Contextual Sensitivity in Grounded Theory: The Role of Pilot Studies
Keywords:pilot studies, grounded theory, context, research design
AbstractGrounded 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
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