Archive for September, 2010

My case for inductive research

I have started to immerse myself in what is a colourful history of research philosophy.  It hurts the old grey matter working through so many competing factions (thankfully I quite like it) from Plato and the rationalists; to Aristotle and the empiricists; to Comte, Bacon and the positivists; to the Vienna Circle Logical Positivists; to Husserl and the phenomenologist’s;  to Nietzsche and his critical hermeneutics, and onwards to the existentialists, and; to contemporaries like Popper on falsifiability, Kuhn’s history of paradigmatic science revolutions; Foucault on knowledge and power; one of my favourites – Feyerabend’s anything goes, let’s take on the Catholics; and finally leading through Social Constructivists to fully subjective Post Modernists (Kasser, 2006)!


There are some heavy hitters in that summary – but what have I learned that is of any use?  Sorry a bit of William James and John Dewey pragmatism coming out now :o)  I think that I have at least seen a hint of how some pretty important terms like ontology, epistemology, theoretical perspective, methodology, and methods hang together.   You would have thought after 2500 years of western science tradition we would have at least settled on some common terms – but it is truly annoying when the authors use a different set e.g. research strategies; research approaches etc.  From Crotty (2003, p3) I noted the following definitions for the key terms mentioned this far:


I. Ontology – ‘the nature of being’, ‘what is’, ‘reality’

II. Epistemology – ‘theory of knowledge’

III. Theoretical perspective – ‘a philosophical stance’, ‘a context  for the process and grounding its logic and criteria’

IV. Methodology – ‘strategy, a plan of action’, ‘design’, ‘linking method choices to desired outcomes’

V. Methods – ‘techniques and procedures used to gather and analyse data’


What still appears vague to me is how from top to bottom, or bottom to top; the researcher is required to not only link the choices together but explain their rationale.  The concepts are clear but not how the choices REALLY infer certain assumptions relevant for the research.


What has stood out is that the commonly spoken quantitative qualitative debates seem dramatically oversimplified (Morgan and Smircich, 1980).  Quantitative is not linked directly to positivism and neither is qualitative linked to subjectivism – even if they are commonly used that way.  Crotty argues that the researcher can deviate from the common practices, or exemplars using Kuhn’s terminology – and naturally I like that sort of thing.   That being said, it has been argued that taking a mixed method approach can get rather confused as you explain your thinking on route from your methods to your assumptions on reality.


The tensions that exist between the rationalists and the pragmatists; the objectivists, constructivists and the subjectivists; the falsifiability verse verifiability; normal science and paradigm revolutions etc. are without a doubt very deep and very real (Kasser, 2006)!   I am a person that can see that there are uses for objectivism in the natural sciences; and uses for the subjectivism in the social sciences, a case for pluralism – however, I would stretch to being a subjectivist in some cases.  My own MBA project used an auto-ethnographical research method and I know that the positivists might seriously consider this a pseudo-science at best.  I would reply, that perhaps it is more appropriate to find the method that best serves to answer your research question – and that project was a exploration on the coachee perspective of executive coaching.  How could I observe this, can I theorize without data, or depend simply on what others tell me as their experience?  No – I sincerely thought NO – let’s go from the inside out on this one.


In the end I did give in to an invisible hand of positivist pressure (wanting a seriously good mark and affirmation from the project committee), so I included some observations from other coachees.  This resulted in criticism from my advisor,  Paraphrasing her, she said, using other interviews alongside the auto-ethnographical method did not honour your research philosophy and may have undermined the result.  At the time I read this, I did not understand – now I do.  Of course, what seems important from all this is than in the end – one will have to defend one’s choices and the reality will be – anyone taking an opposing philosophical position can DESTROY your research from their point of view.  Kind of like Kuhn’s having different language and measures so that you end up talking passed each other (Kasser, 2006).


I hinted before that I am not naturally of the objectivist kind, and my preference is for the other end of this spectrum – constructivism, and even subjectivism.  Objectivists, Positivists and Post Positivists have through their obsession with: values ad politics free scientific methods like Popper’s hypothetico-deductive method (Popper, 1959); the search for objective single truths; attempting to come up with conceptualized theories without testing (sometimes at all) seems to me instinctively to be a blind way of doing science.


In the previous weeks I have felt some light pressure to align to a theory, to define my contribution, to conceptualize scientific experiments etc. In response to this I created last week’s blog titled ‘My first stab at a theory’.  To say the least I am a little embarrassed by a demonstration of such arrogance putting ‘theory’ in the title.   At best it was a brain dump of concepts, an even then only loosely put together without a serious systematic literature review.  This whole idea of first conceptualizing a theory, creating a hypothesis, testing it, falsifying or verifying it, modifying it, and then writing up a thesis that tidily demonstrates a kind of Popperian heroism – see, how efficiently deductive science works, hints of disingenuous science.  My MBA project advisor caught me once (I admit my mistake was accidental as started losing track of events not and not honouring the original order of things) by making out observations in a certain sequence – to which was not accurate.  Positivist do seem to demonstrate this in the limited dissertations I’ve read.


