The purpose of this paper is to examine my current leadership skills. I will describe and reflect upon a recent curriculum project that I was in charge of at the US Army command and Gen. staff College. I will use a lens of the Bolman and Deal four Frameworks to evaluate my leadership skills in each frame and look for opportunities to extend my skill set in each (Bolman and Deal, 2008). Since my project is continuing into a second year, I will use this paper to prioritize and guide my professional development.
2. Description of the Situation
The U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas is the centerpiece of the Army leadership development focusing on field grade level, organizational leaders. The year-long course is divided into approximately equal thirds. The first third is the core curriculum received by all Army majors and focuses on critical and creative thinking, leadership, history, change management and basic organizational level doctrine. The middle third, known as the Advanced Operations Course (AOC), is focused on 1500 resident officers whose career path will take them back into tactical field units in leadership positions. The final third is an elective period where students can meet their own particular educational needs based on interest and follow-on assignments.
This past year ,the middle third of the course underwent an extensive redesign and reengineering process which represents the largest single change to the curriculum since its current form was originally implemented five years ago. I was responsible for approximately 1/3 of the redesign program which focused on the addition of new material concerning the largest educational gap in the Army as identified by senior Army leaders, field unit commanders, faculty and students. I received a set of ambitious and broad design principles from the college’s senior leaders and assembled a team of students, faculty, curriculum designers, and recruited experts from Army proponent organizations in order to create a teachable block of instruction that addressed the identified gaps
3. Desired outcome for the situation:
We defined two dimensions for our endstate: organizational outcomes for the college, and curriculum outcomes to address the educational gap. Our participatory action research design team, consisting of curriculum developers, faculty and students identified the top six desired organizational outcomes, as follows:
- Produce a quality staff recommendation for AOC force generation curriculum and an elective for “spillover” material
- Produce an interdepartmental “application- level “curriculum fully integrated through the AOC Working Group process
- Employ an inquiry- based research process that models the principles of group-learning in real time, which can serve as an example for other inquiries in important topics
- Establish an infrastructure that supports student learning while in attendance, and after graduation as a reachback
- Create a knowledge base that focuses on support of our student and faculty population, and which synthesizes quality research & knowledge from Army staff and support organizations
- Document the staff process that will support our ongoing accreditation and scholarship standards
Our desired student curriculum outcomes were:
- Students applied the Army process map to build ready forces
- Students are aware of concepts, challenges, and best practices
- Students and faculty contribute to the growing body of professional knowledge
- Students use a team oriented approach
- College provides a reach back capability for graduates to stay current
- Curriculum establishes linkage to lessons in the Core and Parallels
- Create opportunities in electives for deeper inquiry
4. The Bolman and Deal Four Frameworks summary: Bolman and Deal created a four framework approach to leadership situations, which enable change agents to systematically view multiple approaches to an issue. Here is a summary of the four frames and a characterization of leaders (Clark, 2004)
a. Structural frame: emphasizes creativity and seeks to establish clear goals and roles and coordinated activity established by authority policies and rules. The structural leader is a social architect whose leadership style is analysis and design.
b. Human resource frame: focuses on the needs and motives of individuals who live and work in social systems, and considers opportunities for participation and shared decision-making as a way to enlist commitment and involvement. The human resource leader is a catalyst and servant who looks to support advocate and empower.
c. Political frame: based on negotiated collaborative political structures aiming to find trade-offs for scarce resources, and emphasizes conflict resolution and balancing interests. Political leaders are advocates who seek coalition building and the distribution and balancing of power and interests.
d. Symbolic frame: focuses on culture, meaning, believes in faith by examining and supporting since making through symbols, metaphors, stories and other narratives. The symbolic leader is a prophet who seeks to inspire through multimedia communication and visioning.
