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I am not a researcher, but I am trying to learn the methods so I can apply them in my own fields.

In a variety of journals––notably economics, entrepreneurship, and design––I've noticed that the authors propose a "conceptual model". This model is the product of deep thinking and synthesis of prior work. Sometimes it is an incremental addition to an existing model, a recreation of it, or an entirely new way to describe a concept.

They are not often based on empirical data. This is probably because these fields have a lot of variables, and it would be very difficult to isolate things––which is especially troubling when trying to model a system.

What is this called? Is there a method behind this? I've tried reading a bit of epistemology to see if there's a method behind it, but this was unfruitful. It seems either the logical extension of prior work (logic) or it is the black-box description of certain phenomena, which is sufficient so long as it accurately describes the outputs (pragmatism).

In the first case, logic, how can we be sure it's moving in the right direction? Does each addition have to be small enough to be "self-evident"?

In the second case, pragmatism, how can we be certain that we're modelling it accurately without perfectly understanding the underlying mechanism? How are we sure there are not unknown consequences or interactions?

I'd love to be pointed in the right direction to learn more about this. This is mostly aimed at understanding how we can model systems.

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    It wouldn’t necessarily be a research method, but the word you are looking for is ‘theory’ as opposed to ‘empirical’. For example, in Economics the concept of utility is central to the field - yet “Utility” doesn’t exist empirically, it’s a theoretical construct that helps us simplify incredibly complex phenomena (such as what goes into making a decision). The problem with modelling is that it’s inherently not perfect, the advantage of modelling is simultaneously that it’s inherently not perfect, which allows us to get a glimpse into a part of the whole messy truth. – GrayLiterature May 21 at 4:07
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What kind of research method creates conceptual models without empirical data?

Those are called theoretical methods.

how can we be sure it's moving in the right direction?

If we were sure about it, then there would be no need for research. So we cannot be sure until the research is finished, which usually involves some non-theoretical methods.

how can we be certain that we're modelling it accurately without perfectly understanding the underlying mechanism? How are we sure there are not unknown consequences or interactions?

Usually you cannot be certain.

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