The controversy stated clearly is that rather than choose a theory to improve, rather than set deductive hypothesizes or propositions to verify/falsify, I would rather take the advantages that come with running my research project in an inductive manner.  I have identified a problem that Education of Sustainable Development (ESD) is scarce, complex, hard to measure, can be surrounded by a level of pessimism, and results that are variable at best.  Note, I accept that Social Learning in the community is bringing good results in younger age groups so this not a position in all ESD cases.  


So what’s the deal?  I simply have a hunch that using new 3D Virtual Worlds (3DVW) and educational innovation may bring some optimism to the problem at hand.  As Edwin Locke says, initial theories, prepositions, or hypotheses and large justifications for the research are simply not required, so as long it is “made clear that something new was being done” (Locke, 2007, p. 887).   Yes, there are arguments against induction – my favourite is where the chicken after receiving food every morning from the farmer, induces that the farmer will come in again tomorrow with food – but instead next time it will be an axe!   Here is what Locke suggests when it comes to planning an inductive research project:

1. Start with you philosophical axioms!

2. Develop a substantial set of data and observations!

3. Formulate concepts that arise from the dataset!

4. Look for causality!

5. Integrate/Synthesize

6. Identify domain boundaries!


The caveat Locke offers is that the findings or corroborated theory is one of contextualized truth, one that is open for further research, and open that it may not be generalizable in all cases, perhaps not at all.  He states with conviction that he refrained from issuing his formal theory of goals until he had completed a massive 400 studies over a 25 year period!


Locke describes his own understanding of the inductive debate suggesting that science would never have made the progress without induction.  He names many of the great scientists such as Galileo, Newton, Einstein, and many more.  This seems pretty compelling to me.  Now, not for a minute will I suggest I am a great scientist, or even a scientist :o) – nevertheless, does it make any sense to be guided down a philosophical approach by institutions, departments or advisor preferences that does not sit well with you the researcher?   Sounds like a battle of the minds and wills that will last for 4-5 years – NO THANKS!  So with growing but limited knowledge of these affairs, I will lay my cards the on table (As one goes down the list it gets less certain!).


  1. Approach: Induction first!
  2. Ontology: Pragmatism, Pluralism, Relativism
  3. Epistemology: Social Constructivism and Subjectivism
  4. Theoretical Perspective: Interpretivism (although sub-disciplines need more thought)
  5. Methodology: Ethnography, Discourse Analysis, perhaps Survey Research
  6. Methods: Narrative, Participant Observation, Questionnaire, and Interview
  7. Time Horizon: Cross Sectional


I am stating a case for a research philosophy that will not yet try to predict my contribution to knowledge or to theory in specifics, but a promise to explore the literature and research observations with passion.  To search for ways contribute to the knowledge on innovative ways to educate managers on sustainability using new technology – a project with potentially useful outcomes for educators, HR professionals and Management.


So, does that put the nail in the coffin of deduction in this project – well not yet.  Being a professed fallibilist (if there were not enough -ists or -isms in this blog already!), I strongly believe in what I believe, but I am open to being wrong.


Could it even be possible that behind the heated science wars there is a pragmatism that supports a quiet collaboration?  I never said that I would stop reading the literature – so could there be a kind of a dance between the two camps?  I might start with experimentation – but quietly deduce concepts (not theories – I won’t stretch that far), then return to experimentation, and loop around in the shape of a wonderful waltz instead, 1-2-3, 1-2-3….


The reason why I like this idea comes back to Feyerabend’s anything goes mentality – experiment, innovate, create, and don’t be afraid of the consequences – there might be something pretty special where others have not dared to look in strange places nor in such a disrespectful manner towards one’s domain history!  For me though, for the time being – I say let’s settle the research philosophy debate for the project – and start planning the first exploration.


Welcome your own thoughts on my musing this week – leave me a comment.


Crotty, M., 2003. The Foundations of Social Research: Meaning and Perspective in the Research Process 2nd., SAGE Publications Ltd.


Easterby-Smith, M., Thorpe, R. & Jackson, P., 2008. Management Research 3rd Editio., SAGE Publications Ltd.


Kasser, J.L., 2006. Philosophy of Science. Philosophy of Science.


Locke, E.A., 2007. The Case for Inductive Theory Building . Journal of Management, 33(6), 867-890. Available at:


Morgan, G. & Smircich, L., 1986. The case for qualitative research Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner . Further reproduction prohibited without permission . Academy of Management Review.


Popper, K., 1959. The Logic of Scientific Discovery First Engl., Routledge Classics. Available at:







My first stab at a theory?

