Grounded theory is a qualitative research approach that attempts to uncover the meanings of people’s social actions, interactions and experiences. These explanations are called ‘grounded’ because they are grounded in the participants’ own explanations or interpretations.
Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss originated this method in their 1967 book, The Discovery Of Grounded Theory. The grounded theory approach has been used by researchers in various disciplines, including sociology, anthropology, psychology, economics and public health.
Grounded theory qualitative research was considered path-breaking in many respects upon its arrival. The inductive method allowed the analysis of data during the collection process. It also shifted focus away from the existing practice of verification, which researchers felt didn’t always produce rigorous results.
Let’s take a closer look at grounded theory research.
What Is Grounded Theory?
Grounded theory is a qualitative method designed to help arrive at new theories and deductions. Researchers collect data through any means they prefer and then analyze the facts to arrive at concepts. Through a comparison of these concepts, they plan theories. They continue until they reach sample saturation, in which no new information upsets the theory they have formulated. Then they put forth their final theory.
In grounded theory research, the framework description guides the researcher’s own interpretation of data. A data description is the researcher’s algorithm for collecting and organizing data while also constructing a conceptual model that can be tested against new observations.
Grounded theory doesn’t assume that there’s a single meaning of an event, object or concept. In grounded theory, you interpret all data as information or materials that fit into categories your research team creates.
How To Conduct Grounded Theory Research
Now that we’ve examined what is grounded theory, let’s inspect how it’s conducted. There are four steps involved in grounded theory research:
- STAGE 1: Concepts are derived from interviews, observation and reflection
- STAGE 2: The data is organized into categories that represent themes or subplots
- STAGE 3: As the categories develop, they are compared with one another and two or more competing theories are identified
- STAGE 4: The final step involves the construction of the research hypothesis statement or concept map
Grounded theory is a relatively recent addition to the tools at a researcher’s disposal. There are several methods of conducting grounded theory research. The following processes are common features:
Grounded theory starts with codes. These are sets of words used to describe the meaning of a phenomenon. They are recorded through interviews, observations and other data sources. The codes can be discovered by looking for themes within a specific event or from a larger population. After the codes have been made, the researcher must select concepts that represent each code.
This is an internal process of organizing the data, forming concepts and testing the validity of the research. The researcher must have a good understanding of their theoretical position before this occurs. A good way to theorize is to look at some existing theory or analysis that seems interesting and attempt to develop a connection between it and the new research.
A final step is to write up the findings after a theory is developed from the data. The researcher can also write a tentative hypothesis from their research findings.
Data collection in the grounded theory method can include both quantitative and qualitative methods.
Features Of Grounded Theory
By now, it’s clear that grounded theory is unlike other research techniques. Here are some of its salient features:
It Is Personal
This method asks researchers to spend time with participants, observe them in situations, interview them individually or in groups, ask each participant certain questions about their experiences, observations, or other sources that are related to the study.
It Is Flexible
One of the most important tenets of grounded theory research is to focus on the participants’ own interpretations and explanations. For example, a researcher might not predict the meaning of a person’s behavior at first glance, but after listening closely to their explanation of what happened during the interview, they might discover that one or more meanings exist that were previously unknown or unappreciated. These interpretations and explanations are known as constructs.
It Starts With Data
The grounded theory approach often begins with a case study, in which we observe a person or group in action. The researcher forms a tentative definition of their construct through analysis of cases. This case analysis is later used to create a hypothesis, which might explain the construct. All hypotheses must prove their validity in order to be accepted as an explanation.
Data Is Continually Assessed
The researcher creates an interview guide through which participants give their responses. The interview guide that the researcher creates can then be used as a form of measurement itself. Each interview guide has a set of questions, which are asked in such a way as to elicit the meaning of the construct. Then this definition is analyzed and any discrepancies between the cases and interviews are looked for. Researchers then look at the data gathered to see if the construct is true, false, or somewhat applicable.
Grounded theory qualitative research is a dynamic and flexible approach to research that answers questions other formats can’t.
Grounded Theory Example
Grounded theory can be used in organizations to create a competitive advantage for a company. Here are some grounded theory examples:
- Grounded theory is used by marketing departments by letting marketing executives express their views on how to improve their product or service in a structured way
- Grounded theory is often used by the HR department. For instance, they might study why employees are frustrated by their work. Employees can explain what they feel is lacking. HR then gathers this data, examines the results to discover the root cause of their problems and presents solutions
- Grounded theory can help with design decisions, such as how to create a more appealing logo. To do this, the marketing department might interview consumers about their thoughts on their logo and what they like or dislike about it. They will then gather coded data that relates back to the interviews and use this for a second iteration
These are just some of the possible applications of grounded theory in a business setting.
Advantages Of Grounded Theory
Its flexibility allows its uses to be virtually endless. But there are still advantages and disadvantages that make the grounded theory more or less appropriate for a subject of study. Here are the advantages:
- Grounded theory isn’t concerned with whether or not something has been done before. Instead, grounded theory researchers are interested in what participants say about their experiences. These researchers are looking for meaning
- The grounded theory method allows researchers to use inductive reasoning, ensuring that the researcher views the participant’s perspectives rather than imposing their own ideas. This encourages objectivity and helps prevent preconceived notions from interfering with the process of data collection and analysis
- It allows for constant comparison of data to concepts, which refines the theory as the research proceeds. This is in contrast with methods that look to verify an existing hypothesis only
- Researchers may also choose to conduct experiments to provide support for their research hypotheses. Through an experiment, researchers can test ideas rigorously and provide evidence to support hypotheses and theory development
- It produces a clearer theoretical model that is not overly abstract. It also allows the researcher to see the connections between cases and have a better understanding of how each case fits in with others
- Researchers often produce more refined and detailed analyses of data than with other methods
- Because grounded theory emphasizes the interpretation of the data, it makes it easier for researchers to examine their own preconceived ideas about a topic and critically analyze them.
As with any method, there are some drawbacks too that researchers should consider. Here are a few:
- It doesn’t promote consensus because there are always competing views about the same phenomenon
- It may seem like an overly theoretical approach that produces results that are too open-ended. Grounded theory isn’t concerned with whether something is true/false or right/wrong
- Grounded theory requires a high level of skill and critical thinking from the researcher. They must have a level of objectivity in their approach, ask unbiased, open-minded questions and conduct interviews without being influenced by personal views or agenda.
While professionals may never have to conduct research like this themselves, an understanding of the kinds of analytical tools available can help when there are decisions to be made in the workplace. Harappa’s Thinking Critically course can help with just this. Analytical skills are some of the most sought-after soft skills in the professional world. The earlier managers can master these, the more value they’ll bring to the organization. With our transformative course and inspiring faculty, empower your teams with the ability to think through any problem, no matter how large.
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