5. Skills used:
a. Structural frame: bureaucratic structure and existing policy were important parts of my leadership strategy as I sought to leverage existing infrastructure. For changes to remain permanent and meaningful, it was clear to me that our design group had to create infrastructure changes. In many cases this involves a carryover into the political frame as we considered how to build coalitions to gain approval for our structural changes. As much as possible we tried to make our recommendations fit within the existing formats of college policy in order to ensure we did not jeopardize our accreditation, which is an important value for the college.
b. Human resource frame: from the beginning of the program design sessions, I made sure that we kept our discussions centered on students and their educational needs and outcomes by emphasizing the concept of student Voice. After the first meeting, it was clear that we also needed to incorporate faculty Voice in order to accommodate a variety of educational methods which in existing policy was difficult because of the needs for a standardized curriculum for accreditation. This proved to be a very difficult set of values to sustain throughout the design process because the natural tendencies of developers and faculty were to revert to traditional methods with which they were comfortable. Having students as members of the design and development teams, however, ensured that this remained visible throughout the process.
c. Political frame: this turned out to be a crucial component of the entire process. Because of initial successes with our wiki and blog, and the early incorporation of Army-staff level action officers, we got a lot more senior leadership attention than I expected. This made the project a high-stakes payoff and it quickly became an area where competing values emerged as teaching departments lobbied for time and resources to reflect their goals. At the same time, when we used a political process to negotiate the structure and content of the curriculum, there were many faculty who considered it business as usual. My opinion was that only a political process would allow us to integrate the multiple perspectives. I could have chosen to have our directorate’s position dominate the proceedings but it was clear to me that an integrated curriculum was necessary for the students. This was a position that students also shared, which helped me carry the day.
d. Symbolic frame: throughout the project I tried to emphasize the importance of the top down and bottom’s up gap analysis which pointed to this set of curriculum topics as being of central importance to the Army. By connecting the purpose to the bottom’s up and top-down vision to establish its relevance and create the energy to see us through the change. I created top-level vision diagrams in order to highlight in a visual way the broad outlines of the program and used very visible blog postings to maintain progress reports for the population at large. The senior leader in the college, the Deputy Commandant, was an important source of symbolic strength as he had committed fully to our vision and endstate.
6. Skills that could have been used:
a. Structural frame: I could have emphasized more interim written reports to lock-in procedures and SOP changes during the year-long program, instead of waiting for the conclusion to make permanent infrastructure changes. I wasn’t aggressive enough in incorporating administrative managers from the higher headquarters in our process in order to enlist them in our change program. I should have offloaded more technical work to others in order to maintain my focus on the creative and guidance processes. I could have used more faculty from different departments in building the interdepartmental curriculum .
b. Human resource frame: I should have committed more group resources to the faculty development program once we had completed the design and production of the new curriculum. I expected that the lesson plans could stand on their own and being trained in the usual way, and I was surprised at the amount of pushback. I should not have been surprised, however, knowing my peers, and more resources in this area would’ve been helpful. I could have used more student and faculty Voice in telling the story of our change program, instead of using my own personal blog and wiki reports; this would have placed the ownership for our program more in the hands of students and faculty and less in our group. I could have spent more resources on providing timely feedback to students and faculty based on their design inputs, as I’m not sure I did enough in that area to satisfy them. I could have emphasized more of the value of flexibility in our central design; we had a lot compared to our traditional methods, but I don’t think I emphasized enough what we had achieved. I should have put more effort into rubrics and examples from different faculty members of the design team in order to demonstrate our commitment to flexibility in the classroom.
c. Political frame: because I enjoy the political dimension of this program, I was too willing to frame this as individual or group winning and losing compared to the status quo; I should have put more focus on strategy and tactics and cooperative solution finding than in winning and losing. I should have planned for more interim rewards for cooperative and supportive behavior both for members of my team and from among the faculty that voluntarily supported the effort. I should have spent more energy on changing the mindset of the “warring state” to one of the cooperative tribe with respect to integrating departmental issues; the “warring states” is the default orientation of most interdepartmental programs for proposed change. I should have created a central interdepartmental design team in the form of an alliance to maintain momentum across the college. I could have spent more energy incorporating team members from other military colleges above and below us in the hierarchy in order to create a continuous wave of change.
d. Symbolic frame: I could have used more of our inside group-produced artifacts in the lesson plans themselves in order to improve the acceptance of the new lesson plans. I could have made better use of our wiki and blog sites to support collaborative design and collaborative teaching in the classroom. I should have used more strategic communications avenues and media to bring students on board with the program for change before we went into execution. I could have used more partnership programs with field units to demonstrate the relevance of our material to the students follow on assignments.
