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Year : 2017  |  Volume : 18  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 48-53

Conceptual models and theories: Developing a research framework

1 Professor, College of Nursing, CMC, Vettore, India
2 Professor, Colleve of Nursing, CMC, Vettore, India
3 Professor, College of Nursing, CMC, Vellore, India

Date of Web Publication9-Jun-2020

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

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Conceptual models and theories provide structure for research. Research without a theoretical base provides isolated information which may not be used or applied effectively. The challenge for nurse researchers is to identify a model or theory that would a best fit for their area of study interest. In this research series article the authors unravel the simple steps that can be followed in identifying, choosing, and applying the constructs and concepts in the models or theories to develop a research framework. A research framework guides the researcher in developing research questions, refining their hypotheses, selecting interventions, defining and measuring variables. Roy’s adaptation model and a study intending to assess the effectiveness of grief counseling on adaptation to spousal loss are used as an example in this article to depict the theory- research congruence.

Keywords: conceptual model, theory, research framework, Roy’s adaptation model, spousal loss, grief

How to cite this article:
Premkumar B, David S, Ravindran V. Conceptual models and theories: Developing a research framework. Indian J Cont Nsg Edn 2017;18:48-53

How to cite this URL:
Premkumar B, David S, Ravindran V. Conceptual models and theories: Developing a research framework. Indian J Cont Nsg Edn [serial online] 2017 [cited 2022 Dec 7];18:48-53. Available from: https://www.ijcne.org/text.asp?2017/18/1/48/286311

  Introduction Top

The history of professional Nursing started with Florence Nightingale who envisioned nurses as a knowledgeable force who can bring positive changes in health care delivery (Alligood, 2014). It was 100 years later, during 1950s, a need to develop nursing knowledge apart from medical knowledge was felt to guide nursing practice. This beginning led to the awareness of the need to develop nursing theories (Alligood, 2010). Until then, nursing practice was based on principles and traditions that were handed down through apprenticeship model of education and individual hospital procedure manuals. It reflected the vocational heritage more than a professional vision. This transition from vocation to profession involves successive eras of history in nursing: the curriculum era, research emphasis era, research era, graduate education era, and the theory era (Alligood, 2014).

The theory era was a natural outcome of research era and graduate education era, where an understanding oí research and knowledge development increased. It became obvious that research without conceptual and theoretical framework produced isolated information. This awareness and acceptance paved way to another era, the theory utilization era, which placed emphasis on theory application in nursing practice, education, administration, and research (Alligood, 2014). Conceptual models and theories are structures that provide nurses with a perspective of the patient and the professional practice. Conceptual models provide structure for a phenomenon, direct thinking, observations, and interpretations and further provide direction for actions (Fawcett & Desanto-Madeya, 2005). In research, a framework is the underpinning of the study and if a framework is based on a theory it is called as theoretica framework and if it represents a conceptual model then it is generally called the conceptual framework. More often it is known as a research framework. However the terms conceptual framework, conceptual model theoretica framework, and research framework are often usee interchangeably (Polit & Beck, 2014).

  Definitions of Terminologies Top

When nurse researchers are making decisions about theories and models for their study, it is important to understand the definitions of different related terminology. According Grove, Burns and Gray (2013) conceptual models are examples of grand theories and are highly abstract with related constructs. “A conceptual model broadly explains phenomenon of interest, expresses assumption, and reflects a philosophical stance” (Grove et al., 2013). A conceptual model is an image of a phenomenon. A theory in contrast represents a set of defined concepts that offers a systematic explanation about how two or more concepts are interrelated. Theories can be used to describe, explain, predict, or control the phenomenon that is of interest to a researcher (Grove et al., 2013).

Constructs are abstract descriptions of a phenomenon or the experiences or the contextual factors. Concepts are the terms or names given to a phenomena or idea or an object and are often considered as the building blocks of a theory (Grove et al., 2013). Many conceptual models are made of constructs. Concepts are derived from constructs or vice versa. For example, in the Transactional model of Stress and Coping by Lazarus and Folkman (1984) the constructs included are stressors, mediating processes, moderators and the outcomes. The examples of related concepts to these constructs are shown in [Figure 1].
Figure 1: Constructs and concepts continuum

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  Conceptual Framework in Research Top

