Doing interpretive research - Geoff Walsham UKAIS seminar - University of Salford


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These slides are from a free seminar run by the UK Academy for Information Systems (UKAIS) in conjunction with the Information Systems, Organisations and Society (ISOS) Research Group, University of Salford.

Doing Interpretive research – Why & How?

Geoff Walsham is an Emeritus Professor of Management Studies (Information Systems) at Judge Business School, University of Cambridge. In addition to his post at Cambridge, he has held academic posts at the University of Lancaster, UK where he was Professor of Information Management; the University of Nairobi in Kenya, and Mindanao State University in the Philippines. His teaching and research is focused on the question: are we making a better world with information and communication technologies? He was one the early pioneers of interpretive approaches to research on information systems. For further details, go to

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Doing interpretive research - Geoff Walsham UKAIS seminar - University of Salford

  1. 2. Contents <ul><li>What is interpretive research? </li></ul><ul><li>Theory: role, generation and choice </li></ul><ul><li>Conducting empirical work </li></ul><ul><li>Analysis and contribution </li></ul><ul><li>Ethical issues and tensions </li></ul>Page
  2. 3. Interpretive view of data <ul><li>‘ What we call our data are really our own constructions of other people’s constructions of what they and their compatriots are up to.’ </li></ul><ul><li>(Geertz 1973) </li></ul>Page
  3. 4. Some philosophical traditions which can underpin interpretive research studies <ul><li>Phenomenology e.g. Zuboff (1988) </li></ul><ul><li>Ethnomethodology e.g. Suchman (1987) </li></ul><ul><li>Hermeneutics e.g. Boland and Day (1989) </li></ul><ul><li>Critical realism? See Mingers (2004) </li></ul>Page
  4. 5. Interpretive versus critical <ul><li>Research can be both interpretive and critical. Stronger critical emphasis comes from: </li></ul><ul><li>Motivation – what is wrong in the world rather than right </li></ul><ul><li>Focus – on issues such as asymmetries of power relations </li></ul><ul><li>Theory – with a critical edge e.g. Frankfurt school, Bourdieu, feminism, post-colonialism </li></ul>Page
  5. 6. Role of theory <ul><li>In research design/data collection </li></ul><ul><li>In data analysis </li></ul><ul><li>As final product </li></ul>Page
  6. 7. Grounded theory <ul><li>Due originally to Glaser and Strauss (1967) </li></ul><ul><li>Welcome emphasis on learning from the data rather than imposing a prior theoretical position </li></ul><ul><li>I find the specifics (and later variants) too programmatic for my taste </li></ul><ul><li>And I think we need a balance of learning from prior theory and the data </li></ul>Page
  7. 8. Some Dos and Don’ts of theory generation and choice <ul><li>Do read widely on different theories </li></ul><ul><li>Do choose theories which ‘speak’ to you (not because they are current fashion) </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t dismiss a theory’s value until you have read about it in depth </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t leave theory generation until after your empirical study </li></ul>Page
  8. 9. Conducting empirical work – role of researcher <ul><li>Outside researcher/involved researcher (Walsham 1995) </li></ul><ul><li>I see it now as a spectrum of involvement which often changes over time (Walsham 2006) </li></ul><ul><li>Advantages of close involvement can include in-depth access and being viewed by field subjects as aiming to make a positive contribution </li></ul><ul><li>Disadvantages can include time, reduced openness of field subjects, becoming ‘socialised’ and self-reporting difficulties </li></ul>Page
  9. 10. Gaining and maintaining access <ul><li>Need to have good social skills! </li></ul><ul><li>Persistence/ going at the research from different angles </li></ul><ul><li>Offer feedback and presentations </li></ul><ul><li>I normally try to avoid written reports </li></ul>Page
  10. 11. Interviews and other data sources <ul><li>Trying to reassure the interviewee </li></ul><ul><li>Balance between passivity and over-direction </li></ul><ul><li>I have serious doubts about tape-recording followed by transcription: expensive, may reduce openness, doesn’t capture non-verbal elements </li></ul><ul><li>E-mails, chat rooms, web sites, surveys (both on-line and off-line), participant observation, hanging around </li></ul>Page
  11. 12. Analysing your data <ul><li>Best tool for analysis is your own mind and that of others </li></ul><ul><li>Qualitative data analysis techniques can be useful but also time-consuming and not a replacement for thought </li></ul><ul><li>So read your data and then read it again. Make theory/data links. </li></ul><ul><li>Try your ideas on others through working papers, conversations, seminars </li></ul>Page
  12. 13. Legitimising your approach – a warning about Klein and Myers (1999) <ul><li>Certainly valuable to think about your work in relation to their principles </li></ul><ul><li>But a particular study could illustrate all of their principles and still not come up with interesting results </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t merely say: ‘I have applied the principles’ </li></ul><ul><li>Do say: ‘Here are my interesting results’ </li></ul>Page
  13. 14. Constructing a contribution <ul><li>Who is your audience? </li></ul><ul><li>To what literature are you aiming to contribute? </li></ul><ul><li>What do you claim to offer that is new to the audience and the literature? </li></ul><ul><li>How should others use your work? </li></ul>Page
  14. 15. Ethical issues and tensions <ul><li>Confidentiality for individuals </li></ul><ul><li>Investigating issues which are not part of the explicit research agenda </li></ul><ul><li>Giving the organization ‘bad news’ </li></ul><ul><li>Reporting in the literature – being critical </li></ul>Page