All entries for Sunday 04 December 2016

December 04, 2016

Reintroducing Grounded Theory As The Research Methodology!

The mixed methods methodology has been dropped due to reasons outlined in the previous blog post. I am now taking the research back to my original idea of using just a grounded theory approach, underpinned by guidance from Strauss and Corbin along with possibly other authors as time progresses but this shall be determined in time. What does this mean exactly for my research? What does this change of methodology mean now? Changes might now occur at three different levels:


Philosophical level

A philosophical question now is whether or not I can proceed with the research using a critical realist philosophy. This will need a great deal of thought beyond the second upgrade paper, but at the moment I am not sure. The idea of critical realism is that ontologically there are events and activities that occur outside of our own thinking and perceiving of them, whilst epistemologically our understanding of these events and activities are continuously fallible and we can never really fully know the truth behind, for example, a process, and why a process occurs.


Perhaps using multiple observations or “cases” of phenomena along with using other methods contained within a grounded theory analysis could promote a critical realist perspective, because whilst the researcher is allowed under grounded theory to generate their thoughts and theorising during coding ultimately all thoughts must be grounded within the data. The theory emerges not from our thoughts and thinking, and perceiving, but from the grounded theory data. A question here though is that it could still be subjective: my grounding of my own thoughts and thinking within the data could still simply be based on the way in which I interpret the data. If this is a case, are there any events and activities that occur outside of our perceiving or thinking of them? If so, what? And how, and why?


Critical realism’s ontology is based on post positivism or empiricism; epistemologically, it subscribes to interpretivism or relativism. Is this really the right way? Do I have to rethink the ontological and epistemological aspects? I am not totally sure at this time; however, philosophically speaking grounded theory is somewhat pragmatic in that it can neatly fit within near any philosophical orientation as long as this is fully understood and justified.


Lots of questions have risen since the trial study particularly with regards to the relationship between the researcher and the participant. From what I can currently understand, philosophical orientations describe the relationship between the researcher and the participant, but what about relationships between researcher and the data where there is a sense of detachment between researcher and participant? What then? Challenging, but exciting, and will be exploring this much more.



Methodological level


Obvious and clear changes: the mixed methods methodology has been dropped. The research design is now based on a grounded theory approach possibly centred on critical realism. I am not sure about adopting a full case study approach due to analytical incompatibilities between case study, critical realism, and grounded theory, but this might be something that I shall have to revisit in the future. It is possible to do a grounded theory within a case study, but then critical realism would have to be dropped.


The methodology now is grounded theory based on principles from Strauss and Corbin and perhaps other grounded theory authors. Potentially, some amendments might be made to grounded theory in order to represent the exact context of the research. These amendments might be based on resolving the philosophical issues some of which have been outlined in the previous section.


A question that has come to me due to potential philosophical issues is deciding whether or not qualitative is the correct term to use to describe grounded theory, because of the relationship between the researcher, the participant and the grounded theory data. This is something that I shall be exploring further.


Practical Level


In more practical terms, the change of methodology will enable me to focus on mastering a single methodology, a single set of methods within grounded theory methodology, and be able to channel my thoughts towards resolving existing philosophical issues either in general, specific to the context of my work, or a mixture of both. Not to mention being able to fully comprehend and propose ways in which existing reliability and validity issues can be resolved.


Placing grounded theory at the level of methodology was the original proposal before I latched onto mixed methods methodology. But interestingly I did not realise or was aware of the practical benefits of using only a grounded theory approach for my research, but now I do realise these benefits, and therefore happy to drop the mixed methods approach.


A key feature of my previous methodology was theory testing and refinement through the use of quantitative findings. This might still occur within qualitative grounded theory through ideas based on theoretical sampling method in order to test the emerging theory, and also use constant comparisons between each case in order to identify similarities and important differences in order to refine the theory. However, should these really be classed as approaches to theory refinement, or simply refining the validity and reliability of qualitative, grounded theory findings?

Summary


Plenty of philosophical and methodological challenges are no doubt ahead, but my passion and enthusiasm of philosophy and of grounded theory methodology will no doubt be able to carry me through, resolving any problems that come along, and form solutions that are workable, practical, and lead onto contributing new knowledge and understanding of resolving existing problems that have not yet been resolved, or even identified in the first place.


Highlighted Problems With The Questionnaire Approach

A while after the submission of the original upgrade paper, I had concerns about my own methodological approach. The sequential exploratory mixed methods design, which I thought was faultless, was being questioned by my own thoughts and increasing awareness of potential problems. The concerns that were raised and discussed with regards to the questionnaire approach were as follows:


Response Rate


Literature shows that response rates to online questionnaires, no matter their quality, is usually fairly low and usually does not meet the requirements of the researcher or the general requirements to reach data levels needed to produce a quality set of results and a quality set of insights based on these results. I did express my concerns about not reaching these levels and I did say that if I did not reach the required levels I would be disappointed. On this fact alone the assessors advised me to drop the questionnaire approach and just use the grounded theory approach as I would be able to attain and analyse much more data.


Precisely Measuring Phenomena


Construct validity is a key issue in questionnaire design. Given that new insights have been found after the submission of the upgrade paper questions were being asked from myself about whether or not I could really capture what I really wanted to capture. Could the questionnaire capture all that I really wanted to capture? Would it be even able to measure what I want to measure? The problem I had at the upgrade presentation was I could not present a questionnaire nor give much in the way of what could be on the questionnaire because the entire design would be based the findings of grounded theory. This point was appreciated. But even so, even if it were not mentioned I would have still had my own concerns of my own approaches.