Conceptual models and theories serve as the foundation on which a study can be developed or as a map to aid in the design of the study (Fawcett, 1989). When concepts related to the study are integrated and formulated into a workable model for the specific study it is generally known as a research framework (Grove, Gray & Burns, 2015). When concepts or constructs in the models or theory are converted into measurable terms they are known as variables (Grove et al., 2013). According to the purposes explicated by Sharma (2014) and Polit and Beck (2014) the use of conceptual/research framework m research can be summarized as follows:

  • It provides a structure for the study which helps the researcher to organize the process of investigation
  • It helps in formulating hypothesis, developing a research question and defining the variables
  • It guides development, use, and testing of interventions and selection of data collection instruments
  • It provides direction for explaining the study results and situate the findings in the gaps identified in the literature

Nurse researchers regularly select and use conceptual frameworks for carrying out their studies. Conceptual models and theories explicitly or implicitly guide research (Radwin & Fawcett, 2002). Researchers use both nursing and non- nursing models to provide a framework for their studies. There are however, two challenges for researchers and students in relation to using conceptual frameworks in their investigations. The first is to identify the conceptual model or a theory that will be the best fit and will be useful in guiding their research and the second is to incorporate and clearly articulate the model in relation to their study variables, interventions and the outcomes to convert it into their research framework (Radwin & Fawcett, 2002). A few essential steps need to be followed to choose a conceptual model and to incorporate it into the individual studies. Let us consider the steps with an example of a study intending “ to assess the effectiveness of grief counseling intervention in helping individuals cope and adapt after the loss of their spouse”.

1. The Purpose of the Study

The choice of conceptual model to guide the research first and foremost depends on the purpose of one’s research. It can be educating staff/patient/families, improving academic and clinical teaching, changing practice by translating research evidence into practice, implementing a quality improvement strategy, encouraging behavior change, supporting individuals during crisis, assisting to cope etc. The researcher should look for a model or a theory that addresses similar purpose. It would be useful to identify and select the key concept in which the researcher is interested in at this stage (Sharma, 2014). In the example mentioned above the key concept of interest is ‘adaptation’ after a loss which is a traumatic life event.

2. Study Variables

The second step is to identify general variables that are included or may be included in the study. The variables are related to the constructs/concepts of interest in the study. The concepts and variables may be based on previous research findings, experiential knowledge or hunches and intuitions (Sharma, 2014). In the adaptation to spousal loss study in addition to the main concept of adaptation, other variables such as grief, coping, quality of life, and demographic and social factors that may influence adaptation may be included in the objectives.

3. Gathering Relevant Information

Once the researcher has identified the concepts and variables of interest, the next step involves in-depth study of existing models and theories to gather information about the relevant concepts and variables. The researcher can quickly skim through the literature to seek a few models that relate to the concepts and variables of interest in the study. The researcher must then read about them from primary sources to obtain comprehensive evidence about each model or theory (Sharma, 2014). When choosing a model for the study the researcher needs to analyze and evaluate the models she /he considers to understand its most important features (Fawcett, 1989). Some questions that need to be asked are: What is the historical evolution of the model? What methods are indicated for nursing knowledge development? What are the assumptions listed? How are the concepts person, environment, health, and nursing defined? How are these metaparadigm concepts linked and how is nursing process described? What is the major area of concern in the care identified in the model?

The researcher’s previous experience and knowledge about theories and models greatly assist in quick decisions on choosing a model that would best fit their study purpose. Nurse researchers who have an interdisciplinary knowledge and experience may choose an overarching model or theory to develop their research framework for their study. It is the novice researchers who often find it difficult to decide on a model and have confusions regarding explicating their research framework. The above listed questions, if carefully considered will help them in choosing an appropriate model. Once a theory or conceptual model is identified the researcher need to studv it in-depth to understand each concent and propositions so that it can appropriately be integrated into the study (Sharma, 2014).

In the study example in this paper the researcher intends to assess how people adjust after the death of their spouse and how grief counseling will help in their adjustment to life after their loss. As the process of interest, as indicated already, is adaptation to traumatic life event, adaptation model that is purported by Sr. Callista Roy (1976) is chosen as the best fit as Roy’s adaptation model focuses on how individuals cope after a stimuli and manifest adaptive behaviors see [Figure 2].
Figure 2: Roy’s adaptation model

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4. Understanding the Premises and Principles of the Selected Model: Roy’s Conceptual Model

