8 Rogerian Research Methods

The Science of Unitary Human Beings 2.0

Howard Butcher

Research is the bedrock of nursing practice (Butcher, 2006). The Science of Unitary Human Beings has a long history of theory-testing research. As new practice theories and health patterning modalities evolve from the Science of Unitary Human Beings, there remains a need to test the viability and usefulness of theories derived from the Science of Unitary Human Beings as well as testing for changes in patterning associated with voluntary health patterning strategies. The mass of Rogerian research has been reviewed in a number of publications (Caroselli & Barrett, 1998; Dykeman & Loukissa, 1993; Fawcett, 2005; Malinski, 1986, 1994; Phillips, 1989b; Watson, Barrett, Hastings-Tolsma, Johnson, & Gueldner, 1997).

Cowling (1986) was among the first to suggest a number of research designs that may be appropriate for Rogerian research, including philosophical, historical, and phenomenological ones. There is strong support for the appropriateness of phenomenological methods in Rogerian science. For example, Rogers, quoted in Malinski (1986), stated: “[A]nother resource in terms of research we haven’t used much yet [is] phenomenology… . Description and phenomenology both provide further ways of trying to look at things” (p. 14). According to Reeder (1986), phenomenological methods better reflect the Rogerian paradigm because they are not limited to sensory experience, but include multiple modes of awareness inherent in a pandimensional universe. Reeder (1986) provided a convincing argument demonstrating the congruence between Husserlian phenomenology and the Rogerian Science of Unitary Human Beings, stating: [G]iven the congruency between Husserlian phenomenology and the Rogerian conceptual system, a sound, convincing rationale is established for the use of this philosophy of science as an alternative for basic theoretical studies in Rogerian nursing science … Nursing research in general requires a broader range of human experience than sensory experience (whether intuitive or perceptive) in the development and testing of conceptual systems for gaining better access to multifaceted phenomena… . Husserlian phenomenology as a rigorous science provides just such an experience (p. 62). Phillips (1989b, p. 52) asserted that phenomenological research leads to knowledge about the whole by uncovering meaning of the human/environmental mutual field process. In phenomenological research, there is “no need to deal with such polarities as subjective-objective, since the living experience emerges from the interconnectedness of the two, where reality is experienced as a whole.”

Experimental and quasi-experimental designs are problematic because of assumptions concerning causality; however, these designs may be appropriate for testing propositions concerning differences in the change process in relation to “introduced environmental change” (Cowling, 1986, p. 73). The researcher must be careful to interpret the findings in a way that is consistent with Rogers’ notions of unpredictability, integrality, and nonlinearity. Emerging interpretive evaluation methods such as Guba and Lincoln’s (1989) Fourth Generation Evaluation offers an alternative means for testing for differences in the change process within and/or between groups more consistent with the Science of Unitary Human Beings.

Cowling (1986) contended that in the early stages of theory development designs that generate descriptive and explanatory knowledge are relevant to the Science of Unitary Human Beings. For example, correlational designs may provide evidence of patterned changes among indices of the human field. Advanced and complex designs with multiple indicators of change that may be tested using “linear structural relations” (LISREL) statistical analysis may also be a means to uncover knowledge about the pattern of change rather than just knowledge of parts of a change process (Phillips, 1990). Barrett (1996) suggests that canonical correlation may be useful in examining relationships and patterns across domains and may also be useful for testing theories pertaining to the nature and direction of change. Another potentially promising area yet to be explored is participatory action and cooperative inquiry (Reason, 1994) because of their congruence with Rogers’ notions of knowing participation in change, continuous mutual process, and integrality. Cowling (1998) proposed that a case-orientated approach is useful in Rogerian research, because case inquiry allows the researcher to attend to the whole and strives to comprehend his or her essence.

8.2 Historical Evolution of Rogerian Research

Research initially focused on testing principles of resonancy, helicy, or integrality. Most of this research was in the form of PhD dissertation research and a number of the key studies are summarized in Malinski’s edited text (1986) Explorations on Martha Rogers’ Science of Unitary Human Beings. Methodologically, these early studies used correlational designs, not to imply causal relationships, but to describe patterned mutual change (Malinski, 1986). Using correlational designs in a non-causal way moves away from the traditional linear and sequential perspective of the traditional scientific method. Thus variables are not viewed as isolated and discrete events, but are indicators or manifestations of a underlying mutual process.


