Chapter 4 Week two

This week we start to look at our first qualitative research method: action research.

For Myers a qualitative research method is “a strategy of enquiry … of finding empirical data about the (social) world” (Qualitative research in business & management, 2013, p. 4). In a practical sense, a qualitative research method might drawn a variety of approaches to collecting and analysing qualitative data; for example, a case study might use interviews and observations, or may just be archival research, with the data being analysed through thematic analysis.

That does not mean the researcher necessarily has a free reign to mix and match from all of the data collection and analysis techniques. Depending on the stricutures of any particular research method, only some combinations might be appropriate (Gehman et al., 2017).

Focus groups and participant observation are two approaches to data collection that are often employed in action research. So, your in-class ‘doings’ will centre on these techniques.

First class


As you are exposed to new research methods, you should think about the degree to which they fit with your personal agenda as a researcher. Although many approaches to conducting research are intended to not materially impact the organisations and individuals who participate in the research, some forms of research—such as action research—are intended to change the status quo. You may or may not want to take on such a responsibility, as organisational interventions may not always make things better (and if they do, better for whom).

Last week we explored several forms of interviewing, such as the semi-structured interview. In this class we will consider the focus group (sometimes called a group interview). A popular approach to collecting data in marketing, focus groups are less used in management and other disciplines, nevertheless, they an import tool in most researchers’ repertoires.

Class plan

  • What were your big takeaways, and questions from last week?

  • Why do you think Peter likes the SAGE Research Methods website so much?

  • How can you find action research projects?

  • How would you ‘do’ an action research project?

  • What makes a good plan for doing a focus group?

Prep and tasks

  1. Read the start of “Part III” of Myer (Qualitative research in business & management, 2013, pp. 57–72) — 40 minutes.
  • Discuss the pros and cons of doing action research in a 60-point dissertation — 20 minutes.

  • Describe the difference between engaging in a consulting project and a action research project — 20 minutes.

  1. Go to the SAGE Research Methods website (, and search for ‘action research’, you will see there are a lot of resources (including specialised texts) available to you.

    • Identify one of the texts that you think would be helpful to you if you were to do action research as part of a year long thesis (you may need to make and state, some assumptions). Summarise your reasons for you choice, and be prepared to share it with your colleagues — 30 minutes.
  2. Beyond that, review the video by Prof Danny Burns on Action Research on YouTube — 30 minutes.

    • Describe the biggest difference between Prof Burns’s ‘take’ on action research compared to Myers (Qualitative research in business & management, 2013) — 10 minutes.

    • Evaluate the academic standing of Prof Burns to talk about Action Research — 20 minutes.

    • Draft an approach for doing action research at scale, say, around the topic of ‘continuous improvement’ at the NHS (the UKs main medical provider with about 1.5m employees). Think about the issues you’ll face — 15 minutes.

  3. Search the leading journal in your field (e.g., if you are in ‘innovation’ you might choose Technovation) for research based data from focus groups. If you get no ‘hits’ you might need to widen the scope of your search (note some journals publish little if any qualitative research). Skim read 3 or 4 of the articles, and select one as an exemplar — 60 minutes.

    • Sumamrise the method (not the content), and evaluate the quality of the focus groups that were undertaken (include a description of the criteria you used for that evaluation, and why you did not chose the other aritcles you skimmed) — 60 minutes.

    • Hint: You might also look at Huff again (e.d., Huff, 2009, pp. 251–268)]

  4. Design a focus group session to explore the factors behind the choices of how people travel to work (or university) — 40 minutes.

4.0.1 Post class reflection

With the first class of the week behind you, it is time for you to reflect on what you have learnt and write-up your learning journal (Section 1.3 ‐ 90 minutes). You can then do your review your allocated learning journals of you peers (Section 1.3 ‐ 60 minutes).

Second class


I think we all develop favourite ways of collecting data; and observation (participant or non-participant) is my personal ‘weapon of choice’ when I want to understand what is going on for people. It is also the weapon of choice in the particular research conversation in which I participate: strategy-as-practice.

In the case of strategy as practice, it is possible to trace its ‘popularity’ from strategy-as-practice (as exemplified by the works of Jarzabakowsi), back to the process/processual studies of the Warwick group (where Jarzabkowsi did her PhD), to Pettigrew (who was at Warwick for many years)a and his classic work on ICI (The awaking giant, 1985).

All this provides a rich hinterland of ‘how to go about’ research in that research conversation. Of course, there are other influences—e.g. Gioia and his method (Gioia, Corley, & Hamilton, 2013)—but, it is key figures in the strategy-as-practice ‘converstation’ who have, to a greater or lesser extent, determined what other methodological influences are seen as appropriate.

Over time you should become familiar with the history and trajectory of your particular research conversation.

Class plan

  • Any questions?

  • What matters in participant observation?

  • What do we see when we observe?

  • Do we see the same thing?

  • Do we see the same thing? Part 2

  • What are the challenges of participant observation?

  • What is the solution to the need for a quid pro quo?

  • Does going native matter to your conversation (and what drives that)?

Prep and tasks

  1. Read chapter 11 of Myers (Qualitative research in business & management, 2013, pp. 136–150) — 30 minutes.

  2. Read the chapter in ‘Social research: Theory, methods and techniques’ on participant observation (Corbetta, 2003) — 30 minutes.

    • Based on the two readings, draw a concept map of the main concepts and their relationship — 30 minutes.
  3. Read the methods section of Jarzabkowski’s paper on doing ethnography, where she talks about observations (Jarzabkowski, Bednarek, & Cabantous, 2015) Read the methods section — 30 minutes.

  4. How do you know what you are observing? Read “How I learnt what a crock was” (Becker, 1993) — 30 minutes.

    • One issue the previous two readings either allude to, or explicitly address is “How do you know what people are talking about?” In situations where the people you are observing have significantly different knowledge than you—say, software engineers or lawyers—how do you decide what to pay attention to? How do you know when people a making in-jokes? — 10 minutes.

    • Use the SAGE Research methods site to explore this issue, and develop an approach for overcoming this problem — 60 minutes.

  5. Lookup the term “Going native” in the Dictionary of Statistics & Methodology, and in The SAGE Encyclopedia of Social Science Research Methods (both available through the SAGE Research Methods website). In the tradition of your desired research conversation, is going-native seen as problematical? — 60 minutes.

  6. Myers (Qualitative research in business & management, 2013), in discussing about participant observation, talks about the notion of reciprocity. This issue exists almost all the time in qualitative research; what kind of quid pro quo can you give participants and what danagers might exist. Hint: Think about the notion of free and informed consent (“Guiding principles for conducting research with human participants,” 2013) — 30 minutes.

Post class reflection

With the second class of the week behind you, it is time for you to reflect on what you have learnt and write-up your learning journal (Section 1.3 ‐ 90 minutes). You can then do your review of your allocated peers’ learning (Section 1.3 ‐ 60 minutes).

Given the scheduling, you might choose to do this at the start of the next week.