If you think evidence-based design and research-informed design are the same, you're not alone.
I decided to revisit this topic after reading an article about innovation by healthcare architect Sheila Cahnman that was posted on the Healthcare Design website a few weeks ago. In it, Sheila mentions that she considers evidence-based design to be research-informed design.
With all due respect to my smart and talented friend, the truth is that although the meaning and goals of evidence-based design and research-informed design are similar, their meaning is not the same. What confuses the matter even more is that design professionals and academics have different ideas on what is evidence and what is research.
I came to these conclusions a few years ago after reading an excellent article by Erin Peavey and Kiley Vander Wyst published in the HERD Journal in 2017.
All Evidence is Not Research
So, let's dig deeper into this. The Center for Health Design, which has led the evidence-based design movement in healthcare, defines evidence-based design as "the process of basing decisions about the built environment on credible research to achieve the best possible outcomes."
It's a good definition but the problem is (and maybe what causes confusion) that not all evidence is research.
In their article, Erin and Kiley explain that both evidence-based design and research-informed design use existing knowledge to inform design. But the difference is that research-informed design integrates new research as part of the design process. They wrote:
"When comparing evidence-based design and research-informed design, evidence-based design is a broad base of information types (evidence) that are narrowly applied (based), while the latter references a narrow slice of information (research) that is being broadly applied (informed) to create an end product of design."
A Better Definition of Evidence-based Design
Perhaps it's time for The Center for Health Design to revise its definition of evidence-based design.
Erin and Kiley came up with their own definition of evidence-based design as "the process of making decisions about the creation of an environmental design by critically and appropriately integrating the sum of available, credible evidence, practitioner design expertise, and client population needs, preferences, and resources, in the context of the project, in order to achieve project objectives."
It's kind of a mouthful, but does clarify things a bit -- and brings in some other important factors.
Their definition of research-informed design is "the process of applying credible research in integration with project-, client-, or population-specific empirical inquiry to inform the creation of environmental design and achieve project objectives."
HERD Journal founding co-editor Jaynelle Stichler explained the difference quite simply in a commentary published back in 2016. Evidence-based design design, she wrote, "uses multiple forms of evidence to guide decision-making, whereas research-informed design is limited to using published research studies."
There's so much more to digest in Erin and Kiley's article, including detailed definitions of evidence and research, a model case comparing the two processes, and critical attributes for evidence-based design and research-informed design. As they correctly point out, inconsistent use and misperception of terms are some of the main reasons people are confused about the two concepts.
If you aren't a HERD Journal subscriber, you can purchase individual copies of Erin and Kiley's article. And, you can access Jan's commentary on evidence-based design vs. research-informed design for free.
And check out one of my recent blog posts on evidence-based design: Why Many Use the Term Evidence-based Design Wrong.
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