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The trials and tribulations of an ‘insider’ researcher. Helen Stanley EdD student Head of Continuing Professional Education School of Nursing and Midwifery. Aims of presentation. Highlight the trials and tribulations of the insider-outsider researcher dilemma

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the trials and tribulations of an insider researcher

The trials and tribulations of an ‘insider’ researcher

Helen Stanley

EdD student

Head of Continuing Professional Education

School of Nursing and Midwifery

aims of presentation
Aims of presentation
  • Highlight the trials and tribulations of the insider-outsider researcher dilemma
  • Present some reflections on my experience undertaking commissioned research as part of a EdD study
  • Stimulate some debate on how novice researchers can develop their understanding of reflexivity by exploring this position in their own studies
  • Head of CPE with remit to ensure NHS trusts spend all their contract funding
  • New role for School in Educational Consultancy
  • Commissioned by two Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) to undertake a Learning Needs Analysis (LNA) survey
  • Focus was on leadership and management needs of senior NHS managers across both trusts
  • EdD needed a focus for project assignment
definition of my role
Definition of my role

Insider research can take many forms:

A) Joint industry/Academic Research or

B). Organisational Insider Research (Holian and Brooks 2004)

  • This study was a Project where organisation (PCTs) have invited an academic as a consultant, with a formal contract specifying the role, task, outcomes and costs
  • Reduced cost as part of EdD study
  • Qualitative, interpretative approach
  • Action Research and case study
  • Mixed methods
  • Focus Groups (FG) then LNA questionnaire
  • Codes from FG informed questionnaire
  • Documentary analysis used alongside FG and LNA questionnaire
ethical issues
Ethical issues
  • Who ‘owns’ the data, who can ‘release’ it for research purposes requested? (Cheek )
  • The relationship between the participants and the researcher
  • The nature and level of informed consent
  • The nature and extent of anonymity and confidentiality for individuals and the organisation (Holian and Brooks 2004: 7)
findings wish list
Findings- Wish list
  • Formal courses
  • Informal learning
  • Role of KSF/appraisal/PDP
  • Organisational development
  • Financial pressures
  • Accessing study leave and negotiating the Study Leave Policy
hidden surprises
Hidden surprises
  • Culture of the organisation
  • Lack of evaluation of education and training
  • Real reason for study was damming Investors in People report on poor capabilities of current managers
insider outsider continuum
Insider-outsider continuum
  • Each position has advantages and disadvantages, depending on the circumstances and purposes of the research
  • “In general, the chances of findings being valid can be enhanced by a judicious combination of involvement and estrangement” (Hammersley 1993:219)
insider advantages disadvantages
Insider advantages/disadvantages
  • Researching in familiar settings
  • Relative lack of culture shock or disorientation
  • Possibility of enhanced rapport and communication
  • Ability to gauge the honesty and accuracy of responses
  • Participants more likely to reveal more intimate details of their lives to someone considered empathetic
  • May be greater expectations of an insider than of a stranger
  • Relativity of insider status – need to be aware of the partialness of their insider knowledge
  • Be wary of assuming their views are more widespread or representative than is the case
  • Strategies -risk of native ‘going stranger’ (Hockey 1993)
was i an insider
Was I an ‘insider’?
  • Previous relationship with some of the trust Education Leads (ex-student, previous joint project, Partnership meetings)
  • Insider knowledge of some of the organisation (or so I thought!)
  • Some insight into the organisational culture from previous project
  • Did not feel an ‘insider’ but had more knowledge than a new to the field ‘outsider’ would have (general language, cultural norms, etc)
  • Confidential documents shared when trust developed
  • “Being an ‘insider’ researcher is not necessarily the same as being a member of the organisation being researched” (Hellawell 2006: 484)
outsider advantages disadvantages
Outsider advantages/disadvantages
  • May be risk of over-familiarity and taken-for-granted assumptions
  • Stranger ‘going native’
  • More objectivity, diagnostic function to feed back observations
  • Traditional role of the ‘external consultant’
  • Maybe less expectations of active participation in the social world of those under study
  • No research really ‘value-free’ – all action researchers are part of the social scene they are studying (Titchen and Binnie 1993)
was i an outsider
Was I an ‘outsider’?
  • ‘Role duality’ when role boundaries can be flexible
  • Can be physically in one role and behaviourally in another (Pryor 2005)
  • Felt I was on a continuum and challenged the polarity of the ‘insider’ or ‘outsider’ researcher identity (Bridges
  • Had ‘multiple integrities’ – deepening awareness of what research integrity and trust must entail ( Drake and Heath 2007)
  • ‘multiple identities’ – researcher, manager in local HEI, knew a number of the FG participants, university representative, ex-course/module leader, fellow student, woman, nurse, counsellor……………..
multiple roles role conflict
Multiple roles – role conflict
  • Sometimes felt I was wearing too many hats
  • Not always clear when organisation members spoke to be ‘in confidence’ if talking to me as researcher or in my HEI organisational role
  • Unexpected strength of politics, abuses of power, cover ups, rhetoric and reality (Holian 1999)
backlash the personal impact
Backlash – the personal impact

