Academic journal article Electronic Journal of Business Research Methods

Strategies for Gaining Access in Doing Fieldwork: Reflection of Two Researchers

Academic journal article Electronic Journal of Business Research Methods

Strategies for Gaining Access in Doing Fieldwork: Reflection of Two Researchers

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

One of greatest pitfalls in conducting research successfully is the inability to obtain access to the research field. Researchers often spend considerable amount of time on this task, especially when the research requires an in-depth study of their respective research field (Okumus et al., 2007; Patton, 2002; Shenton and Hayter, 2004). This task can be even more difficult if it involves a sensitive topic. Many researchers do not even describe their fieldwork practice in their research report. It is only in ethnography based research access to the research field is often described explicitly.

Obtaining access to the research field can vary to a considerable extent, depending on the kind of cases being investigated. For instance, obtaining access in large profit enterprises can be more difficult as their managers would value the cost of time. Thus, for such situations questionnaires are often considered to be more feasible rather than interviews and observations (Easterby- Smith, Thrope and Lowe, 2002). According to Van Maanen and Knolb (1985), gaining access to the research field is crucial and should not be taken lightly. As for ethnographic research work it requires negotiating environments that are foreign to the researcher. The need for social skills is greatly required (Wasserman & Clair, 2007). It is important for one to gain the trust and acceptance of the participants in order to conduct one's research (Wasserman & Clair, 2007). This would involve some combination of strategic planning, hard work and opportunities. Furthermore, researchers who are considered outsiders of an organization are often not welcomed, especially if they ask questions that are considered to be sensitive and awkward (Okumus et al, 2007).

Often many academics face numerous obstacles in trying to gain access to various organizations where they would like to carry out their research. The hurdles are often neglected or it is seen as merely tactical issue (Gummesson, 2000). Organizations are usually skeptical about the role of outsiders and may not value academic studies (Laurila, 1997). In addition, many organizations deny access due to academic's failure to provide answers about what, how and why they are carrying out the study, and whether the study would provide value to the organization itself (Coleman, 1996). It has been acknowledged the importance of gaining access but very minimal has been written on issues and problems of gaining access (Feldman et al, 2003). We address this oversight by sharing our experiences in gaining access to the research field, based on our respective doctoral studies (Johl, 2006; Renganathan, 2005).

Our main aim of this paper is to contribute our experiences to building of the literature on gaining access. This paper shares the experiences of two researchers on fieldwork practice. We believe that the issues we discuss based on our experiences of gaining access into our respective research fields, would benefit other qualitative researchers. First, a brief background of the two research projects that this paper is based on will be discussed. Next, by combining Laurila's (1997) and Buchanan's (1988) classification, we present our comparison of the different approaches we used in gaining access to our respective research fields at different stages. We discuss our strategies in gaining access to our respective research fields using a four stage model: pre-entry, during fieldwork, after fieldwork and getting back. Finally, we critically examined our experiences in using the different approaches in gaining access into our respective research fields. We also hope that comparing the experiences of two different researchers in two very different research fields would help highlight issues which are often neglected in doing qualitative research.

2. Gaining access to fieldwork

In conducting research it is important for the researcher to think about how to go about gaining access. …

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