Once a model that is relevant to the study is selected the underlying premises and philosophy of the model or theory have to be explicated. The definitions of the concepts in the model have to be understood to enable the researcher to formulate her/his study framework which can be integrated with the chosen model (Mock et al., 2007). An in-depth review of literature on how the conceptual model was developed and refined, background information about the theorist or author, and the definitions of concepts included in the model is mandatory to examine how the researcher’s study can be designed and executed. In Roy’s adaptation model (Fawcett, 1989), Roy considers human being as an open system who is in constant interaction with the environment. She explains health as a process of being or becoming an integrated whole person. The goal of nursing is to assist individuals in positively adapting to environmental changes or what she terms ‘stimuli’. Three types of stimuli are explained in the model: 1. ‘Focal’ which is the life event itself, 2. ‘contextual’ which are the factors associated and contributing to or opposing the stimuli and 3.‘residual’ which are present innately which may not be altered, explained, or reasoned. The adaptation occurs through coping process at the regulator and cognator subsystem levels. The regulator subsystem refers to the automatic response that occurs naturally in the chemical, neural, and endocrine systems. The cognator subsystem respond through four cognitive emotional channels: perceptual and information processing, learning, judgment, and emotion. Adaptation in Roy’s model is explained as conscious choice of individuals to create successful human and environmental integration which can be manifested as integrated adaptation in four adaptive behavioural modes. The four adaptive modes are the physical/physiological, self-concept, role functioning, and interdependence. If integrated adaptation did not happen it can result in compensatory or compromised adaptation.

5. Finalizing the Study Design, Variables, Tool, and Intervention

In a nursing theory or a conceptual model how a theorist defines nursing action and what is expected as outcomes helps the researcher to choose the research design and intervention (Mock et al., 2007). Further the concepts in the model guides the researcher to choose variables that would be of interest to nursing. In Roy’s adaptation theory, nursing assessment and interventions that promote adaption is purported. On the basis of this premise the investigator can choose a specific intervention that would enhance integrated adaptation of an individual after a crisis (stimuli). The investigator then can measure whether the intervention has been effective in promoting adaptation by looking at the four modes of adaptive behavior (physical/physiological, self- concept, role functioning, and interdependence). The congruence of the constructs of Roy’s adaptation model and the study variables is depicted in [Figure 3].
Figure 3: Constructs of Roy’s adaptation model aligned with adaptation to spousal loss study variables

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In the example being discussed the focal stimuli is the death of a spouse. The contextual stimuli are the grief reaction, social and spiritual support systems available for the person who has experienced loss and her or his economic status. The residual stimuli include variables such as the age, gender, years spent with spouse, race, or ethnic background. The researcher has chosen grief counseling as the intervention in the study. This is based on Roy’s model which explains that when interventions are aimed at how contextual stimuli can be addressed it will result in better coping process and this will facilitate adaptation (Fawcett, 1989). When choosing the intervention it is vital to know that there is established evidence for the intervention (Mock et al., 2007). In this study grief counseling is chosen because of its established evidence on the effect on person’s adjustment (Neimeyer & Currier, 2009). Other variables which relate to the adaptation model include coping with grief and the outcome variables as adaptive behaviours in physiological, interpersonal, role functioning, and self-concept domains see [Figure 3].

Once there is clarity about the variables of interest and the intervention, it becomes relatively simpler to decide on the study design and the instruments/tools which can be used to measure the variables. As shown in [Figure 4], the contextual variables can be measured using a socio-demographic data profile. Grief which is another contextual stimuli will be measured by the grief scale (Fireman, 2010). The grief scale measures the thoughts, feelings, and behaviours of people who are in the grieving process after a loss. A part of the demographic profile will measure the influence of the residual variables. The intervention which is the grief counseling will be administered by the researcher who has had special training in this method of counseling. How individuals cope to loss can be measured by the Ways of Coping Scale (Folkman & Lazarus, 1988). This scale consists of coping in eight domains namely problem focused coping, wishful thinking, distancing, seeking social support emphasizing the positive, self-blame, tension reduction, and self-isolation. The coping and the adaptation behaviors may be measured using the “Coping and Adaptation Processing Scale” (CAPS Short form, 2015) which is developed by Roy herself. CAPS is a tool which can be used to measure coping and adaptation in people suffering with chronic or acute health issues and can be used when the stimuli is an acute loss.
Figure 4: Research framework for adaptation to spousal loss study based on Roy’s Adaptation Model

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As the researcher intends to use grief counseling as an intervention, the research design will be an experimental design and the coping and adaptation process can be measured prior to and after the counseling sessions using both ways of coping and CAPS scales. As there may not be adequate number of samples available to represent the phenomenon of interest the study can be designed as a one group pretest posttest quasi experimental design instead a true experimental design with a control group. The research framework that is developed from the adaptation model may be modified as follows based on the research design see [Figure 4].

