Validated Methodological Operationism: Improve Analytics by Validating Your Operations

Many measured processes can be improved by validating your process operations.  This is true whether your are talking about business, experimental, or educational processes.

A New View Of Operationism

Interesting read on operationism by Uljana Feest – (2005)  Operationalism in Psychology: What the Debate is About, What the Debate Should Be About [Journal of the History of Behavioral Sciences, 41(2) 131-149].

The basic gist: Psychologist’s historical use of operationalism was methodological rather the positivist (even though they may have referenced positivism for philosophical cover).  So criticizing operationism using positivist arguments is somewhat misguided, but operations can be criticized through validation arguments.

What does Feest mean by a methodological reading of operationism?

. . . I mean that psychologists did not intend to say, generally, what constitutes the meaning of a scientific term.  . . . in offering operational definitions, scientists were partially and temporarily specifying their usage of certain concepts by saying what kind of empirical indicators they took to be indicative of the referents of the concepts (p. 133).

She concludes by saying:

. . . the debate should then be about what are adequate concepts and how (not whether) to operationalize them, and how (not whether) to validate them (p.146).

So any debate about operationism is really about constructs and their validation.  Within this framework, I will list 4 specific types of operationism.

Positivists, Empirist Operationism

This idea can be represented by Percy Bridgman’s original conception of operationsim

in general, we mean by a concept nothing more than a set of operations; the concept is synomonous with the corresponding set of operations (Bridgeman, P.[1927]. The logic of Modern Physics, Macmillan:NY. p.5).

The biggest problem with this approach is that any set of operations can never be said to exhaust the entirety of meaning in any construct, a position that is also supported by cognitive psychology’s understanding of cognitive processes in the meaning and use of concepts (Andersen, H., Barker, P & Chen, X. (2006). The Cognitive Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Cambridge University Press).

Methodological Operationism

The idea that operations are the empirical indicators of the construct (Feest).

Naive Pragmatic Operationism

Regardless with how you conceive of a construct, within any measured process, no matter if that process is an experimental, business or any other process that is controlled by measures, those measurement operations are methodologically defining that construct in the function of that process.  If you throw any measure in place without determining how and why you are using that measure, you are operating in the same fashion as any operationists in the positivist empiricist mode and you are subject to the same kinds of problems.  Garbage in = garbage out; this is the real potential problem with this approach.  There are many business process that do not meet their expectations and those problems can be traced back to poor quality measurements whose construct are not appropriately operationalized.

Validated Methodological Operationism

This represents measured processes whose operations are clear and whose quality and validity has been adequately evaluated.


Feest references the gap between qualitative and quantitative research as being about operationism.  I believe this is incorrect.  Operationism is about construct validity (unified theory).  Criticism of qualitative research is usually about research validity (a different validity) and the value of different research purposes.

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