Provide a short summary of each of these studies: This is not a complete list, but these are key studies


























8.3 Methods Specific to the Science of Unitary Human Beings:

Although there is some debate among Rogerian scholars and researchers concerning the choice of an appropriate methodology in Rogerian research, Rogers (1994) maintained that both quantitative and qualitative methods may be useful for advancing Rogerian science. Similarly, Barrett (1996), Barrett and Caroselli (1998), Barrett, Cowling, Carboni, and Butcher (1997), Cowling (1986), and Rawnsley (1994) have all advocated for the appropriateness of multiple methods in Rogerian research. Conversely, Butcher (cited in Barrett et al., 1997); Butcher (1994), and Carboni (1995b) have argued that the ontological and epistemological assumptions of causality, reductionism, particularism, control, prediction, and linearity of quantitative methodologies are inconsistent with Rogers’ unitary ontology and participatory epistemology. For the purpose of this chapter, an inclusive view of methodologies is advocated. However, the researcher needs to present an argument as to how the design of the study and interpretations of results are congruent with Rogers’ postulates and principles. Furthermore, nurses interested in engaging in Rogerian research are encouraged to use, test, and refine the research methods and tools that have been developed consistent with the ontology and epistemology of the Science of Unitary Human Beings. Most importantly, since the development of unique research methods is a route toward disciplinary definition, there continues to be a great need to develop new research methods and tools consistent with Rogerian science (Barrett et al., 1997; Butcher, 1994; Carboni, 1992; Phillips, 1988; Rogers, 1994).

8.4 Criteria for Rogerian Inquiry

The examination of Rogerian research demonstrates that there has been some confusion and lack a clarity about which methods are most appropriate. To answer the call to develop methods specific to the Science of Unitary Human Beings, a number of Rogerian scholars sought to develop methods and criteria for Rogerian research that were derived and consistent with Rogers’ postulates and principles. The set criteria for developing Rogerian research methods listed were originally developed by Butcher (2000, 2006) and are a synthesis of Characteristics of Operational Rogerian Inquiry developed by Carboni (1995b) and Butcher (1994) criteria first presented as part of his dissertation work. The criteria may be a useful guide in designing research investigations guided by the Science of Unitary Human Beings. He went on to refine the criteria in two other publications (Butcher 2001, 2006).

