ECONOMIC & SOCIAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Benchmarking Good Practice in Qualitative Management Research

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The Project

AIMS

The overall aim of the project was to enhance good practice in the use of qualitative methods in management research. If management researchers, practitioners and policy makers are to make the most of the range of qualitative methodological approaches available they need to be aware of their existence; know their relevance to a variety of research questions and how to use them; and be able to evaluate qualitative research using appropriate criteria. The training and dissemination to be developed in this project is designed to address these issues through increasing knowledge and encouraging a critical and reflexive approach to research. In order to pursue this goal effectively, we are exploring existing perspectives on: the utility of qualitative methods; problems in their application; and appropriate assessment criteria.

The specific objectives were to:
• Conduct a systematic investigation into current perceptions of qualitative methods in management research, including perceived barriers to their use;
• Identify perceptions of good practice in conducting qualitative management research;
• Ascertain perceptions of skill deficits in this area and the factors viewed as contributing to these deficits;
• Develop materials and training workshops to encourage informed and reflexive practice in qualitative management research;
• Develop an appropriate, specific and accessible set of benchmarking criteria for assessing qualitative management research, which takes into account variations in perceptions of good practice.


RESEARCH DESIGN

Data collection
During the first year we conducted research via a series of expert panels focussing on what people see as good practice in the use of qualitative methods; and what training needs they identify in this area. This research consists of 45 interviews conducted by the researcher and the grant holders and focuses on four expert panels.

Panel A: Academic disseminators. The panel includes international academics, journal editors; members of professional associations.
Panel B: Industrial panel. This panel includes those from both the public and private sector who conduct and use qualitative research.
Panel C: Doctoral panel. Those who currently run university PhD programmes.
Panel D: Qualitative researchers panel. This panel includes those who have published within the area of qualitative methods in management research; or who use qualitative methods regularly as part of their substantive research.

Semi-structured interviews have been conducted focusing on the following issues:

• Interviewees understanding of ‘qualitative research’
• The purpose of qualitative and quantitative research
• Defining characteristics of management research
• What constitutes ‘good’ qualitative research and how this can be judged
• The relevance and status of qualitative research within a management discipline and in practice
• What skills and knowledge people might need to carry out and evaluate qualitative management research
• How the quality and profile of qualitative management research can be improved.

Data analysis
Analysis of primary and secondary data is taking place throughout the project and will be used to inform each stage, culminating in the production of an interim report, on the use and status of qualitative methods within the management research arena. Panel members will be invited to comment and provide feedback on the draft report, before publication and circulation to all stakeholder groups and a wider audience.

OUTCOMES

During the second year of the project, emphasis was on developing the research results from year one into practical outputs, including:

  • A series of workshops

    Three workshops were facilitated to which representatives from each of the expert panels were invited. They provided an opportunity for participants and panel members to provide feed back from the research about good practice and play an active role in the development of the pilot training materials. The workshop format was fully documented so that others could use it as a training activity therefore constituted part of the cascading process.

  • Resource pack

A resource pack was developed to provide a set of guidelines for good practice. They focused on issues such as making sense of the underlying epistemological and ontological approaches behind the use of various qualitative methods; criteria for evaluating the quality of qualitative research; resources for qualitative data analysis; reading lists; choosing an appropriate form of data analysis; details of software for qualitative data analysis. The aim is to provide a pack that will be useful to a wide range of stakeholder groups, including those who currently train doctoral students, researchers using qualitative methods in management research, and government social researchers. This enabled the output of the research delivery through existing management research training.

  • Website

The website was developed during the second year of the project providing a dissemination forum for much of the material generated. It is hoped that the website will be used to provide continuous support through the establishment of a network of qualitative management researchers and discussion groups.