7. Lessons learned: I found this reflective exercise to be very useful in generating insights for me. Here are my ten most important takeaways.
a. In an interdepartmental, complex process it’s important to publish everything with transparency and trust everybody.
b. It’s not enough to ask for feedback from customers or in this case students and faculty, it’s important to engage in multi-loop dialogue and demonstrate a willingness to adapt to their requirements.
c. Tell the story at every opportunity to everyone that you can find, because the accumulation of small strategic communications events all add up to strategic success in the long run.
d. Leave no stone unturned in enlisting support even if you don’t think you need it or you think you have more than enough. There will come a time of surprise when you need every extra resource and it will be too late then to try to find them.
e. Reinforce the main effort in every action, even if it is only a supporting or shaping effort. Because resources are limited, everything must support the endstate.
f. Aggressively look for connections between departments, teams, resources, opportunities; in a network environment you never know where the next connection will come from that can make the difference between success and failure.
g. The moments of positive emotion and inspiration must be followed and supported by long periods of preparation and perspiration.
h. Question the boundaries that seemed reasonable early in the design, because you may find that your initial efforts have changed the game.
i. Reinforce the essential partnerships between key stakeholders in order to define success as group success.
j. Be open to unexpected opportunities to achieve unplanned successes. This is an extension of the idea of looking for connections. Sometimes the moment will show you unexpected treasures if you’re open to picking them up and making them yours.
Bolman, L., & Deal, T. (2008).Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice and leadership. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.
Clark, D. R. (2004), Bolman and Deal’s Four Framework Approach. Retrieved March 7, 2010
Representative Army capstone documents defining the requirements for new concepts in leadership.
TRADOC, (2009). A leader development strategy for a 21st century Army.
TRADOC Pam 525-5-500. (2008). Commander’s Appreciation and Campaign Design.
Army Regulation 6-22 (2008): Army Leadership
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The Research Problem
The purpose of this paper is to offer one vision of developing a methodological theory of mixed methods research co-equal with that of quantitative and qualitative research. I use a case study of the US Army Command & General Staff College engaged in a redesign of its curriculum, its teaching practices and its design process itself in a period of revolutionary change while supporting a nation at war. I describe circumstances and worldviews in which I argue that only mixed methods research may be employed to simultaneously develop a deep appreciation of uncertainty, improve decision making through an appropriate gathering, mixing and analyzing of quantitative and qualitative data, and applying “learning in action” as a strategy to manage success. I contrast the view of research as a process of increasing knowledge for control with a worldview of research as a learning-in-action that allows for deep appreciation of complexity but without the assertion that appreciation and research can lead to prescriptive measures of control. I examine the merging feedback system of the CGSC curriculum redesign as a mixture of qualitative and quantitative data. The concept of “Voice” that emerges from the CGSC action research process will be described, along with a multi-phased, multi-year research plan that demonstrates the practical development of an interactive dynamic research plan that is also adaptive to interim and periodic results. The paper reflects a pragmatic worldview as it focuses on practical outcomes inside an organization concerned with real-world results, but acknowledges the importance and utility of the other 3 worldviews described by Creswell (2007, p.6), namely advocacy/participatory, post-positivist and constructivist.
Waldrop (1992, 2008) described the emerging science of complexity in a rich description of the inter-disciplinary work developing at The Sante Fe Institute. Sixteen years later (Waldrop, 2008) he found that the pioneer days of complexity research had evolved into a rich diversity of programs in major and minor universities worldwide, with lines of business and cognitive domains each finding ways to apply the ideas of emergence, uncertainty and complexity in new and profound ways. What remained unchanged from the origins of the research were the questions of what next and so what and how much more is there and what does it mean to apply an appreciation of complexity to everyday problems and opportunities. The field of education is only beginning to appreciate how complexity and uncertainty may change the dynamics, structure, content and practice of adult education (Siemens, 2004). Professions in particular will be challenged by educating for complexity, since deep, profound, and reliable bodies of knowledge are at the center of professional practice. Educators, themselves members of a profession, are examining what it means to educate, teach and instruct in light of an emerging awareness of complexity.