8.1.1 Butcher’s Criteria for Rogerian Inquiry:

  1. A Priori Nursing Science: All research flows from a theoretical perspective. Every step of the inquiry, including the type of questions asked, the conceptualization of phenomena of concern, choice of research design, selection of participants, selection of instruments, and interpretation of findings is guided by the Science of Unitary Human Beings. The researcher explicitly identifies the Science of Unitary Human Beings as the conceptual orientation of the study. Nursing research must be grounded in a theoretical perspective unique to nursing in order for the research to contribute to the advance of nursing science.
  2. Creation:The Rogerian research endeavor is a creative and imaginative process for discovering new insights and knowledge concerning unitary human beings in mutual process with their environment. Helicy infers that all processes are inherently creative. Inquiry, then, is a creative and imaginative process focusing on discovery.
  3. Irreducible human-environmental energy fields are the focus of Rogerian Inquiry: Energy fields are postulated to constitute the fundamental unit of the living and nonliving. Both human beings and the environment are understood as dynamic energy fields that cannot be reduced to parts. Everything is an energetic pattern manifestation emerging from the human-environmental mutual field process.
  4. Pattern Manifestations are Indicators of Change: Pattern is the distinguishing characteristic of the energy field. Pattern manifestations are the source of information emerging from the human/environmental mutual field process and are the only valid reflections of the energy field. The phenomenon of concern in Rogerian inquiry is conceptualized and understood as manifestations of human/environmental energy mutual process.
  5. Pandimensional Awareness: Rogerian inquiry recognizes the pandimensional nature of reality. All forms of awareness are relevant in a pandimensional universe. Thus, intuition, both tacit and mystical, and all forms of sensory knowing are relevant ways of apprehending manifestations of patterning. Intuition, being open to possibilities, and expecting the unexpected are ways to tap into pandimensional modes of awareness.
  6. Human Awareness is used for Pattern Knowing and Appreciation: The researchers use themselves as the primary pattern-apprehending instrument. The human instrument is the only instrument sensitive to, and which has the ability to interpret and understand, pandimensional potentialities in human/environmental field patterning. Pattern manifestation knowing and appreciation is the process of apprehending information or manifestations of patterning emerging from the human/environmental field mutual process. This includes using unitary knowing; focusing on experiences, perceptions, expressions as manifestations of patterning; synopsis; and to approach participants with gratefulness and an understanding that reaches for the full essence of pattern.
  7. Both Quantitative and Qualitative Methods are Appropriate: Quantitative methods may be used when the design, concepts, measurement tools, and results are conceptualized and interpreted in a way consistent with Rogers’ nursing science. It is important to note, that because of the incongruency between ontology and epistemology of Rogerian science with assumptions in quantitative designs, Carboni (1995b) argues that the researcher must select qualitative methods exclusively over quantitative methods. Barrett and Caroselli (1998), however, recognize the inconsistencies of quantitative methods with Rogerian science, and argue that the “research question drives the choice of method; hence, both qualitative and quantitative methods are not only useful but necessary” (p. 21). The ontological and epistemological congruence is reflected in the nature of questions asked and their theoretical conceptualization (Barrett, 1996). However, qualitative designs, particularity those that have been derived from the postulates and principles of the Science of Unitary Human Beings, are preferred because the ontology and epistemology of qualitative designs are more congruent with Rogers’ notions of unpredictability, irreducibility, acausality, integrality, continuous process, and pattern (Barrett et al., 1997; Butcher, 1994). Thus,ontologically and epistemologically, there is an incongruency between Rogerian science and quantitative methods, therefore, qualitative methods are preferred and a case should be made as to why a particular quantitative method is being used in a Rogerian particular study.
  8. Natural Setting: Rogerian inquiry is pursued in the natural settings where the phenomenon of inquiry occurs naturally, because the human field is inseparable and in mutual process with the environmental field. Any “manipulation” of “variables” is inconsistent with mutual process, unpredictability, and irreducibility. Manipulation of variables and environmental factors infers causality and reductionism.
  9. The researcher and researched-into are inseparable: The principle of integrality implies that the researcher is inseparable and in mutual process with the environment and the participants in the study. Each evolves during the research process. The researcher’s values are also inseparable from the inquiry. “Objectivity” and “bracketing” are not possible when the human and environmental field are integral to one another.
  10. Purposive Sampling: The researcher uses purposive sampling to select participants who manifest the phenomenon of interest. Recognition of the integrality of all that is tells us that information about the whole is available in individuals, groups, and settings; therefore, representative samples are not required to capture manifestations of patterning reflective of the whole.
  11. Emergent Design: The Rogerian researcher is aware of dynamic unpredictability and continuous change, and is open to the idea that patterns in the inquiry process may change in the course of the study that may not have been envisioned in advance. Rather than adhere to preordained rigid patterns of inquiry, the research design may change and evolve during the inquiry. It is essential that the researcher document and report any design changes. Helicy describes that everything in undergoing unpredictable continuous change. Nothing is static. Therefore the research design also evolves and changes over the course of a study.
  12. Pattern Synthesis: Rogerian science emphasizes synthesis rather than analysis. Analysis is the separation of the whole into its constituent parts. The separation of parts is not consistent with Rogers’ notion of integrality and irreducible wholes. Patterns are manifestations of the whole emerging from the human/environmental mutual field process. Synthesis allows for creating and viewing a coherent whole. Therefore, data are not “analyzed” within Rogerian inquiry, but “synthesized.” Data processing techniques that put emphasis on information or pattern synthesis are preferred over techniques that place emphasis on data “analysis.”
  13. Shared description and shared understanding: Mutual process is enhanced by including participants in the process of inquiry where possible. For example, sharing of results with participants in the study enhances shared awareness, understanding, and knowing participation in change. Furthermore, participants are the best judges of the authenticity and validity of their own experiences, perceptions, and expressions. Participatory action designs and focus groups conceptualized within Rogerian science may be ways to enhance mutual exploration, discovery, and knowing participation in change.
  14. Evolutionary Interpretation: The researcher interprets all the findings within the perspective of the Science of Unitary Human Beings. Thus, the findings are understood and presented within the context of Rogers’ postulates of energy fields, pandimensionality, openness, pattern, and the principles of integrality, resonancy, and helicy. Evolutionary interpretation provides meaning to the findings within a Rogerian science perspective. Interpreting the findings within a Rogerian perspective advances Rogerian science, practice, and research.

8.4.2 Carboni’s Characteristics of Operational Rogerian Inquiry:

Although Butcher and Carboni developed their criteria for Rogerian Inquiry independently, the similarity of the two sets speaks to the fact they both developed the criteria by examining Rogers’ ontology and epistemology and both were inspired by Guba and Lincoln’s (1985) approach to the identification for original processes of inquiry (a) the nature of reality; (b) the relationship of the researcher and the focus of the research; (c) the possibility of generalization; (e) the possibility of causal linkages; and (e) the roles of values in inquiry.