Time


This wasn’t mentioned at the presentation, but a key issue here is time. It takes time to develop a grounded theory, convert it into a format suitable for the development of the questionnaire, trial and deploy the questionnaire, wait for the appropriate responses, and then analyse the data using various appropriate quantitative measurements. Not to mention writing an eighty thousand word thesis and writing various conference and research papers in between all that. Again although this wasn’t mentioned, I do wonder if time factored into the advice to drop the mixed methods approach and stay with grounded theory.



Overall


Sometimes I wonder if there really was a secret message underneath all this. Something along the lines of, “listen, we know you are enthusiastic about this and we don’t doubt your ability to do what you propose but you have to think about the practical aspects such as time, and whether or not you can do everything that you plan to do within the time allocated to complete a Ph.D.” Which is, obviously, a fair assessment to make as I was questioning myself about the element of time. It’s all fine and dandy producing a research design that is workable, but really pointless in an administrative sense if it cannot be completed within the allocated time and also if there is a chance that some aspects of the Ph.D. could remain uncompleted at the time of the need to write the rest of the thesis.


Perhaps a sequential, exploratory mixed methods approach would take too long to do for a Ph.D. project; perhaps sometimes playing it “safe” is the best option. I say “safe” in quotation marks because whilst the approach might appear to be safe in terms of own ability to do the work in the allotted time, it doesn’t mean that it’ll be easy!


Key Highlights From The Upgrade Presentation

The upgrade presentation, including the subsequent time spent with the supervisor, took up about four hours. Reflecting back that might appear like a long time, but this was a crucial time where my own concerns were confirmed leading to a change in methodology and explorations of the phenomenon of interest. This blog post highlights the key insights of the upgrade presentation:


Revert Methodology Back To Grounded Theory


Methodological concerns that I had realised and had been playing on my mind since submitting the original upgrade paper, and therefore was too late to do anything about these concerns, were confirmed. As I personally predicted, and hoping for, the grounded theory aspects were well received and my passion for the grounded theory appreciated, but the questionnaire and general mixed methods methodology were dropped as a result of the assessors confirming my own concerns.


Whilst I appreciate that some Ph.D. researchers would view this as a negative outcome; for me, this was a positive outcome. The fact that I realised concerns about the questionnaire aspect before being told by Professors simply builds my confidence in my own ability to identify methodological faults before being told by those far more qualified. Plus, a little while before the presentation began I told myself that as long as I can continue with the grounded theory research that is all that really matters from a methodological perspective. This has been achieved, and therefore I consider this a positive outcome.


Update Upgrade Paper With New Insights


Since the completion of the upgrade paper, I have had new insights and ideas into what exactly I am exploring. Aspects of the upgrade paper are therefore to be rewritten, whilst other aspects (namely the literature review and all references to grounded theory) are to be left as they are. The methodological section is to go through a near complete rewrite in order to completely remove all references to mixed methods and replace with grounded theory. Objectives, research questions, discussions of anticipated findings, and the introduction aspects of the grounded theory trial are to be updated to reflect insights and directions that I have considered since the completion of the upgrade paper.


This is the way the Ph.D. works: you cannot submit a certain paper then stop work till you receive feedback or attend a presentation. The work simply continues at the regular pace. As I explored the data and continued to code data during the trial study, the need to perhaps redefine phenomenon of interest started to emerge during the data coding, and became obvious during the upgrade presentation. Again, this confirmed my own ideas and concerns that I had about my own approaches. Again, a positive outcome.


Use Of Literature And Critique Of Literature


The literature review aspect of the upgrade paper is to be left as it is as the literature review approach impressed the assessors from what I could make out, including the analysis and synthesis of literature and the use of literature to evidence the need for my research. Additionally, the assessors do not appear to have any concerns about my writing and my ability to write a thesis: my supervisor has even encouraged me to write conference and research papers as soon as I am in the position to do so. This is obviously a key, important outcome of the upgrade paper because if they had concerns about my writing and my ability to write a thesis then it would be just silly to continue it.


I personally feel that I can write a thesis. I personally feel that I can write conference and research papers; if anything, the upgrade presentation has simply boosted my confidence in my ability to do so. That’s not to say that I think I know everything: there is still much to learn about constructing a thesis but I am learning and refining my skills all the time. Reading theses certainly has helped.


I have started some literature review work, but will have to put most of the work towards it on hold whilst I update the upgrade paper.


In all however, this was a key, positive outcome!



Use Of Grounded Theory


Assessors appeared to have no problems with my use and understanding of grounded theory nor did they appear to have any problems with the way that I explained the use of grounded theory in the upgrade paper. Although, personally, I might make some changes to relevant aspects of the upgrade paper to upgrade my thoughts of grounded theory that have developed since the original submission of the upgrade paper.



Overall:


Personally I think I did alright. Could have been better I suppose but the supervisor said that I performed and came across well with what I was saying. What was interesting was the background of the assessors background: they had a background in language (Professorships) and discourse, and were viewing my research from a discursive, linguistic perspective rather than my own technical, process based approach. Never actually thought about what I am doing from a discourse, linguistic approach and I appreciated their insights, and might be something to consider more significantly whilst developing the theory.


What I am particularly pleased about with my own general approach was having my own concerns about my own methodology confirmed, along with being offered the chance to update the paper with insights and ideas that I have developed since the submission of the upgrade paper.


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