USING REPERTORY GRID AND PERSONAL CONSTRUCT PSYCHOLOGY:
ANALYZING PROBLEM SOLVING CONSTRUCTS
Darrell D. Bowman, Ph.D.
[Repertory Grid and Personal Construct Psychology]
August 2009Address: / 6690 East 350 North
City, State, Zip: / Brownsburg, IN. 46112
Phone: / 317.858.9678
The qualitative methodology referred to as Personal Construct Psychology and Repertory Grid is explored as a proposed methodology for a study of problem solving constructs. A brief explanation of the problem statement is provided as perspective for the methodology. Details regarding data collection and the use of Personal Construct Psychology and Repertory Grid are discussed. The various techniques for administering Repertory Grids during the interview and for analysis are considered.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents ii
List of Tables (if tables used) ??
List of Figures (if figures used) ??
Problem Statement 1
Qualitative Research Methodology 2
Grounded Theory 4
Personal Construct Psychology 4
Data Collection 6
Participant Selection 8
Repertory Grid 9
Limitations of the Study 20
List of Figures
Figure 1: Example of one IT business interview repertory grid. 16
Figure 2: IT Interview repertory grid analysis. 17
Figure 3: Example of one Ivy Tech CIS faculty interview repertory grid. 17
Figure 4: Ivy Tech CIS Faculty interview analysis. 18
Ivy Tech State College (Ivy Tech) is a two-year community college that awards associates degrees that are primarily technical. The Computer Information Systems (CIS) department of Ivy Tech offers specialty degrees in Web Design, Programming, Personal Computer Support and Networking. Ivy Tech graduates possess the credentials to succeed in business but do they possess the skills that are required to be good problem solvers?
Success in business requires that leaders possess the skill to solve problems. According to Zaccaro, et al. (2000) problem solving skills and knowledge are the most significant predictors of an effective leader. McGuire (2001) states that effective problem solving is regarded as a skill or more precisely problem solving is the result of the development of constituent types of skill.
Rucsinski (1991) believed that. “Our schools have accomplished very little in the successful teaching of problem solving ... a large per cent of grade school pupils suddenly fail to make the effort to do reflective thinking after leaving the third grade, or ... many pupils have simply failed in computing the right answer or in making the right solution. This also indicates that our present practice relative to problem solving may be based on the failure of teachers to understand what reasoning is or the factors which go to make up the reasoning in problem solving" (p. 341).
In the IT world good problem solving skills are critical. Schenk, et al. (1998) found that an analyst's problem-solving skills remain key to defining good systems requirements. Schenk refers to the skills for solving problems as problem solving behavior. Many researchers agree that problem solving and thinking skills should be developed in university undergraduates (MacPherson, 2002). But what are the specific skills needed by good problem solvers as perceived by IT managers and how do those skills compare to the perceptions of CIS faculty?
The problem statement of this study is multi-phased. Are the problem solving constructs for IT business and Ivy Tech CIS faculty different? If the problem solving constructs are different how are they different? Finally, what problem solving constructs do both groups perceive as critical skills? The skills identified by IT managers will become constructs for comparison and analysis with the constructs identified by Ivy Tech CIS faculty.
QUALITATIVE RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
According to Hunter and Beck (2000) Information Systems researchers are becoming increasingly interested in using qualitative research methods. Hunter and Beck suggest that qualitative methodologies are more appropriate for theory building whereas quantitative research methodologies are better for theory testing.
The qualitative research methodology is suggested for this study because the data needed for analysis does not currently exist and the constructs have not been identified. The qualitative method of research is an interpretive method that causes researchers to investigate subjects in their natural environment (Hunter, 2002). Hunter found, “The main emphasis of qualitative researchers is the personnel involved in organizations. So, qualitative researchers attempt to make sense of, or interpret, phenomena in terms of their meanings attributed by individuals” (p. 1). Hunter and Beck found, “In general, qualitative research is considered more appropriate for theory building, whereas quantitative research relates more to theory testing” (2000, p. 96).
Cheek (2002) proposes, “Qualitative research involves scholarship of discovery, integration, application, and teaching. Research undertaken by any qualitative researcher should seek to discover new knowledge in a disciplined way—the scholarship of discovery” (p. 1133).
