And as suggested by Andersen (2013), academia and practice need to develop a reciprocal relationship. It's a cycle; academia needs to provide accessible, actionable research that is published in places visited by practice. That allows the practice to advance, which provides future research opportunity for academia. The cycle continues, and both academia and practice benefit.
The question of the research question, necessary for research, also plays a role in this cycle. Rude (2009) describes how a research question arises from a rhetorical exigence (an urgency) and the anticipation of possible solutions. So in conducting research on usability in open source software, we shouldn't simply evaluate existing systems, but also explore possible variations and improvements to those systems.
Therefore, as I plan my research, I want to ensure that my work will support and advance usability in open source software. That's the reciprocal relationship.
I want to expand my previous research on GNOME usability. In a video chat a few weeks ago, GNOME designer Allan Day described GNOME's new design patterns, which they are working to integrate in a future GNOME version. I might explore these new design patterns—so my research question is probably along the lines of "How well do users navigate/understand/… the new design patterns in GNOME?" A practical approach to this research question would be to measure the success/impact of these design patterns on typical behavior/activities. And usability can be measured; it is a quantitative practice. One analytical method is to generate a "heat map" that demonstrates the relative ease or difficulty in accomplishing certain scenarios or actions.
Day suggested a list of GNOME applications that use the new design patterns concept. I might use any of these in my usability test:
- Gedit (development version only)
One way to explore the research question would be to conduct a usability test against prototypes (functional or on-paper) of the updated applications, using the new design patterns. By testing several applications that use the same or similar design patterns, the results might identify areas where the design patterns work well vs where they do not work well. These results would inform future GNOME design and development (reciprocal relationship).