  1. Use of a priori nursing theory and the evolution of nursing science-If nursing research is to be nursing research , then it needs to be grounded in a unique nursing perspective.
  2. Visionary insights– Before initiating research, the Rogerian researcher considers the multiple dynamic, unpredictable potentials of energy field patterning as a way to develop insights using imaginative and pandimensional thoughts.
  3. Focus on energy fields
  4. Pandimensional research field-
  5. Human Instrument-
  6. Utilization of all forms of knowledge-
  7. Qualitative methods-
  8. Purpose sampling-
  9. Discovery-
  10. The mutual process of shared description and shared understanding
  11. Creative deductive and inductive data synthesis-
  12. Dynamic, unpredictable patterns of inquiry-
  13. Pandimensional unitary process format-
  14. Evolutionary interpretation-
  15. Creative measurement-
  16. Special criteria for trustworthiness-


8.5 Methods Specific to the Science of Unitary Human Beings


8.5.1 Unitary Field Pattern Portrait Research Method

The Unitary Field Pattern Portrait Research Method (UFPP) was developed by Butcher (1994, 1998, 2006) as a means to create a unitary understanding of the dynamic kaleidoscopic and symphonic pattern manifestations emerging from the pandimensional human/environment mutual process in order to enhance understanding of a significant human experience related to well-being. The method is specific to Rogers’ Science of Human Beings and was derived from her postulates and principles. The steps of the method are listed below:

  1. Initial Engagement is a passionate search for a research question of central interest to understanding unitary phenomena associated with human betterment and well being.


  1. A priori Nursing Science identifies the Science of Unitary Human Beings as the researcher’s perspective. As in all research, the perspective of the researcher guides all processes of the research method including the interpretation of findings.


  1. Immersion involves becoming steeped in the research topic. The researcher may immerse in poetry, art, literature, music, dialogue with self and other, research literature or any activity that enhances the integrality of the researcher and the research topic.


  1. Pattern manifestation knowing and appreciation, formerly referred to as pattern appraisal, includes participant selection, in-depth dialoguing, and recording pattern manifestations. Participant selection is made using intensive purposive sampling. Patterning manifestation knowing and appreciation occurs in natural setting and involves using pandimensional modes of awareness during in-depth dialoguing. The activities described earlier in the pattern manifestation knowing and appreciation process in the practice method are used in this research method. However, in the UFPP research method the focus of pattern appreciation and knowing is on experiences, perceptions, and expressions associated with the phenomena of concern. The researcher maintains an informal conversational style while focusing on revealing the rhythm, flow, and configurations of the pattern manifestations emerging from the human/environmental mutual field process associated with the research topic. The dialogue is taped and transcribed. The researcher maintains observational, methodological, theoretical field notes, and a reflective journal. Any artifacts the participant wishes to share that illuminate the meaning of the phenomenon may also be included. Artifacts may include pictures, drawings, poetry, music, logs, diaries, letters, notes, or journals.


  1. Pattern profile construction is the process of creating a pattern profile for each participant using creative pattern synthesis. All the information collected for each participant is synthesized into a narrative statement revealing the essence of the participant’s description of the phenomena of concern. The field pattern profile is in the language of the participant. The participant’s field pattern profile is shared with the participant for verification and revision.


  1. Mutual unitary field pattern profile construction is the process of mutually sharing an emerging joint or shared profile with each successive participant at the end of each participant’s pattern manifestation knowing and appreciation process. For example, at the end of the interview of the fourth participant, a joint construction of the phenomenon is shared with the participant for comment. The joint construction (mutual unitary field pattern profile) at this phase would consist of a synthesis of the profiles of the first three participants. After verification of the fourth participant’s pattern profile, the profile is folded into the emerging mutual unitary field pattern profile. Pattern manifestation knowing and appreciation continues until no new pattern manifestations to add to the mutual unitary field pattern profile.


  1. Unitary Field Pattern Portrait Construction is the process of identifying emerging unitary themes from each participant’s field pattern profile, sorting the unitary themes into common categories, creating the resonating unitary themes of human/environmental pattern manifestations through immersion and crystallization, and synthesizing the resonating themes into a descriptive portrait of the phenomenon. The unitary field pattern portrait is expressed in the form of a vivid, rich, thick, alive, and accurate aesthetic rendition of the universal patterns, qualities, features, and themes exemplifying the essence of the dynamic kaleidoscopic and symphonic nature of the phenomenon of concern.