6. Using the Research Framework for Analysis and Interpretation of the Results

The framework that is developed for the study can guidi the analysis and will also help in interpretation of the finding The research report can easily incorporate the concepts in th( original model and also the developed framework and can b< discussed in relation to current study findings. As th( researcher’s background knowledge that is gained in th( framework development process is elaborate, the concepts o: the model can guide the researcher to situate the findings wit! in the theoretical literature (Mock et al., 2007).

  Conclusion Top

Choosing and applying a conceptual model or theory to develop a research frame work is a challenging but an educative process. It also involves an iterative process of moving back and forth between what is the phenomenon and variables of interest to the researcher and what and how the theorists explain and define concepts in their models. The first and foremost step to be remembered is to identify the core concept that the researcher is interested in which will pave way for searching the literature on the model that will match the researcher’s interest. The researcher must understand that all variables in a given model may not be of interest to him or her or variables from more than one model may apply to the areas of interest to be studied. Both are acceptable. Researchers need to be creative in developing the research framework based on the model/models that is/are of interest. The nursing conceptual models serve as guides for articulating, reporting and recording nursing thought anc action in research. Further, the models also ultimately assist researchers in applying findings in clinical practice.

Conflicts of Interest: The authors have declared no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Alligood, M. R. (2010). Nursing theory: Utilization anc application. Missouri: Elsiever  Back to cited text no. 1
Alligood, M. R. (2014). Nursing theorists and their work Missouri: Elsievier.  Back to cited text no. 2
Fawcett, J. (1989). Analysis and evaluation of conceptúa models of nursing. Philadelphia: Davis.  Back to cited text no. 3
Fawcett, J., & Desanto-Madeya, S. (2005). The structure of contemporary nursing knowledge. Contemporary nursing knowledge, analysis and evaluation of nursing models and theories. Philadelphia: Davis.  Back to cited text no. 4
F01kman,S., & Lazarus,R. (1988). Ways of coping questionnaire. Retrieved from file:///C:/Users/C011ege %200fyū20Nursing/Downloads/Attachment°/ū2024%2 0Ways%20of%20Coping%20Questionniare.pdf  Back to cited text no. 5
Fireman, D. (2010). The center’s new holistic grief scale. Retrieved from http://www.griefcounselor.org/ articles/grief-article-new-holistic-grief-scale.html  Back to cited text no. 6
Grove, S. K., Burns, N., & Gray, J. (2013). The practice of nursing research: Appraisal, synthesis, and generation ofevidence. Missouri: Elsevier.  Back to cited text no. 7
Grove, S. K., Gray, J. & Burns, N. (2015). Understanding nursing research: Building an evidence based practice. Missouri: Elsevier  Back to cited text no. 8
Lazarus, R., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. Newyork: Springer.  Back to cited text no. 9
Mock, V., St Ours, C., Hall, S., Bositis, Α., Tilleiy, M., Belcher, Α., & Mc Corkle, R. (2007). Using a conceptual model in nursing research mitigating fatigue in cancer patients. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 55(5), 503-512.  Back to cited text no. 10
Neimeyer, R. Α., & Currier, J. M. (2009). Grief therapy: Evidence of efficacy and emerging directions. A Journal of the Association for Psychological Science, 18(6), 352- 356.  Back to cited text no. 11
Polit, D. F., & Beck, С. T. (2008). Nursing research: Generating and assessing evidence for nursing practice. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams &Wilkins.  Back to cited text no. 12
Radwin, L., & Fawcett, J. (2002). A Conceptual model - based programmer of nursing Research : Retrospective and prospective application. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 40(3), 355 -360.  Back to cited text no. 13
Roy, C. (1976). Introduction to nursing: An adaptation model. Philadelphia: Prentice Hall.  Back to cited text no. 14
Roy, C. (2015). CAPS-Coping and Adaptation Processing Scale. Retrieved from http: // www.bc.edu /sites /nurse- theorist/the_roy_adaptationmodel/ram-tools.html  Back to cited text no. 15
Sharma, S. (2014). Nursing research and statistics. New Delhi: Elsevier Health Sciences.  Back to cited text no. 16


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4]


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