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Free App Licenses for Unfunded Research Projects

Alaska Family Systems will now issue a one year free professional license for Family Diagram to individual who formally proposes a qualifying research projects using the app.

There is certainly value for Alaska Family Systems in 1) increasing the total amount of systematically organized knowledge about the family phenomenon, 2) increasing the amount the app is used to do so, and 3) increasing the total number of people making the “research attitude” an automatic part of daily life.

Individuals who put the effort in to propose and conduct formal research, no matter how small, demonstrate that they are contributing value to Alaska Family Systems in all three of the above areas. Students are one group that has an excess of new ideas but lack the resources to follow through on them. Private researchers are an important source for exploratory research. Professional researchers not only make substantial contributions to scientific knowledge but also provide valuable critique of how the app supports their work.

Criteria for Research Projects

The following criteria must be met by any research proposal to receive a free professional license for Family Diagram. The basic requirement is to publish the application of hard scientific principles to factual data on family using the app. There is no requirement for the size of the project. The free professional license will be issued upon approval of the proposal document and will be valid for one year.

Basic Criteria:

  • Project must be unfunded
  • Family Diagram app must be somehow used in data collection
  • Proposal document
  • Publication on Alaska Family Systems website

NOTE: While this kind of project is a straightforward task for individuals with formal doctoral-level academic training or masters-level training in the harder sciences, this project will mostly serve as an exercise for individuals who do not have formal training to learn to organize their thinking about human behavior. Therefore, if you do not have formal academic training, just do your best to think through the function of each element of the document outlined below and propose the project as well as you can. If your proposal is rejected, you can simply use the feedback to learn and re-submit the proposal with appropriate corrections. While the proposal description below may appear quite technical and difficult at first, each section is actually quite simple and only requires some thinking to get it on paper.

The first step is to submit a proposal prior to beginning the research project to The proposal document should be as short as possible while fulfilling the list function of each element as described below. A well-done proposal will be under two pages including section headings. This document can be formatted however you like and should contain the following elements:

  • Title
    • A single line that captures the goal of the project.
  • Abstract
    • A single paragraph which summarizes the proposal document, covering what it will accomplish, how it will accomplish it, and what you will do with the findings.
  • Introduction
    • Describes the problem and makes the case for why the project is worth conducting.
    • Outlines the state of current knowledge on the topic. This will invariably include a description of what Bowen Theory has to say about the problem at hand.
  • Question
    • Formal statement of the research question in a single line, optionally followed by a short description with any necessary clarifications.
  • Hypothesis
    • Informed prediction of what you expect to see in your data, and why. Should be as skeptical as possible, as per the principle of the Null Hypothesis.
    • All knowledge begins with a hunch and not much objective data to go on. All that matters is that one thinks through where the hunch is coming from, and where it isn’t. What is currently known, and what is not currently known.
  • Methodology
    • The meat of the proposal. Describes precisely how the project will be conducted and how it will be falsifiable (i.e. what the null hypothesis is). Counting something is automatically falsifiable so long as there are conditions where something won’t be counted. For example, one may count the number of white sheep so long as the definition of “white” allows for sheep that are not white. An example of something unfalsifiable is to count the number of times that a person was on the inside of a triangle without a clear definition of when someone is not the inside of triangle. For example, “This study found that person A was on the inside of a triangle 5 times” would not be falsifiable, while “This study found that person A was on the inside of a triangle 5 times out of 10 interactions” would be falsifiable. An unfalsifiable result is meaningless because it always confirms the hypothesis and never challenges it. With an unfalsifiable result, one can claim to “predict” anything that they like so long as their definitions are subjective enough. For more on this, see Karl Popper and falsification. For a beautiful example, see this scene from the movie Groundhog’s Day. Ask yourself, “What is the mechanism underneath each test in that scene?” Or see this scene from Superman 2. Ask yourself, “What is the term for the special kind of falsification that occurred here, which constitutes the gold standard for scientific research today?”
    • Must include the “data model” to be used. A data model is the formal list of trackables that will be recorded in the app and how they will be recorded. For example, the Stinson data model defines 1) the “toward/away” moves, 2) the name of the mover, 3) the recipients(s) of the move, 4) “up/down” shift in arousal, and organizes these in a timeline. A different example would be to code private or clinical interviews into events on the timeline and track shifts in Papero’s 5 dimensions as variables for any pertinent events.
    • Must include a statement of how the data will be analyzed. How exactly will you determine what the data says, what it does not say, and what it can never say?
  • Statement of Commitment
    • include the following statement along with you your wet-ink or digital signature: I agree to perform the above described research project, and to submit a publishable writeup of the findings to Alaska Family Systems, myself taking full responsibility for protecting any confidential information in accordance with any professional ethics boards as appropriate.

The second step is to conduct the research. Good luck!

The third step is to write up the findings and what you make of them. For this you would simply take the proposal document, change all future-tense language to past tense along with any edits to make it readable, and include the following sections:

  • Results
    • The data itself should be summarized, including notable results.
    • Outlines example results as they are, i.e. prior to interpretation. It is very important that data is presented in a manner free of interpretation. Interpretation belongs in the Discussion & Conclusion section. This allows subsequent researchers to make up their own mind about the data by just reading this section.
  • Discussion & Conclusion
    • Outline your theoretical inductions (i.e. interpretations/explanations) for the data. How do you explain what you observed? Be sure to include:
      • Bowen theory’s view and potential problems with it.
      • Your view and potential problems with it.
      • Similarities / differences between your view and Bowen theory’s view
    • Outline which of your speculations from the proposal were correct and which were not correct.
    • Answer the research question, or explain why it cannot be answered.
    • Include questions raised by this project for future research.