The US Army Command & General Staff College (CGSC) is a self-described “learning organization” (Senge, 2000), engaged in a revolutionary re-design of curriculum and teaching practice, with a mission to educate 1500 US Army Majors for uncertainty and complexity, while engaged in a global war on terror and in direct combat in Iraq and Afghanistan (Long, 2009). This provides an opportunity to examine reflective learners and practitioners in action (Schon, 1987) using mixed methods research and using multiple worldviews (Creswell, 2009; Creswell & Plano Clark, 2007).
Past Research on the Problem
Edmondson and McManus (2003) propose a structured approach to selecting research methods that fit the state of theory in a given field. Their 3 archetypes of the state of theory: nascent, intermediate and mature are connected to qualitative, mixed methods, and quantitative research methods, resulting in an appropriate methodological fit that aims to meet the needs of researchers worldwide. Creswell(2009) offers a systematic approach to analyzing: researcher worldview, research purpose, research questions, the state of theory, data collection, populations and situations to be studied, and data analysis in order to further refine the methodological fit and better connect purpose with practice across all 3 methods. Creswell and Plano Clark (2007, p.8) offers a functional working description of the state of mixed methods research, which proceeds from a deep review of current field practice, establishes a superb framework for classifying current choices of mixed methods research design and the means by which methodological fit may be refined, but stops at the boundary of developing a deep theory of mixed methods of research.
Deficiencies in past research and Need for Mixed Methodology
Conventional professional education processes have been adapting at an increasingly frequent rate as a consequence of Army senior leader directives and direct field feedback. The adaptive processes and decisions to date have been single issue, single iteration problem solving exercises inherited from an environment in which incremental change was the norm and most appropriate. These processes are less and less suitable as rates of required change increase and the relevance of existing processes and curriculum are increasingly called into question (Long, 2009)
The audience for this research include: staff, faculty and students of CGSC; educators of military professional schools; curriculum developers in graduate schools and organizations engaged in preparing leaders for uncertainty; scholar-practitioners of mixed methods looking to adapt practical field methods of for mixing qualitative and quantitative data; scholars examining the deep theory of the methodology of mixed methods.
Purpose of the study, and reasons for a mixed methods study
The purpose of this study is to examine the CGSC curriculum redesign project and the emerging feedback system that guides design decisionmaking, which incorporates both quantitative and qualitative data. The project can be described as intermediate theory in the Edmondson and McManus ontology, and therefore suitable for mixed methods research since I am introducing an emerging concept (“Voice”), focusing on the exploration of theoretical propositions (the theory of mixed methods), the availability of sets of rich theory that inform the research (adult learning, decisionmaking, complexity, design, learning organizations, narrative inquiry and action research), and incorporating multiple data types and analysis (Edmondson& McManus, 2007, p.1165).
Research Questions and Hypotheses
H1: Student satisfaction measured on the Noel-Levin Adult Learner Satisfaction Survey is not different than their reported overall satisfaction
H2: Student education priorities measured on the Noel-Levin Adult Learner Satisfaction Survey are not different than those of faculty and college leadership as measured on the same instruments
H3: Student education priorities measured on the Noel-Levin Adult Learner Satisfaction Survey do not vary through time in the course of the academic year
H4: Student education priorities measured on the Noel-Levin Adult Learner Satisfaction Survey do not vary after graduation and reassignment to field units
H5: Student satisfaction measured on the Noel-Levin Adult Learner Satisfaction Survey do not vary from satisfaction as measured by existing CGSC Quality Assurance surveys
What are the dominant and subordinate narratives that emerge from focus group discussions on educational priorities and practice and environment within CGSC?
How does the curriculum design decisionmaking process respond to similarities and differences in narratives that emerge from groups of students, faculty and senior leaders?
Describe the development, emergence of the construct of “Voice” from the CGSC PAR cycles, and how this prototype construct is evolving and being applied by various sub-groups within and associated with CGSC, by applying various interpretive methods of the narrative inquiry tradition.
Mixed Methods Questions
1. To what extent are qualitative insights generated from PAR cycles, focus groups, and individual interviews supported by quantitative data generated from surveys and actual use data of digital communication and collaboration mediums?
2. How are various organizational narratives constructed by sub-groups within the CGSC curriculum design process in order to make sense of quantitative data?
3. What insights are offered by the application of various narrative inquiry traditions? Which traditions are favored or overlooked or rejected by curriculum design decisionmakers?