“Insider researchers may need to be cautioned and reminded that the research mantle may seem magical and may reveal earth-shattering insights, but it is not bullet proof” (Holian and Brooks 2004:14)

  • May raise things that are ’undiscussable’
  • Can be uncomfortable and frightening, risk of ‘burnout’
  • Final presentation was hijacked and behind closed doors to Head of HR and deputy
  • Can I now publish this study?
  • Will the organisation use the HEI again?
  • Pressure to tell the ‘truth’ and maintain integrity of the research process, stick to my principles
  • PCT required register of those who attended FG’s
  • Sense that staff were ‘sent’ rather than volunteered
survival skills
Survival skills
  • Phone a friend
  • Reflective diary
  • Supervisor support
  • Sharing experiences
  • Need to build in strategies to avoid bias to enhance the credibility of the study
focus of researcher and system in insider research projects coghlan and brannick 2005
Focus of Researcher and System in insider-research projects (Coghlan and Brannick 2005)


No intended self-study in action

  • Traditional research approaches:
  • Collection of survey data
  • ethnography
  • case study
  • 2. Pragmatic action research:
  • Internal consulting
  • action learning

Intended self-study in action


3. Individual engaged in reflective study of professional practise

4. Large scale transformational change

Intended self-study in action

quadrant 1
Quadrant 1
  • Absence of self-study in action by both researcher and system
  • There is study but not deliberately in-action
  • Researcher focusing on a perspective, issues or problem within the system as if external to himself/herself
  • Unobtrusive observer of the inner life of
  • No deliberate self-reflection in-action as part of the research process
quadrant 2
Quadrant 2
  • ‘Pragmatic’ or ‘mechanistic’ action research directed at confronting and resolving a pre-identified issue
  • For example, management action, internal consulting projects and some action learning
  • Typically research undertaken in educational programmes e.g. MBA
  • Maybe internal researcher working with external consultant (or both in my case!)
quadrant 3
Quadrant 3
  • Researcher is engaged in self-study of herself in action for professional practice but the system is not
  • ‘Organistic-orientated’ action research where the inquiry process is a value in itself
  • Research may be pre-selected (e.g. on the researcher’s job or role) or may emerge from Quadrant 2 project
quadrant 4
Quadrant 4
  • Researcher and system are engaged in intended study in action
  • System has made a commitment to change
  • Researcher’s role involved being part of the collective reflection and learning and articulating what is happening
application to this lna study
Application to this LNA study
  • Quad 2 – started as a straightforward educational consultancy project, or so I thought!
  • Quad 2 -action researcher finding that the problem being researched was a symptom of underlying cultural assumptions, resolution carried more far reaching implications that envisaged at the outset
  • Quad 2 to 3 -Personal development journey
  • Quad 4 – would need to be more insider-outsider collaboration for large scale system change
  • Political framework (Clarke 2003) useful for analysing the impact of politics to the LNA studies
final thoughts
Final thoughts

“ Insiders and Outsiders in the domain of knowledge, unite. You have nothing to lose but your claims. You have a world of understanding to win”

Merton (1972 :44)