Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Studying Human-Centered IT Innovation Using a Grounded Action Learning Approach

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Studying Human-Centered IT Innovation Using a Grounded Action Learning Approach

Article excerpt

This paper describes how two research methodologies, grounded theory and action learning, were combined to produce a rigorous yet creative and flexible method for field study of a recent IT-based innovation, virtual teams. Essentially, an action learning program was used to train facilitators of virtual teams and generate research data while grounded theory techniques were used to analyze and interpret the data. This paper shows how this combined method can be used to develop local and practical theory for complex, human-centered areas of information technology. The implications of this grounded action learning approach for practice and research in IS will be discussed. Key words: Action Learning, Action Research, Grounded Theory, Virtual Teams, and IS Research


This paper describes a research design that used an action learning training program to recruit research participants and generate research data and key aspects of grounded theory methodology to analyze and interpret the data. While action learning allows for a creative and flexible approach to gathering field data, the grounded theory methods promote analytical rigor and validity. The result, grounded action learning, is a symmetrical and harmonious melding of two research methods that has great potential in Information Systems (IS) research to promote local and practical theory development in the highly dynamic situations that occur when people use new information and communication technologies in organizations.

It should be noted here that in addition to exploring the use of particular research methodologies, the paper also recounts, in part, the personal journey of the first author as he explored and decided on various courses of action with regard to the research highlighted in this paper. As such, parts of this article are recounted in the first person. The role of the second author was primarily as a guide; drawing on the experience he gained in a similar undertaking several years before.

Three factors were instrumental in determining the design and implementation of this study. The first factor concerned my own experience in trying to implement and facilitate a virtual team as part of the Virtual Team: Managing the On-line Meeting internet-based course I (1) had developed for a tertiary institution in New Zealand. From this generally unsuccessful attempt, I realised that serious issues were involved in working in a virtual environment; for example, getting virtual team members to participate. I was interested in learning more about them; in short, I wanted to be an integral part of the learning process.

Second, when this study commenced four years ago, very little empirical research had been conducted on virtual teams and almost nothing on virtual team facilitation. The research that had been published mostly involved student subjects. Bordia (1997) pointed out although most computer-mediated communication research focuses on its application to organizational and social functions, the applicability of results is "jeopardised" because most of the research is done on student subjects. Jarvenpaa and Leidner (1999) echoed this thought in their often-cited study, Communication and Trust in Global Virtual Teams. To make this study as meaningful as possible, it was my intention to work with professional organizational people, who themselves were working within their organizational contexts. The results of the study would then be directly applicable to the ways in which these people work. One challenge, of course, was how to persuade busy professional people to take part in the study.

The third factor was that a research framework that was both attractive to professional research participants and fundamentally compatible with the grounded theory approach that would be used in the analysis of the data was needed. The use of some form of action research was confirmed after consultation with academic and professional colleagues. …

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