20     Grounded theory (5)



Speaking only for myself ...


We've been exploring a form of grounded theory -- theory grounded in experience -- that suits action research.  One form in which its outcomes might be stated has three terms: situations; desired outcomes; and intended actions:

In situation S, to produce outcomes O1, ..., try actions A1, ...

Situations are specified here on the assumption that what works in one situation will not necessarily work in another.  Outcomes are specified, for they are what is being pursued.  In addition, they provide the criteria for defining success.  I've said "try" to imply that this is one possible set of actions.  They may or may not work.  There may be other actions which would be as effective.

Intentions are built on assumptions.  I assume these actions will give me the desired outcomes.  Therefore I intend to try those actions.

In the previous occasional piece I added the thought that behind these assumptions lies a further set.  This second set tends to be about people and systems and change.  And (importantly) about the facilitator or action researcher.

Before moving on to other issues, I'd like now to address the way in which such a grounded approach to theory can integrate the subjective and the objective.

The subjective component arises because action research is usually participative.  People develop the intended actions.  The participants invest their intentions with their own values and meanings.  Out of all possible actions they limit their intentions to those that fit their ethical framework.  Even in less participative forms the assumptions and values and meanings of the researcher are brought into play.

The intentions of researcher and or participants are also likely to be unique to the individuals in another respect.  The participants are most likely to intend feasible actions: actions which they believe they will be able to carry out.  This is partly situational, partly a matter of their skills.

The objective component arises because their intentions are tested against reality in action.  I'm not sure that objective is the right word.  "Generalisable", perhaps.  I take this point up in further occasional pieces.

In any event, success means that actions A (etc.) did produce outcomes O (etc.) in situation S, at least on this occasion.  It is therefore possible (and sometimes even likely) that similar actions will yield similar outcomes in other similar situations.  The actor, and indeed other people too, can try these same actions on other similar occasions and note the results.




Copyright Bob Dick 1999-2000.  May be copied if it is not included in any
material sold at a profit, and this and the following notice are shown

This may be cited as:   Bob Dick (1999) Grounded theory (5).  Occasional
pieces in action research methodology, # 20.  Available online at

Version 1.2;  last modified 20000101


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