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Benchmarking good practice in qualitative management research

Cassell, Catherine, Buehring, Anna, Symon, Gillian, Johnson, Phil and Bishop, Vicky (2006) Benchmarking good practice in qualitative management research. UNSPECIFIED. ESRC.


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This report presents an analysis of assessment criteria and training needs for qualitative management research. 45 in-depth interviews were held with members of four panels: academic disseminators; practitioners; doctoral programme leaders; and qualitative researchers. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and interpreted with the aid of template analysis. This report presents six major themes from this analysis concerning qualitative management research: definitions; status and credibility; good practice; assessment criteria; training needs; professional and institutional context. A variety of definitions of qualitative management research were identified ranging from indicating a central concern with the subjectivity of research practice to barely constituting research at all. Such a range of definitions indicates the range of work in the area but also implies that the derivation of a set of universal assessment criteria is problematic. Sources of research credibility also varied widely. To some extent judgements of credibility were seen to depend on aspects of the nature and conduct of the research itself (e.g. methodical, conclusive, technically skilled etc), but also as influenced by symbolism and context. In general definitions of credibility were seen to disadvantage qualitative research. Various elements of good practice in relation to qualitative management research were identified (and sometimes disputed) including flexible research design, epistemologically coherent analysis, reflexivity concerning process and product of research and a persuasive, engaging presentation. Assessing qualitative management research appeared to be more of an intuitive decision-making process than an application of known and agreed criteria (cf quantitative research). Judgements in these areas vary according to the beliefs and commitments of the individual. Reflecting this variety, a summary table of contingent criteria is presented at the end of the report. Provision of qualitative research training was seen to vary but be generally scarce and of poor quality . Specific training needs included: ‘technical’ skills, such as data analysis techniques and writing; knowledge of underlying philosophical issues; reviewing skills; and PhD supervision. Current research practice was seen to be deeply affected by pressures within the current academic context including audit processes and career needs. Such pressures may work against the adoption of qualitative management research. In general all these issues were seen to be highly related and inter-dependent. While some contextual issues cannot be addressed by this research, the report concludes with an overview of the qualitative management research workshops derived from our interpretation of the interviewees’ observations.

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