Qualitative Inquiry as a Method to Extract Personal Narratives: Approach to Research into Organizational Climate Change Mitigation

By Birchall, Jeff | The Qualitative Report, September 22, 2014 | Go to article overview

Qualitative Inquiry as a Method to Extract Personal Narratives: Approach to Research into Organizational Climate Change Mitigation


Birchall, Jeff, The Qualitative Report


Qualitative, or inductive research emerged as a reaction to late 19th and 20th century positivism (Brower, Abolafia, & Carr, 2000). Unlike positivist, or quantitative research, in which research questions are deductive, specific and measurable, and the goal is generalizability and replicability, qualitative studies often address ambiguous phenomena, generate rich evidence from the everyday experience, and focus on context (e.g., Bernard & Ryan, 2010; Brower et al., 2000; Liamputtong, 2011). Because of its holistic and interpretive nature, qualitative research has been accused of lacking rigor and failing to measure up to the "cannons of positivist research" (McCabe & Holmes, 2009, p. 1519). For Weber (2004), however, "it is time to assign the rhetoric of positivism versus interpretivism to the scrap heap. It no longer serves a useful purpose" (p. xi). And in the end, as Jootun, McGhee, and Marland (2009) suggest, "no single research method is inherently superior to any other; rather the appropriateness of the method must be appraised in relation to the research question" (p. 42). From a reliability perspective it is not possible to rigidly replicate qualitative research (Liamputtong, 2011).

However, qualitative inquiry, quite effectively, allows the researcher to explore meaning, interpretations, and individual experiences. The purpose of this article is to lay out the method used to conduct a research program into organizational carbon mitigation, and to demonstrate that qualitative inquiry is highly effective at facilitating the extraction of personal experiences of senior managers in the New Zealand (NZ) public sector. This approach is critical in order to better understand the dynamics influencing the termination of initiatives intended to help the New Zealand Government reduce its contribution to atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. More practically, this article demonstrates a research method for policy makers interested in exploring the cognitions of senior managers involved with carbon mitigation initiatives, and/ or the nuances of the initiatives themselves. This in turn can provide insight into how best to weave climate and carbon management policies with other national strategic policies.

I have divided this article into four primary sections. In the first section, Introduction, I highlight the strength of qualitative inquiry as method to extract personal experiences and present the aim of this article. In section 2, Background, I provide an overview of the study's policy context, situate myself within the research and discuss my motivations for PhD research. Section 3, Research Approach, demonstrates the methodology I employed in the study, including attention to narrative analysis, design and selection criteria, execution of semi-structured interviews, interpretation of data, application of theory, and organization of results. In section 4, Concluding Thoughts, I end with a reflection on the utility of qualitative inquiry vis-a-vis the objectives of the research study and quickly present a synopsis of the study's findings.

Background

Policy Context

Climate change presents society with an unprecedented challenge, and governments from around the world are initiating programs to mitigate climate change and reduce their contribution to atmospheric GHG emissions (e.g., Bailey, 2007). In an effort to promote public sector carbon management, in 2004, NZ's Labour-led government, under Clark, sponsored local government participation in the Communities for Climate Protection-New Zealand (CCP-NZ) program, an initiative delivered through ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI). In 2007, the same government launched the Carbon Neutral Public Service (CNPS) program. Though the core public sector is responsible for only 2% of NZ's total GHG emissions (New Zealand Government, 2007), the goal of these initiatives was to demonstrate the Government's commitment to global climate change mitigation. …

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