. S., Grady, D. G., & Newman, T. B. (2013). Designing clinical research: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Straus, S., Glasziou, P., Richardson, S., & Haynes, B. (2011). Evidence-based medicine: how to practice and teach it. (Fourth Edition). Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone: Elsevier.

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