The qualitative methodology was also chosen as a means of dismissing assumptions about the skills of good problem solvers. According to Hunter (2002) a research method should be chosen considering the research objective. Data comparing and contrasting problem solving constructs between Indianapolis IT managers and Ivy Tech CIS faculty does not exist and discovering new data for contrast and comparison is necessary for the study. Collecting the data is an objective of the research therefore the qualitative method is appropriate for this study.
Hunter (2002) used the qualitative methodology to research Information Systems (IS) because the study of IS is the study of behavior as well as technology. Hunter referenced Lee (2001) in stating that technology and behavior interact much the way chemical elements interact when forming a compound.
A concern by some is the validity of the data collected by the qualitative research methodology. Qualitative researchers generally agree that this concern is overcome by replication of the research (Hunter, 2002). If a qualitative methodology was used to collect not only the problem solving data but also to develop the constructs for analysis it may be assumed that constructs were, self validated.
It is understood that qualitative studies rely heavily on verbal data and subjective analysis (Gall, Gall & Borg, 1999). A study to determine, compare and contrast problem-solving constructs may be understood to be an interpretive epistemology. Interpretive epistemologies focus on the different social realities of individuals as they participate in their environment (Gall, Gall & Borg). Hunter (2002) believes that an advantage of qualitative research is that the researcher becomes closely involved with the research participants and the events.
Strauss developed grounded theory, which is essentially a qualitative methodology aimed at developing a theory (Soulliere, 2001). Grounded theory is also useful for analyzing data and includes the process of constantly comparing data with the results analyzed from previous data (Hunter, 2002). The constant comparison develops new categories until eventually the developing theory is saturated and no new categories can be added (Hunter). Field research and interviews are the usual methods for gathering data (Eaves, 2001). Grounded theory is consistent with other qualitative methods in as much as it is a method of study that is conducted within the context or environment of the individuals or articles being studied (Hunter).
Personal Construct Psychology
Personal Construct Psychology was developed by George Kelly in the middle 1950s and has remained relatively unchanged (Hardman, 2001). Personal Construct Theory (PCT) maintains a fundamental postulate that states, “A person’s [ ]processes are psychologically channelized by the ways in which he anticipates events” (Hardman, p. 41). Kelly viewed everyone as a “personal scientist” in anticipating their world and developed PCP and repertory grid to help individuals construct their perception of their world or environment (Gaines & Shaw, 2001).
PCT theorizes that individuals construe events and actions to predict outcomes as a way of maintaining balance (Hardman). Scheer stated, “Therefore ‘man as scientist’ is the central metaphor of Kellyan theory. We anticipate events and experiences, we ‘construe’ our reality, and find our constructions eventually validated or invalidated and subsequently keep to them or modify them” (1996, p. 1).
Many modifications have been made to PCP and repertory grids since the 1960s (Easterby-Smith & Thorpe, 1996). New methods for rating data, the development of computer packages for analysis, and the incorporation of a variety of analysis techniques have enhanced the use of PCP (Easterby-Smith & Thorpe).
One assumption of PCP is that subjective meaning takes the form of bipolar constructs and these constructs are organized into a grid of most important and least important relationships (Marsden & Littler, 2000). Therefore the bipolar constructs represent an individual's interpretation of knowledge of the past, attitudes, beliefs, common categories, values, and rules that he or she shares with other people in society (Marsden & Littler). The constructs also form the basic structure of a person's map of reality relative to the topic or domain (Marsden & Littler). According to Oades (1995), “We construe by drawing distinctions, seeing how things are similar and different. The distinctions we draw are known as constructs” (p. 1).
Interviewing with PCP and repertory grids it is possible to probe into areas of which the subject may not have been aware (Easterby-Smith & Thorpe, 1996).
Easterby-Smith and Thorpe found that:
It must be remembered that the aim of a repertory grid is to enable the user to articulate his or her own understanding of the world. The interview itself can be seen as a conversation in which both parties are seeking to explore the interviewee's, not researcher's, understanding. The researcher must take a more humble position of claiming not to know, rather than knowing all. The researcher first and foremost must listen, then probe, clarify and enquire (1996, p. 8).
