Well, it’s been a while since I last wrote in this blog. Probably because my to-do list was full, but then by looking at recent posts from my fellow Grad Life bloggers, I can see my summer was not that original: Erik and Crystal also gave us their insights about doing fieldwork and attending academic conferences. While I’ll keep my stories about the conferences I attended for another post, here is a little about my experience with fieldwork, which was a little bit different than Erik’s. After all, when talking about fieldwork – and especially from Erik’s picture – one can imagine collecting data from an actual field… Well, being in management, the definition of going to the field can vary a little.
In July I spent a few weeks in a large financial institution studying how they create new products. More specifically I aimed to understand how they collaborate across functional boundaries. OK, this is being too specific to my topic, but doing observations and interviews in such setting is quite challenging as well.
The first lesson I learned is that having the access to the field is just the first step: you might have a good contact person there, but if your goal is to interview as many people as possible, attracting participants is a constant effort. You need to “sell” your research on a daily basis. The difficulty of fieldwork in management research is trying to avoid acting as a free consultant to the organization while at the same time convincing them they are not wasting their time by speaking to you.
The other major issue of working in this kind of organization is when you ask to record the interviews (audio). People may get suspicious. Not without reason, some of the things they tell you might be sensitive and although you assure them that no one else than the research team will have access to the files, they may not be comfortable with it. Nevertheless, it is really important to do so, since in qualitative research it is easy to insert our own bias if we don’t have a word-by-word account of the interviewees.
In spite of these difficulties it was an interesting experience: looking at an organization from outside, when almost nothing is at stake for you – except, of course, writing a good paper out of it! – is an exercise that helps you put in perspective the relationship between the theories we read and the “real world” out there. Now it is time to dive into the data; is anyone here an expert in Atlas.ti?