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Journal Article

Contextual Sensitivity in Grounded Theory: The Role of Pilot Studies  pp73-84

Miguel Baptista Nunes et al

© Dec 2010 Volume 8 Issue 2, ECRM Special Issue Part 1, Editor: Ann Brown, David Douglas, Marian Carcary and Jose Esteves, pp63 - 162

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Grounded Theory is an established methodological approach for context specific inductive theory building. The grounded nature of the methodology refers to these specific contexts from which emergent propositions are drawn. Thus, any grounded theory study requires not only theoretical sensitivity, but also a good insight on how to design the research in the human activity systems to be studied. The lack of this insight may result in inefficient theoretical sampling or even erroneous purposeful sampling. These problems would not necessarily be critical, as it could be argued that through the elliptical process that characterizes grounded theory, remedial loops would always bring the researcher to the core of the theory. However, these elliptical remedial processes can take very long periods of time and result in catastrophic delays in research projects. As a strategy, this paper discusses, contrasts and compares the use of pilot studies in four different grounded theory projects. Each pilot brought different insights about the context, resulting in changes of focus, guidance to improve data collection instruments and informing theoretical sampling. Additionally, as all four projects were undertaken by researchers with little experience of inductive approaches in general and grounded theory in particular, the pilot studies also served the purpose of training in interviewing, relating to interviewees, memoing, constant comparison and coding. This last outcome of the pilot study was actually not planned initially, but revealed itself to be a crucial success factor in the running of the projects. The paper concludes with a theoretical proposition for the concept of contextual sensitivity and for the inclusion of the pilot study in grounded theory research designs


Keywords: pilot studies, grounded theory, context, research design


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Journal Issue

Volume 8 Issue 2, ECRM Special Issue Part 1 / Dec 2010  pp63‑162

Editor: Ann Brown, David Douglas, Marian Carcary, Jose Esteves

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Introduction to the ECRM conference issues

The subject of research methods in business is showing an extraordinary level of activity and innovation and this conference (the 9th European Conference on Research Methods in Business and Management) reflected this. Papers ranged from those offering insight and help in applying such favorite methods as Grounded Theory (Douglas and Nunes et al) to those introducing new ideas such as the application of subtextual phenomenology (Valleck). Papers fell naturally into fourteen main themes and these formed the basis of the conference streams. The quality of the papers was of such a high level that it was decided to publish two conference issues, A & B.  Issue A has the best papers on: Grounded Theory, Mixed Methods, Reflecting and Researching one’s own professional practice, Research Methods in Business and Research Methods in Strategy‑as‑practice. Issue B has the best papers on: Qualitative Data Analysis, Research Methodology and methodology issues, Teaching Research Methods and Methodologies and Trust and Ethics

The final selection of papers was agreed by the senior editor of the Journal and the guest editors. The comments of session chairs were taken into account in making the final selection of papers for these two issues of the EJBRM. The papers selected were chosen for their quality of writing, their relevance to the Journal’s objective of publishing papers that offer new insights or practical help in the application of research methods in business research.

Issue A

These papers dealt with the problems facing management researchers in a variety of ways. Two papers develop new ideas (Valleck, Venkateswaran and Prabhu). Vallek’s paper introduces a relatively new method for researching in that it advocates the use of personal experience through the application of subtextual phenomenology (Valleck). The paper by Venkateswaran and Prabhu claim that their topic ‑ strategy‑as‑Practice is just emerging as a new subject. This is the study of individual and organizational actions in the process of strategizing. The paper gives an insightful view of the problems of taking a holistic view of such actions. The two papers on Grounded Theory could not have been more different in their aims, one (Douglas) shows us how the method can be used to identify the differing perspectives of stakeholders, while the second (Nunes et al) offers a valuable insight into managing the key initial stage of the method through the use of pilot studies. The papers on mixed methods (Papadimitriou, Molina‑Azorin and Cameron) both offer insight into how and when to use this method. Papadimitriou is a helpful paper to others in understanding the MMs approach to research. Whereas Molina‑Azorin and Cameron carry out a survey of the way Mixed methods has been applied in a number of key organizational research journals. The remaining three papers offer valuable insights into key steps of the research process: O'hEocha et al give a review of the use of focus groups from the literature which offers us insight into the value and appropriateness of using this technique. Heine uses an example of analyzing the behavior of a niche group to discuss the twin problems of surveys – that of reaching the target group and then motivating them to respond.  Beck et al address the practical problems of making use of data (on major change projects) over which the researcher has little control as to choice or the conditions within which the collection takes place.


Keywords: grounded theory, small business, entrepreneurship, pilot studies, context, research design, multilevel mixed design, quality management, higher education, neo-institutional theory, mixed methods research, strategic management, organizational behaviour, quantitative methods, qualitative methods, subtextual phenomenology; phenomenology; arts-based research; first-person research, transcendental phenomenology, intuitive research, focus group, information systems development, evaluation criteria, luxury products, luxury brands, luxury consumers, survey participant acquisition, survey response, viral marketing, field research, external validity, induction, statistical generalization, theoretical generalization, strategy-as-practice, research methods, strategy research, clinical research, review


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