The fourth and final step is to submit your write-up to Alaska Family Systems: All approved project write-ups will be published on the Alaska Family Systems website. It is your responsibility to manage confidentiality of the data in accordance with your licensing and/or professional ethics board. This includes, but is not limited to, indicating when family diagrams, names, locations, and dates are altered to protect identities while preserving what is pertinent in the data. It is also possible to protect the identity of the project author if necessary in special circumstances.

Ideas for Research Projects

There are countless potential research projects. They can include research into your own family, research using data from a professional or practicum clinical case load, or going through old data from an existing data source.

The goal of this project is merely to clarify one’s thinking about an interesting or existing topic. The goal is not to produce a large amount of work for an entirely separate project. For example, grad students may choose to use a final project for a class, clinical trainees or clinical professionals may choose to utilize existing data from their clinical case load, and formal researchers may simply use the app in an existing research project. It should be possible to fit this into the difficult load of graduate school without it becoming a burden.

Example Research Proposals

The following are example research projects. As you can see, a proposal does not need to be complicated. It can simply be a condensed bullet list. The goal is merely simple and clear definitions.

The trick for many is thinking through each section as a differentiated unit, and defining a research question that is falsifiable. This requires a clear, objective data model. While this is difficult for some in the beginning, it becomes easier with practice. Developing this skill is one outcome of the project.

Example Proposal 1

The following is a relatively simple research proposal using one of the easier markers of emotional function, Cutoff.


  • Emotional Cutoff in the Smith Family


  • This project proposes to count the number of cutoffs within three generations from the researcher. The researcher is a member of the Smith family. Cutoff is defined and a family history is collected in order to count the number of cutoffs. Theory will be applied make a rough prediction about how the researcher may adapt to stress based on the result.


  • Though there is no direct evidence that the researcher will end up not speaking to her parents, she has anxiety about this occurring after hearing family rumors of cutoff in previous generations. Cutoff is one of the more easily identifiable markers of family system adaptation described in Bowen theory. Theory describes cutoff as one way to manage tension between the generations. Cutoff has a productive function as a way to manage tension, but comes at a cost of lower functioning in future generations.


  • How many cutoffs have occurred within three generations of the researcher?


  • Based on family rumors of cutoff in previous generations, the researcher suspects that there will be at least three cutoffs in previous generations. This prediction is based partly on intuitive hunch, and partly on opinion seeing a number of clinical families that one does not find very large numbers of cutoffs, for example 10, within a three-generations of a single family.


  • A family history will be collected by interviewing known family members. Data will be collected into the Family Diagram app timeline.
  • Data Model: A single “cutoff” will be counted once per child-parent whom have severed communication for at least one month in response to some area of tension. The beginning and/or end date for each instance of cutoff will be recorded in the app timeline. “Tension” is loosely defined as a disagreement. The minimum period of one month is somewhat arbitrary at this stage. Severance of communication due to technical limitations, such as migration without means for communication, will be noted as such and the lack of tension considered in the discussion.

Statement of Commitment

  • I agree to perform the above described research project, and to submit a publishable writeup of the findings to Alaska Family Systems, myself taking full responsibility for protecting any confidential information in accordance with any professional ethics boards as appropriate.

Example Proposal 2

The following is an example proposal from an application to the App Seminar:


  • The Role in the Parental Triangle in Shifts in Sibling Contact Patterns


  • This project will explore the relationship between a person’s role in the parental triangle and communication patterns with siblings. Exploration will be through review of notes made during interviews with the parents when they were still alive and from 1999 to the present. Communication patterns will be tracked through review of phone and text message logs and email threads to determine which person initiated contact in a given thread.


  • There is some evidence that Bowen believed difficulties between siblings played out difficulties in a marriage and that the position one child has in the triangle with her parents has an influence on the relationship she has with her siblings. In this case, the parents are both dead, but the researcher believes it should still be possible to 1. Improve her understanding of the role she had in the triangle with her parents and 2. Observe shifts in her relationships with her siblings.

Statement of Research Question

  • If the researcher becomes more clear about the role she had in the triangle with her parents, will her siblings initiate contact with her more frequently?


  • This project posits that an improved understanding of the researcher’s role in the triangle with her parents will create a shift in the relationships with her three siblings which are distant.


  • Using the Family Diagram App, the researcher will document the incidents of contact initiated by her siblings (e-mail, text messages, phone calls, visits) over the past six months. She will then review family history notes with the goal of improving her understanding of her role in the triangle with her parents, using concepts from Bowen theory such as being on the inside or outside of a triangle, and reciprocal functioning. She will then think of ways to communicate about this work with each of her siblings. She will then track the incidents of contact initiated by her siblings for another six months to see if there has been a change. Both the historical tracking and the current tracking will use a spreadsheet to log each time a sibling sends the first e-mail or text, or makes the first phone call contact or initiates plans for a visit.

Statement of Commitment

  • I agree to perform the above described research project, and to submit a publishable writeup of the findings to Alaska Family Systems, myself taking full responsibility for protecting any confidential information in accordance with any professional ethics boards as appropriate.

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