  1. Lastly, the unitary field pattern portrait is interpreted from the perspective of the Science of Unitary Human Beings creating a theoretical unitary field pattern portrait of the phenomenon. The purpose of theoretical unitary field pattern portrait construction is to explicate the theoretical structure of the phenomenon from the perspective of Rogers’ Nursing Science. The theoretical unitary field pattern portrait is expressed in the language of Rogerian Science thereby lifting the unitary field pattern portrait from the level of description to the level of unitary science. Scientific rigor is maintained throughout of processes by using criteria of trustworthiness and authenticity. The findings of the study are conveyed in a Unitary Field Pattern Report.


8.5.2 Rogerian Process Inquiry


Carboni (1995b) developed the Rogerian Process of Inquiry from her characteristics of Rogerian inquiry. The method’s purpose is to investigate the dynamic enfolding-unfolding of the human field–environmental field energy patterns and the evolutionary change of configurations in field patterning of the nurse and participant. Rogerian Process of Inquiry transcends both matter-centered methodologies espoused by empiricists and thought-bound methodologies espoused by phenomenologists and critical theorists (Carboni, 1995b). Rather, this process of inquiry is evolution-centered and focuses on changing configurations of human and environmental field patterning.

The flow of the inquiry starts with a summation of the researcher’s purpose, aims, and visionary insights. Visionary insights emerge from the study’s purpose and researcher’s understanding of Rogerian science. Next, the researcher focuses on becoming familiar with the participants and the setting of the inquiry. Shared descriptions of energy field perspectives are identified through observations and discussions with participants and processed through mutual exploration and discovery. The researcher uses the Mutual Exploration of the Healing Human Field–Environmental Field Relationship Creative Measurement Instrument (Carboni, 1992) as a way to identify, understand, and creatively measure human and environmental energy field patterns. Together, the researcher and the participants develop a shared understanding and awareness of the human/environmental field patterns manifested in diverse multiple configurations of patterning. All the data are synthesized using inductive and deductive data synthesis. Through the mutual sharing and synthesis of data, unitary constructs are identified. The constructs are interpreted within the perspective of unitary science, and a new unitary theory may emerge from the synthesis of unitary constructs. Carboni (1995b) also developed special criteria of trustworthiness to ensure the scientific rigor of the findings conveyed in the form of a Pandimensional Unitary Process Report. Carboni’s research method affords a way of creatively measuring manifestations of field patterning emerging during coparticipation of the researcher and participant’s process of change.

8.5.3 Unitary Appreciative Inquiry

Cowling (2001) explicated the processes of Unitary Appreciative Inquiry as a method grounded in Rogerian science for “uncovering the wholeness and essence of human existence to inform the development of nursing science and guide the practice of nursing” (p. 32). Cowling’s method may be used with individuals, groups, or communities and includes appreciative knowing, participatory, synoptic, and transformative processes. Human life is viewed as a miracle of a variety of ordinary and extraordinary forces characterized by unknowable mystery. The researcher and participant are equals in a participatory mutual process where outcomes are not imposed and change unfolds acausally and unpredictably. The inquirer examines all pattern information synoptically by viewing all experiences, perceptions, and expressions as interrelated in a way that reflects the inherent wholeness of a phenomenon or situation. The elements of the approach in unitary appreciative inquiry (Cowling, 2001) include:


  1. Explore a life situation, phenomenon, or concern from a unitary perspective.
  2. Describe the endeavor with the aim of appreciating the wholeness, uniqueness, and essence of the particular situation, phenomenon, or concern.
  3. Gain human subject’s approval and informed consent.
  4. Approach participants as partners in a coequal participative appreciative endeavor.
  5. Collect information in the form of dialogue, discussion, interview, observation, or any practice that illuminates the underlying human life pattern.
  6. Document the experience, perceptions, and expressions through journaling, audiotaping, videotaping, photo graphing, recording music, or creating meaningful products.
  7. Maintain theoretic, methodologic, reflective, and peer review notes.
  8. Negotiate engagement with participants that may last from several weeks to more than a year.
  9. Construct a pattern profile using synopsis that meaningfully represents the person’s experiences, perceptions, and expressions of participants and captures the wholeness, uniqueness, and essence of life. The profile may be created by the scientist/practitioner, the participants, or as a joint venture. The profile is often in the form of a story and may be shared with the participant.
  10. Use the pattern profile in unitary theory by seeking universals that may exist across cases while acknowledging the individual differences.


Martha E. Rogers' Nursing Science Copyright © 2018 by Howard Butcher. All Rights Reserved.

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