This paper discusses the role of the researcher as a participant observer and reflective practitioner. The paper aims to assess the benefits and limitations of participant observation, and offer guidance as to how to manage the challenges inherent in this technique. The paper draws on the lead author's experience as a participant observer when working on her doctoral thesis: 'Factors Affecting the Viability of Electronic Marketplaces: an Empirical Investigation into International Steel Trading'. It discusses the issues and concerns resulting from participant observation and how these were dealt with in the case example. The empirical research was a longitudinal study tracking the evolution of steel electronic commerce between December 1998 and the present time. The events examined in this study were observed during the lead author's ten years at a large steel producertrading house. As a trader and a manager, the lead author was directly involved in the conduct of business. The study represents the contribution of an industry practitioner and, as such, provides a unique insight into a real‑world setting.
Keywords: participant observation, qualitative research methods, qualitative data, longitudinal case work, steel trading case
The use of the case study method in theory testing: the example of steel trading and electronic markets pp57-65
© Jan 2011 Volume 9 Issue 1, ECRM 2010 Special issue Part 2/Jan 2011, Editor: Ann Brown, David Douglas, Marian Carcary and Jose Esteves, pp1 - 87
Many of the research questions of interest to IS academics and practitioners concern the success or failure of change initiatives involving the introduction of new systems and practices, when the phenomenon interacts with the context, and the focus is on organisational rather than technical issues. These are exactly the types of research questions for which a case study method is well suited. This paper assesses the use of the case study method to test hypotheses and build theory while investigating the phenomenon of steel e‑marketplaces. The paper draws upon the lead author’s experience when working on her doctoral thesis ‘Factors Affecting the Viability of Electronic Marketplaces: an Empirical Investigation into International Steel Trading’. Although the case research strategy has mostly been utilised for exploration and hypothesis generation, the case method is appropriate to all phases of research. In this study the research objectives were identified as theory description and theory testing, and the case strategy was used to describe and test the hypotheses. The lead author undertakes a cross‑case analysis of multiple IT‑powered initiatives in order to develop theoretical propositions to be tested through subsequent research. This paper discusses how issues and concerns inherent in this method were dealt with, and assesses the quality of the findings.