The paper had its origins in a small pilot study which was conducted after the completion of a large-scale cross-national study of life and work values in the UK, France and India, conducted at Lancaster University in the late 1980s. The pilot study drew on the findings of the cross-national study and, in particular, used the research instrument developed for the study in order to undertake a preliminary investigation of professional identity in nurses. The principal research instrument for the larger study was the repertory grid technique (Kelly 1955; 1963; Fransella and Bannister 1977) and to test the research instrument a small pilot study was conducted with a group of nurses from the Royal Lancaster Infirmary. The sample group consisted of only ten nurses. The pilot study was extraneous to the main study and concerned with emergent methodological issues. However, the results of this small piece of research were intriguing and deserved further examination. The purpose of the grids was to detect principal constructs related to the attitudes and values of a given occupation. Clearly, there are issues related to the selection of an appropriate research instrument and the repertory grid is not without its critics. In particular, the repertory grid has been criticised from a number of different positions for the problems associated with the framing of the constructs in the elicitation process and for the use of statistical methods in its analysis. However, one appealing feature of the grid is the fact that it provides the opportunity to get behind assumptions that are taken for granted and well-rehearsed attitudes. Consequently, the grid provides a means of tapping social constructs that are not part of the stock of responses which can so easily become the substance of interview data.
Without wishing to give undue endorsement to the technique, the repertory grid provides a useful tool for the preliminary isolation and detection of issues for further elaboration. A reasonably accessible introduction to the tool can be found in Kelly's 1963 book The Theory of Personality: The Psychology of Personal Constructs.
However, having said this, it would be inappropriate to give any weight to the small sample of nurses' grids in the pilot study. Nonetheless, a broad outline of the findings is pertinent to this discussion. The grids revealed that