Earlier this week I drove to Dubai for a cohort meeting with my advisors – and after grumbling to myself as I made the near two hour journey, in the end it was worth it to learn that there are always other ways of looking at research, and as a virgin researcher – often better ways!

The key questions highlighted included:

  1. Think about all the objections you can get, even down to the title of my presentation and the meaning behind every word!
  2. What is the fundamental thing I am researching?
  3. What is special about what I am researching?
  4. What is the theoretical advance I am proposing to make, and why is it important to humanity?
  5. What do we know and what don’t we know about the domain under research?
  6. What’s similar and what’s different between theories, ideas and concepts?

In hindsight, I now feel that sometimes I am wasting time.  I jump down deep rabbit holes to see if a lead or a concept is interesting or applicable to the research scope.  I am reading incessantly, presently I have 11 books, and numerous articles on my desk calling out my name for attention.  Am I wasting time?  Not sure, probably not, but it certainly feels inefficient.  I recently spent probably 3-4 weeks working on getting to grips with values and looking for instruments to measure them, and even communicating with the creator of one instrument.  Only to find then a couple of weeks later that I would look in another direction i.e. The Theory of Planned Behaviour – only to hear finally that this also has some serious critics and perhaps serious defects.

My advisors came to the rescue during our discussion with some tips for me to help in this regard:

  1. I first must spend time looking a broader text books for psychology, sociology, business, etc. to see what stands out for relevance.
  2. I must read four star and three star journals, where other journals are ‘could reads’ [although as an aside here, I can see this is difficult in new areas of technology where they have not reached the level of credibility in academic practice] – sounds like Kuhn’s normal science, what is acceptable and what is not! :o)
  3. I will now spend time unpacking the subject areas and theories before looking for a measuring instrument!

I’ll give these a try.  I will admit I liked our discussion very much, I was never uncomfortable nor upset, – and while I wanted to jump in and reply with immediate compelling responses, thankfully, I largely held back and listened to the alternate points of view coming from the more experienced ‘eyes’.

Overall, the message was to go away and dissect what we know, where it works, what are the important criteria/factors, dimensions etc. simply put I need to unpack the subject areas.  All of this seems very useful and worth the long drive.

As a result of the meeting, I had a real sense that my presentations to date had not been clear to others,  so this weekend I spent all of it trying to create a model of what I am really thinking about.

The satellite propositions can be summarized as follows:

  1. Sustainability Education is a unique and a critical issue for humanity.
  2. Fun based learning can improve learning effectiveness.
  3. Effective learning leads to improved behavior intention.

The helicopter propositions can be summarized as follows:

  1. Sustainability Education is complex, difficult, and can lead to a sense of pessimism for students.
  2. Using 3DVW can help alleviate that pessimism
  3. Using 3DVW can improve role play effectiveness
  4. Safe discourse, solution focus and improved role play leads to increased empathy, optimism, and understanding
  5. Leading ultimately improving sustainability behaviour intention


I am really happy with the result, and it can be downloaded to look at in more detail from the link below.  Is it the beginning of my first theoretical model?  Not sure – but it could be a nice place to start some focused unpacking of my research proposal.  As always, love to hear your thoughts.

Accelerating possibilities

This has been another good week starting with my setting up a new Second Life (SL) group called ‘Accelerating Possibilities Cohort’.  The group’s mission is to offer support and peer coaching to doctorate student members who are researching some aspect of SL.  It already has 9 members spanning the globe including Canada, USA, UK, UAE and New Zealand!  The name of the group came from a discussion with Deanya Zenfold.   I was trying to explain the feeling I was getting from global collaboration and communication changes using web 2.0 technologies… in a sense our possibilities for knowledge contribution accelerate when people come together to share, critique and converse.  The first meeting will be 24th September.

One realization this week is that SL can be a very lonely place except when you have something to do.  For example, I enjoyed very much my first in-world event organized as part of the Virtual World Roundtable and Aj Brooks from Montclair State University.  The group invited Terrance Linden, manager of Customer Strategy and Development at Linden Lab (LL) to discuss with educators – issues and future direction of education in SL and LL support for educators.  Aj did Parkinson proud, and with the help of the Google Moderator software he engaged Terrance with his and the audiences questions with ease.  There were I think over 60 avatars on the SIM when it got underway.  It was delivered in voice and to say the least it was awesome, there were few performance problems and it was like I was there, and at one stage I even got a bit nervous as my rather inflammatory question on Linden Labs recent marketing disasters climbed up the list of questions to be asked.  In the end however, my question reached the top – and then they ran out of time!  Was that timing or not an appropriate question to ask when someone so important was on stage?  It certainly seemed to me a perfectly good enough medium to run a full size SBS lecture!

