Archive for June, 2011

Plea for help!

My blog today – from my new blog site (after I spent much of Saturday transferring over the content from iWeb is a plea for help on my MRes dissertation project from the research community #phdchat.  Yesterday, I posed a question on #phdchat that got a lot of responses: what do you call participant-observation that is based from memory – and is it a valid data collection method?  Let me explain.

Recently, I lost my primary case site where I was going to do a case study with 6 day participant-observation, interviews * 2 with 3 program managers, and documentary analysis of project management methodologies, PMO charters etc.  My plan B (now Plan A) was to move the case site to a location where I have worked before.  My change to the data collection is to interview circa 15 project managers with unstructured in-depth interviews on identity, and continue with documentary analysis (no change here).

What has changed significantly is that the 5-6 days of observing project managers is impractical as I can’t observe 15 managers except in the general sense, and I can’t get close to the action due to their primary work being all over place, and I would only get to see them at temporary desks sending emails…at best.  So I got to thinking about the years I had worked there, and the events, presentations, and meetings etc.  I did get to observe most of these project managers in action in some form or another.   The key is point us that I never made any notes.

So what I’m thinking is to go back through emails, presentations, critical events (there were some) with most of the project managers I’m interviewing and construct accounts from my perspective.  The idea is still the same in that I want to see how ‘what people say’, verse ‘what I SAW them do’, and the documentary evidence converges or contradicts in order to same some thing useful and, valid – kind of like a retrospective diary.

Is this a valid data collection method?  If I was interviewing someone it could be called narrative history or oral history perhaps – but I’m writing it.  Alternatively, I could call it auto-ethnography – however, here I am not the subject.  Is there something called auto-narrative history hehehe?

I believe it is participant-observation – just an odd form of it.  I could use say Spradley’s framework (1980, p78) to make it somewhat systematic!


What would you call it?  Or is my thinking here just nonsense???  Help me find a way to use what I think could be useful data for compare/contrasting purposes.  And, most importantly, be my heroes and share some references of research projects or articles that have implemented the same strategy legitimately.  I will need some backing I would think to get this past the external examiner!

PS. I hope this blog works ok!  It is the first time I’m using WordPress.


Doing some data collection

During the planning I offered the interviewee the chance select the time and the place so he would feel comfortable to converse.  He chose to meet in a local mall after work!  I arrived early looking for a spot to set up.  Starbucks was way too noisy, so I popped into Costa 30 minutes before our agreed start.  Unfortunately, my interviewee was late and we begun about two hours after the planned start.

I created a map that linked the critical research question, theoretical questions, and translated interview questions.  I planned an unstructured interview but this map would help guide me if I got stuck.  As I waited with a iced coffee, I went through my questions and my plan.  I noticed that my questions appeared a bit dry so I took the time to modify….

My interviewee eventually arrived.  We sat down for the introductions, and I walked him through the participant information/informed consent form which we then both signed.

I was a bit nervous from a previous experience with recording equipment problems, so this time I doubled up with a livescribe recorder/pen, and my iphone with an external mic.  I asked interviewee to attach the mic to his shirt and we got started with an icebreaker – “So how did you get into project management?….” and we were underway!

What I liked –

I hardly needed to use the questions to guide the interview.  It was just like we were having a conversation.  I was conscious that I was in the role of researcher, nevertheless, as I’m also a Project Manager like my interviewee so there was a unique rapport.  I was navigating what Gill and Johnson describe this as the ‘precarious balance between insider and outsider’ (2010, p157).  My solace was in the idea that I should maximize what ethnomethodologists call ‘unique adequacy’ and move to create the necessary “distance” during the analysis!

On a few occasions the interviewee would use a word that was in some of my planned questions so I enjoyed being able to let the interview flow around the ideas that popped up naturally.  Even more cool – was when the interview went into unexpected places and I felt my own perspectives changing.  I could sense a co-construction of knowledge.

What I didn’t like –

Well at one stage we had the costa coffee grounder going and a screaming child in the background, and I was quite worried about the sound quality.  I was struggling to take notes on things like body language or other non verbals….but the notepad was useful as an object that the interviewee and I used to get ideas across.  I was frequently trying to unpick ideas, words, or statements made during the interview, mostly neutrally, but sometimes I could sense my bias/agenda coming through – and even worse leading the interview.  Perhaps this is a delicate balance.

If there was something that frustrated me a little – was that my interviewee preferred to talk about project managers in the general sense, rather than the self – made worse by the fact that I didn’t realize this for most of the interview.

There was one scare right at the end – I realized that I had not switched on the external micro-phone….ouch!  Fortunately, the internal mic on the phone still worked fine and livescribe worked a treat :o)

By the end of the interview I knew I had some really good material. In fact the material was sufficiently insightful to potentially influence the coming interviews.   Is this a good thing?  In a small way I can see if interviews continue to shed new ideas like this – is there a kind of abductive grounded analysis in progress even if I have not even transcribed a word?

It was almost 10pm, we said goodbyes and I thanked him.  The interview took 1hr 52mins, I was tired – but on my route home I still managed to record some reflections into my phone.  Today, I loaded the transcripts from both devices and its all good.  First interview ready for transcription.  There might be a researcher in me yet!

Six more interviews booked for next week!  Let’s go!!!!


Gill, J. & Johnson, P., (2010), Research Methods for Managers 4th ed., SAGE Publications Ltd.