|In this paper, we briefly describe a simple method for analysing beneath the surface. It has been used in several domains. June has used it in a study of teenage girls; while Richard has used it both in his direct work with organizations and when acting as a mentor to other management consultants.|
But we cannot always take the things we're told at face value. Sometimes we detect blatant contradictions or holes in what we've been told by different people. (Sometimes, of course, one person will even contradict himself.) These are often the most interesting areas to explore further; they may indicate problems that we can help to solve or resolve, or they may be symptoms of much wider problems. Alternatively, when we pursue these contradictions or holes, they may disappear - as someone carefully explains to us how we've misheard or misunderstood something.
But whether the material appears to be consistent and complete, or not, we should not assume that it gives us access to the Truth.
Our method does not make any claims to establishing absolute Truth either. All we claim is that this method sometimes helps us to reach a deeper level of understanding that we can otherwise access.
We define three levels of analysis.
|Level 1: What's going on||At this level, we look at what is said. We don't have to take this at face value if it is obviously wrong; but even if it is wrong, we don't ask why.|
|Level 2: How do people describe what's going on.||At this level we ask: who is speaking. We are presented with a narrative, which is constructed by a person or group with a particular identity and agenda. What can we learn from the way people describe (and construct) their world?|
|Level 3: How do people describe to us what's going on.||At this level we also ask: who is listening. What is it about ourselves, as researchers or consultants, that prompts one narrative rather than another? What can we learn from reflecting on how we listen to this narrative?|
One of the most important differences between the three levels is the approach to perceived contradictions in the material. At level 1, the emphasis will be on determining which account is true. At level 2, the emphasis will be on explaining the contradiction as an internal phenomenon of the person or organization being studied. At level 3, the emphasis shifts to the question why this apparent contradiction has been revealed to this researcher or research team.
When a researcher in the social sciences interviews a teenage girl and her parents about such topics as education, class and pregnancy, the researcher is not simply presented with objective data; instead, she is presented with a number of narratives. These narratives are often emotionally charged, and always meaningful to the subjects. The narratives themselves provide important insights on the way the subjects forge their own identity..
Furthermore, the narrratives presented to a particular researcher are in part determined by the researcher herself. For example, the fact that the researchers all have university education influences the way the subjects speak to these researchers about the possibilities of university education for themselves. It also influences the way the researchers listen to the choices being made by the teenage girls.
One of the researchers carried out several interviews while she was pregnant. This clearly affected the narratives on pregnancy and motherhood that were presented to her by the teenage girls and their mothers.
More details of this study will be published in Valerie Walkerdine, Helen Lucey & June Melody, Transitions to Womanhood (forthcoming).
|‘The CEO … changed
the IS function’s position within the company structure … . As a consequence
of this change, the power symmetry that existed between the IS department
and its business clients was mitigated. Hence many of the negative effects
of “political influence” … were overcome.’
‘The IS management’s role has moved beyond that of being a mere strategy implementor and has grown to be one of executive leadership, technology architects, and IT catalysts.’
The first level of analysis takes these statements at face value.
The second level of analysis asks: who is speaking? Is this what the researcher was told by the IT director? It certainly conveys a strong sense of the way we might imagine an IT director to speak. But the IT director's perspective is not the only one - is this study limited by its over-reliance on the IT director's narrative? Whose value system is being expressed here?
The third level of analysis asks: who is listening? What is the relationship between the researcher and the IT director? What was this interviewer predisposed to hear? Would a different researcher have heard something different?
Of course, when we are reading a published paper, we can only speculate on these questions. When we are engaged in this kind of work ourselves, we have more direct ways of addressing them.
When interviewing people about important things, the researcher must engage actively with the interviewee. The researcher is the research instrument, and the feelings aroused by the interview or the interviewee are often important sources of material, to be thoroughly analysed with colleagues or supervisors. (In psychoanalysis, the technical term for this is countertransference.).
This is equally true of consultants. Peter Block urges consultants to pay attention to their feelings when engaging with clients, and argues that successful consultancy demands personal authenticity from the consultant.
Furthermore, the interviewee may reveal or withhold information, or
describe it in particular ways, and this partially depends on the interviewee's
beliefs about the interviewer. Often the interviewee actually knows very
little about the interviewer, but constructs an image of the interviewer
based on the interviewee's past relationships. (In psychoanalysis, the
technical term for this is transference.) How this affects the interview
material is also something that the researcher or consultant needs to be
able to analyse, and is often not able to perceive such things without
|Transference and CounterTransference|
This clearly slants the choice of researcher. Perhaps we should not expect much from young researchers with little experience of life, although clearly there are some capable young researchers who are able to overcome this limitation.
Furthermore, the three levels of analysis force us to ask a number of questions about the consultant-client relationship For example, what concerns is a client prepared to share with this consultant at this time. This not only raises important questions of trust and rapport, but also the identity of the consultant. A factory manager, for example, may prefer a mentor who appears to have the characteristics and experience of an excellent factory manager.
We might be tempted to ask: what are the characteristics of the ideal consultant or researcher for a given situation, to gain the maximum amount of trust and insight? But this we feel this idealization is inappropriate. Instead, we should be asking: how can we make the most of a given relationship between consultant and client, and how can we develop this relationship?
It follows that we should not work on our own. We all need colleagues, team-mates, supervisors, analysts or other partners, who will help us reach the third level of analysis.
|One of the best books on consulting ...||Peter Block. Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used. Second Edition, Jossey-Bass, 1999.|
Growing Up Girl: Psychosocial Explorations of Gender and ClassValerie Walkerdine, Helen Lucey and June Melody, Macmillan 2001
Technical update December 17th, 2002
Copyright © 1998 June Melody & Richard Veryard