Creating a Model World
In this exercise, participants go through a series of steps designed to help them develop a simplified conceptual model of their study system that will help them clarify and address their research question.
- Example Model Diagram - PDF, PPTX
- Download slides with steps
- Examples for practice
Focus on a clear, concise research question.
Identify the key outcome of interest for addressing your question. There may be multiple outcomes that you are interested in, but for now pick one primary outcome (such as the number of deaths per year, the incidence of infection, the presence or absence of the disease, etc).
Identify the processes that may affect the outcome of interest. This is a brainstorming step, and you should not worry about how important these processes are nor should you wrack your brain to make sure you identify every possible process that might be involved.
Identify relevant characteristics of individuals in your study system. These could be categorical (eg, male/female) or continuous (eg, age), and you should use your study question as a guide to the best way to describe continuous characteristics (eg, by exact age vs categories such as child/adult). This step is also a brainstorming step - write down whatever comes to mind.
Identify what you think are the most important processes and characteristics among those identified above for addressing your research question. If you are unable to select only a subset of the processes and characteristics identified, you are probably trying to understand too much all at once. Identify a smaller research question that will help inform the answer to your broad research question. For example, instead of asking how something occurs, you may pick a particular component that may be part of how something occurs and ask whether (and when) it can ever sufficiently explain the phenomenon of interest on its own.
Reconcile your process and characteristic lists by identifying how the most important processes relate to the most important characteristics. If you are missing any categories of individuals necessary to complete the important processes, or have categories that aren’t related to others through any of the listed processes, adjust your lists.
Construct a diagram that represents all of the individual characteristics and processes of interest. For your own purposes, you can use whatever graphical conventions work best for how you think about the system.
Hand draw or print a clean, clearly labeled version of your model diagram and bring it with you to tomorrow morning’s session.
- The physical (paper) version of your diagram, which you should bring with you tomorrow morning, should use solid arrows to represent the transitions from one category or state to another. Label all arrows into or out of a state with the rate for the process (per capita rates for arrows that leave a category; otherwise label with the total rate). Use dashed arrows (pointing to transitions, not states) to indicate influences of one state on the rate of transition from another state.
- If you use any letters or symbols in your diagram (chances are you will!), include a key that clearly state what each symbol/letter/abbreviation means.
- Be sure to include your research question on the page with the diagram.