Open Thinkering


TB872: ‘Method’ vs ‘Methodology’

Note: this is a post reflecting on one of the modules of my MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice. You can see all of the related posts in this category.

DALL-E 3 created abstract image that visually represents the concept of method and methodology, particularly in the context of gardening. This image aims to illustrate the blend of practical gardening actions (method) with the underlying philosophical approaches (methodology), capturing the essence of both tangible actions and intangible, conceptual thinking.

I’m not sure, but I reckon I’ve been someone who’s been guilty of using ‘method’ when I’ve meant ‘methodology’ (and vice-versa). From the course materials:

Method and methodology are sometimes used interchangeably, although it is not advisable to do so. Method means a way of teaching or proceeding, derived from the Greek méthodos, meaning pursuit, or to follow after. It commonly means any special procedure or way of doing things (see Ison, 2017). From this the adjective methodic or methodical, arises, meaning something done according to a method. In research and practice fields, there is often confusion between method and methodology. Methodology means the logos, or logic of method. Another way of saying this is the philosophy or theory that informs selection and implementation of method.

The example that’s used in the course materials is a little outdated: using a street directory to work out where a friend lives, and then successfully navigating to their house. The means by which you use it to navigate is the method. The choice of using that approach rather than another is the methodology. In other words, methodology “the philosophy or theory that informs selection and implementation of method”.

A more timeless, less technological example might come from gardening. You might employ a method for selecting suitable plants for your garden based on factors like climate, soil type, and sunlight exposure. But the underlying methodology might be because you’re trying to make your garden more resilient to drought, or increase biodiversity (or both!)

As a side note, there’s a paragraph in the course materials that talks about how satellite navigation has done away with the need for street directories. Similarly, as someone who’s done a Mountain Leader course, there’s always talk about the relationship between manual and technology-mediated navigation.

What this brings home to me is that, in every situation that matters, you should have more than one method in your toolkit, which means you can select the correct methodology for the context.

Image: DALL-E 3

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