I adopted what is essentially a qualitative methodology to my research into Outdoor Management Development (OMD). What follows is a very brief explanation of why I adopted this approach, and the techniques I used as a result during the fieldwork.
The choice of methodologies: Qualitative or quantitative?
Most researchers in the field of OMD appear to have adopted an objective, rather than subjective, stance towards the design of their studies of OMD. My impression is that this is driven by a need to answer the question `Does it work' encouraged by a desire to `get at the truth' and a need to provide hard, `objective' facts. The positivist approach may also be a result of dissatisfaction with the `descriptive' accounts of OMD, given by interested parties in a variety of publications, from advertising brochures to practitioner orientated publications. On the other hand, the paucity of published qualitative research into OMD may point to the early stage of development of research in the field and maybe a lack of familiarity with research methods other than the quasi-experimental approach. However, this approach to OMD research has resulted in a body of knowledge that is often criticised for being meagre and fragmented.
Researchers who take a subjective approach are unlikely to look for the `proof' that an OMD course `works'. Rather than using quasi-experimental methods, a qualitative researcher will aim to get a detailed picture by collecting data in the setting in which it naturally occurs. This approach is more likely to uncover the subjective experiences of participants involved in OMD and discover their perceptions of an OMD course and its effects. It is also more likely to focus on the meanings individuals attribute to their experiences as participants on an OMD course and to assume that OMD has different effects, at different times, on different individuals. Silverman (1993) suggests that adopting a subjective approach involves the assumption that interviewees' responses are informed by the perspective they have of the phenomena rather than assuming they are reports of an objective reality which may be true or false.
This presents the possibility for a shift of focus of OMD research towards subjective research methodologies. This has parallels with the approach towards educational research introduced by Parlett and Hamilton (1972). They argued that the experimental methodologies adopted by the physical sciences were inappropriate to the study of human behaviour. Research designs which incorporated a belief that students react to contrasting educational treatments as consistently as plants react to fertilisers were criticised (Marton et al 1984:14). This was accompanied by the suggestion that the procedures used by social anthropologists, who observe and question people to build up a detailed understanding of their customs and beliefs, were more appropriate to research that seeks to understand educational situations from within.
The research methodology I adopted in conducting the fieldwork aimed to put course participants in a central position. I wished to gather delegates' perceptions and formulate a theory based on their point of view. My approach was informed by the methodologies of phenomenology (Hycner 1985) and grounded theory (Glaser and Strauss 1967).
Having constructed a theory of OMD grounded in the perceptions of course participants, I was ready to compare this description of OMD with the way it is presented in the literature. In this way I would establish if participants' experiences bear any resemblance to the theories of OMD contained in the literature.
The emphasis I am placed on participants' perceptions could be described as the difference between `emic' and `etic' data. Emic data is from the perspective of an insider, produced by the participant informed only by their perspective or frame of reference. It is likely to occur in a natural setting and be only minimally affected by the researcher or the research setting. This contrasts with etic data, which is from the perspective of an outsider, imposed from a frame of reference, probably that of the researchers (Gill and Johnson 1991). Data is rarely completely etic or emic, but different methods can be adopted taking into account the kind of data they will yield. One way to produce emic data is to collect what delegates say during a naturally occurring public conversation as opposed to interview responses presented directly to the researcher (Silverman 1993). Since my intention was to collect `emic' data this served as a useful guide to practice when choosing the method I would use to collect their perceptions.
The fieldwork phase of this research lasted approximately one year, during which time I was in contact with course participants in this study as a trainer and a researcher. Taking a this approach, I acknowledged that the relationship I had with participants, as an OMD trainer on their courses, as the researcher conducting this study, and as a visitor to their place of work would all have an effect on their responses. Furthermore, my choice to investigate this field was prompted by my own interests in this area, a field which I had some preconceptions about. This would also have an effect. Even my choice of questions and methods of analysis would be influenced by the existing concepts and theories which I hold about OMD. I could not even follow the suggestions by Glaser (1992) that one should avoid reading the literature beforehand, since I had developed a thorough working knowledge of the literature since the end of the 1980's.
The fieldwork technique which I believed to be most appropriate in these circumstances, was the focus group interview, an approach which would produce data volunteered by the delegates rather than requested by the researcher. Stewart and Shamdasani (1990) suggest focus groups can provide information of an emic nature because they allow individuals to respond in their own words. I also decided to make explicit my perceptions and understanding by including a reflexive narrative in my thesis.
I conducted interviews with 47 people who had each attended an OMD course at Brathay Hall in the English Lake District. I did not make random choice of participants, programmes or organisations as a sample for this study. Instead I chose delegates from three programmes which broadly represented the variety of purposes of OMD courses at the time:
|Course Focus:||Team Building||Graduate Development||Management Skills|
|Aim of the Course:||To develop a `team' approach.||To practice the skills of working.||To develop their management skills.|
|Sector of Organisation:||Retail Banking Sector||Heavy Engineering Industry||Public Sector|
Participants were interviewed either as a group, together with the rest of the participants they attended the course with, or individually, on a one-to-one basis. I decided to delay the interviews until several weeks after the course following Marsh et al's (1986) findings that delegates tend to have an overly favourable impression of a training course immediately after it, called `Post-Course Euphoria'. The interviews therefore took place 2 4 months after the courses, when the participants had returned to work. Each interview was tape-recorded and transcribed, producing 70 pages of transcripts.
What must be organised and presented are quotations from interviews. Sufficient quotational data should be presented to illuminate and support whatever analysis the evaluator presents in narrative form. (Patton 1990:420).
Analysis of the `data' took place in 4 stages.
When several participants mentioned a similar subject during the interviews, I believed that I was hearing a common theme. The number of times a theme was mentioned in different interviews, or the emphasis placed upon it, pointed to its significance as a major theme in participants' understanding of OMD. The identification of themes was the first formal stage of my analysis.
The second stage of analysis was to organise the data so that these themes could be traced back to their source in the transcripts. I wanted to produce a list of themes, grouped together according to similarity, which I called categories. Each category has a conceptual label, a definition and can be traced back to specific phrases, sentences or dialogue in the transcripts which can be used to illustrate it.
The third stage of the analysis follows a phenomenological analysis to produce a set of results from the study. I wanted to produce a set of conclusions which placed an emphasis on their first-hand experience of participants on an OMD course. To achieve this I wrote a summary of each interview, including the main themes, presented as an in-depth description of their experiences rich in detail from their point of view. These summaries stand as a set of results from this research in themselves, and are presented on the Rich Description web page.
Finally, in the fourth stage I wanted to represent the participants' understanding of OMD in a way that could be mapped onto the present state of knowledge on OMD contained in the literature. To achieve this I formed clusters of similar categories to produce a list, or typology of categories which can also be found on a separate web page.
The method which I describe here is a composite of a phenomenological analysis (Hycner 1985) and procedures to develop a grounded theory (Glaser and Strauss 1967). Re-reading the analytical steps I took to conduct a content analysis of the transcripts, they appear sound, practical, rational, and sequential. However, they also developed during their progress. For two years, between the summers of 1996 and 1998 I continued the analysis, at first by hand, later using the NUDIST computer software. As well as deciding on the categories and developing my thinking on the themes, during this period I also developed the method I was using. The move from carrying out the content analysis by hand to using computer software is a good example of this development.