In qualitative research the questions used for data collection become the constructs for analysis (Locke, Silverman & Spirduso, 1998). Problems can arise in qualitative studies when the validity or authenticity of the constructs to be used in the survey, do not have authoritative endorsement (Gall, Gall & Borg, 1999).
This study will use personal construct theory (PCT) to enable the subjects of interviews to develop the constructs. In PCT, the interviewees validate the constructs because they develop them. It can be considered advantageous in this study because the constructs are also the interpreted creation of the interviewed subjects. This study will use personal construct psychology (PCT) to develop the constructs and data for analysis. Gaines and Shaw (2001) found that an advantage of PCP is it assumes a constructivist position in that the constructs are not the product of the researcher. Instead the constructs are a characterization of human conceptual structures (Gaines & Shaw, 2001). Although the constructs are personal to the subject, certain properties of the constructs can be isolated and compared to those seen in other persons - regardless of the substance of the constructs (Scheer, 1996).
Kelly suggested using a triadIC ELICITATION PROCESS to arrive at valid constructs (Hardman). Kelly believed that a person's construction system is composed of a finite number of dichotomous constructs (Kenny, 1984). It was Kelly’s view that a researcher must explore the contrasts of a client’s constructs if the construct meaning was to be understood (Kenny). For example if a client describes himself as “ambitious” then the researcher is not in a position to understand what the client means unless it is learned what the client contrasts his intelligence against (Kenny). This means the researcher would need to ask the client what the opposite of ambitious is and the client may reply, “lazy”. But, if another client's contrast for ambitious is "relaxed" then it may be understood why, being relaxed, he never achieved anything - or why, having achieved so much he is never relaxed (Kenny).
It is proposed that to learn the problem solving constructs from IT managers and Ivy Tech CIS faculty it will be necessary to use the Dichotomy Corollary, defined by Kelly, which states that qualitative researchers should always seek the hidden contrasts which a client may not explicitly state. Another term used, by Kelly, to describe the Dichotomy Corollary was construing (Marsden & Littler, 2000).
Marsden and Littler add that individuals construe situations by seeking to differentiate them from others and see them as similar to others. It is through such a process that individuals give meaning to events, that the events have significance. However, the Dichotomy Corollary, or bipolar system of constructs will not be used to rate constructs as positive or negative but instead bipolar consideration will be used to help the interview subject correlate the meaning of constructs as they are developed.
The technique for the PCT interview should be explained to the subject at the outset of the interview (Neal & Tyrrell, 1979). The rationale for the study will be explained during the interview. It will be explained that there are no right or wrong answers and how the results of the interview will look.
Two groups are to be the study participants. One group is defined as IT managers for businesses in the Indianapolis area. The researcher will ask eight to ten IT managers to participate in the study. Managers for companies with IT departments possessing at least 10 IT support people will be candidates to participate in the study. The roles of the support people are not necessarily relevant. It is reasonable to assume that all IT people deal with problem solving of some type in their daily tasks. The support staff is not necessarily the subjects of the study. The opinions of the IT managers are of interest in the proposed study.
The second group of study participants are members of the CIS faculty at Ivy Tech State College Indianapolis campus. Ivy Tech State College is a two-year, state-funded, open-access, community-based technical college. Founded in 1963, Ivy Tech is a statewide system, offering instruction at 23 sites in 14 regions. In 1999-2000 the College enrolled more than 71,400 students. Its urban, commuter campuses range in size from 500 in the smaller towns to over 10,000 in Indianapolis, the state’s capital and largest metropolitan area.
The College mission is to enable individuals to develop to their fullest potential and to support the economic development of Indiana. To accomplish this, the College offers three degrees, an Associate of Applied Science, an Associate of Science and a Technical Certificate, with 40% of the students enrolled in the Associate of Applied Science degree programs, 23% in the technical certificate programs, and 5% in the associate degree programs during the Spring, 2001 semester. Another 32 percent of students take individual classes to help them improve their job performance and develop new skills.