Methodological underpinnings

To tackle these research questions, I focus specifically on case-based, inductive research methods (Eisenhardt 1989; Eisenhardt and Graebner 2007). As opposed to hypothesis-testing, inductive methods entails a hypothesis-building process from data to theory. Inductive methods are particularly appropriate when theory either does not exist or is still underdeveloped in the context of interest, such as it is in the context of business organizations dealing with wicked problems (Reinecke and Ansari 2015; Ferraro et al. 2015).

First of all, inductive research is instrumental to tackle “how” questions that investigate and conceptualize practices and processes of change (Van de Ven 2007), which represent a distinctive focus of my research within the MST Group (Figure 1). Tackling “how questions” means identifying, explaining and conceptualizing practices and processes as opposed to testing impacts and outcomes (Van de Ven 2007). Differently from impact studies, process studies cannot test specific causal relationships among variables. Yet, they better describe the complex and rich set of cause-effect relationships that may connect them, which is essential to understand the nature of wicked problems.

Research tackling “how” questions to study change processes aligns with the principles of engaged scholarship (Van de Ven 2007) and community action research (Senge and Scharmer 2008). Engaged scholarship entails conducting research with the subjects studied (companies or their stakeholders) rather than on the subjects studied. As a drawback, doing research with subjects can create different forms of bias, which the researcher has to acknowledge and discuss. As an advantage, the closeness to my research subjects allows rapid cycles of learning, conceptualization, dissemination and application in practice.

Within the domain of inductive methods, this research often follows a grounded theory approach based on continuous data-theory iteration (Glaser and Strauss 1967) and on purposive sampling as opposed to statistical sampling (Yin 2013). As such, I combine qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis to develop theoretical propositions based on an interpretation of the empirical evidence (Suddaby 2006). Interpretation is often based on a two-tier coding process that first clusters the empirical evidence and then connects it to either existing or novel theoretical constructs (Gioia et al. 2013). Looking at the future, my ambition is to integrate traditional qualitative methods of data collection (interviews and focus groups) with richer descriptions based on ethnographic methods, also based on multi-sensorial features, such as pictures and videos both as data and forms of research dissemination: from a perspective of richly describing and conceptualizing processes of change, these sources of data give opportunities to expand data richness and depth (Shrivastava and Ivanova 2015).


Eisenhardt, K.M. (1989). Building theories from case study research. Academy of management review, 14(4), 532-550.

Eisenhardt, K.M. and Graebner, M.E. (2007). Theory building from cases: Opportunities and challenges. Academy of management journal, 50(1), 25.

Gioia, D. A., Corley, K. G. and Hamilton, A.L. (2013). Seeking qualitative rigor in inductive research notes on the Gioia methodology. Organizational Research Methods, 16(1), 15-31.

Glaser, B.S. and Strauss, A. (1968). A.(1967). The discovery of grounded theory. Strategies for qualitative research. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Senge, P.M. and Scharmer, C. O. (2008). Community action research: Learning as a community of practitioners, consultants and researchers. Sage Publications.

Shrivastava, P. and Ivanova, O. (2015). Inequality, corporate legitimacy and the Occupy Wall Street movement. Human Relations, 68(7), 1209-1231.

Suddaby, R. (2006). From the editors: What grounded theory is not. Academy of management journal, 49(4), 633-642.

Van de Ven, A.H. (2007). Engaged scholarship: a guide for organizational and social research: a guide for organizational and social research. OUP Oxford.

Yin, R.K. (2013). Case study research: Design and methods. Sage publications.

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