Now turning to my own research, last week I found myself playing a bit with where my research might fit in the subjective-positive spectrum of research philosophies – stating the I preferred the social construction end of the continuum.  Well, I’m afraid I need to swallow a humble pill as this week while I don’t make a 180 degree turn, it is certainly 90 degrees with a new suggestion that mixed methods may serve the project best.  Let me explain, I have been trying to nail the ‘values’ question for quite some time i.e. where values sit with my research.  Perhaps I was putting off answering the question using research philosophy as my excuse!  Nevertheless, I was being pressed for an answer, and this past Friday I put my ideas up on the whiteboard about what I considered important.  Concepts like awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and power all stayed prominent.  In my opinion its these concepts that enable a person to change.

Then as I was looking around for research on these concepts, I stumbled across the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB), an instrument for measuring what Icek Ajzen (1991) calls Behaviour Intention.  Roughly described it looks at an individual’s beliefs toward a particular behaviour, toward the norms around the behaviour (group, organisation, or society), and finally his/her perception of his/her ability to execute the behaviour.

It was here that I begin to get excited as this theory has much of my own experience reflected in it, and extends it including the normative constraints that exist around us – for me a real barrier to sustainable behaviour in organisations.  As I looked into the credibility of the theory I find that there are 100s of study’s across many disciplines that have used it successfully.  I note that in the few thesis’s they also extended it or combined it with other models.  TPB is not the only theory in the game as I have previously mentioned Value-Beliefs-Norms Theory (VBN) in a previous blog, nevertheless, TPB even though a quantitative analysis simply gets much closer to seeing an effect on behaviour from interventions without actually observing the behaviour!  Perfect.

Not wanting to leave my subjective preferences behind, I think it will still be possible perhaps even desirable to use ethnographic observation of 3D virtual world interactions, and action research to iterate and improve the model of intervention towards the optimum the medium will allow.   An important space for the qualitative and subjective!

So, in summary I have moved back up the positivist continuum suggesting mixed methods will be a good move – in this case it could certainly be a pragmatic one.

Look forward to hearing your views.

Categories: Uncategorized


This week has been a little busier in the evenings than I had predicted as I utilised the extra hour or two from shorter working hours during Ramadan.  The activities in Second Life included conversing more with educators and researchers, and building some of my first inworld objects (a snowman and a spiral staircase!!).  The former activity went well giving me some new leads to look up in the coming weeks, while the latter I should say is not a core competency and nor will it ever be without a significant time investment…you need to have seen my snowman!!  Outside of Second Life I have registered for the Research PGC from SBS and made some refinements to the DNA design of the project see above image.


The first refinement is that I am pulling back from the full Sustainability Institute, at least temporarily, until funding opportunities show themselves.  Frankly, I just don’t have the resources or the bandwidth to commit to the ideal.  This in part possible through an insight shared by a practitioner and colleague that one of the best University Sustainability courses he ever attended used negotiation skills and role play – in real life of course.  To simply ‘wander the commons’ inside Second Life or use the SBS Virtual Campus will in turn lower investment/construction cost.


Virtual 3D worlds do offer unique opportunities for role play educating such as improved confidence and getting into the role e.g. I hate it whenever I am asked to do a role play during training.   Therefore, it is here that I make the second refinement reducing the focus from the multiple learning archetypes down to two – role play and discourse.


The third refinement is the addition of an initial research philosophy statement.  Ontologically and epistemologically I have my views and my preferences.  Simply put, while I see a place in the natural sciences for positivism and the concrete, my own experience in the social sciences lends itself more towards meaning, social constructive and subjective forms of knowledge creation.


More importantly, when one is about to dedicate many years to research – I think one has to be honest about one’s preferences.  If those preferences do not sit well with the method that will best answer the research question – then in my humble opinion – change the research question.  From my last bog entry my supervisor asked the following question:


“Regarding the research question: is it value shifts? attitude shifts? what’s the difference? how do values shift? through attitude changes? I think these will be important conceptual ideas to get clarity on.”


Thinking more about this question and about research philosophy may have helped me find an answer or at least a different question i.e. is this the right time to answer this question?  Perhaps the phenomenon under research as described in the image below and a different question becomes apparent – “Using 3D virtual environments, can sustainability discourse and role playing positively impact sustainable business practice?”































So does this mean another turn in my search for a researchable idea that satisfies my values, my goals, my preferences, and my need to do something that can add value to management and organizational practice?  Maybe!


Thinking ahead, if this research could prove that sustainability discourse, and role playing sustainability dilemmas created some yet to be defined change in managers’ awareness, or skills, or beliefs, or values, or attitudes, or behaviours, and perhaps develop a theory around these insights, then that sounds to me to be a useful project.  A project that organizational practitioners, sustainability educators; and educators in general would be interested the result.


As per usual, would love to hear from you your thoughts on this project.