4. What happens within CGSC when students and faculty are given opportunities to exercise “Voice”?
Philosophical Foundations for Mixed Methods Research
Quantitative research literature review
Student satisfaction surveys built on consumer theory (Watkins, 2009) are broadly applied in colleges and universities, and treat students as free-willed individuals that choose between alternatives for an educational institution and particular fields of study. They are seen as rational actors with definite expectations about what they want in their educational experience, and that satisfaction occurs when their expectations are met or exceeded. Smart, Feldman and Ethington (2006) note a decline in the attention being paid to the attitudes and behaviors of faculties, administrators, and the college and university environments as contributors to student success.(p.2.). These insights are related to the “college impact” model of student success. Applying the Noel-Levitz Adult Student Priorities Survey leverages a robust, nationally recognized, validated research instrument whose dimensions reflect the areas of importance emerging from the CGSC Participatory action research (PAT) study (Long, 2009) and enables quantitative research into the existing database of historical satisfaction measures currently applied in the college’s curriculum design process.
Qualitative research literature review
The James, Milenkiewicz and Buchnam (2008) application of Participatory Action Research (PAR) develops measureable action steps that can lead to revolutionary transformations within educational institutions. The use of measureable qualitative and quantitative data gives power and legitimacy to the insights it generates inside an organization that values rigor and validity, while respecting the intuitive insights of qualitative research. Prasad describes many techniques of Narrative Inquiry that offer many techniques for interpreting and making sense of qualitative and quantitative data. Reason & Bradbury, (2008) and Clandinin, (2007), describe these disciplines and crafts of action research and narrative inquiry as having a relatively mature foundation of theory and best practices, with enough variation between sub-disciplines as to create real and significant choices for researchers . Various methodologies in each discipline can be characterized according to their own logic that connects their particular world view (Creswell, 2009), ontology, research technique, data requirements, classification and analysis protocols, and strategies for sense-making of the results of inquiry. The combination of PAR and narrative inquiry offer a robust set of strategies for generating insightful qualitative data with connections to quantitative data sets, which make them especially useful and practical to mixed methods researchers.
Mixed methods research literature review
Creswell and Plano Clark (2007) provide a broad yet detailed overview of the current state of the art of mixed methods research. They offer a working definition of the field derived from a survey of practice which proceeds from a deep understanding of high quality methods of practice, through choices of design and point to potentials for the development of deep methodological theory. They offer mixed methods as an appropriate research strategy as a way to improve on the use of either qualitative or quantitative research alone. In their view, mixed methods are more comprehensive, can answer more types questions, encourages collaboration and the deliberate incorporation of more than 1 worldview and is especially well suited for situations where practicality and pragmatism are prized (Creswell & Plano Clark 2007, p8-11).
A definition of mixed methods research
Creswell and Plano Clark (2007, p.5) define mixed methods research in the following way:
“As a method, it focuses on collecting, analyzing and mixing both quantitative and qualitative data in a single study or series of studies. Its central premise is that the use of quantitative and qualitative approaches in combination provides a better understanding of research problems than either approach alone”.
The type of design used and its definition
In this section I will briefly describe the theoretical shortcoming of treating mixed methods merely as a practical solution to improving upon either the qualitative or quantitative approach alone, and why a broader and deeper theory of mixed methods is appropriate for developing deep appreciation of complexity and uncertainty. I will briefly describe two different designs that would pass the test of the Creswell and Plano Clark ontology of mixed methods designs. With appropriate development, either would be approved for research within CGSC.
Comparison table (adapted from Creswell & Plano Clark (2007)
|Design 1||Design 2|
|Theoretical Description||A 2 phase design, where qual helps explain or build upon initial quan results (p.71)||2 phase design where qual results help develop or inform 2d phase quan inquiry|
|Description of application to CGSC||Round 1: the Noel-Levitz Adult Learner Satisfaction Survey is applied to a population, and results are tabulated, analyzed, compared against national graduate student norms and in a time series from the beginning, midpoint and endpoint of the academic year. Insights are developed
Round 2: A series of focus groups and individual interviews are used to develop qualitatitive insights to make sense of the quantitative findings
|Round 1: a set of participatory action research cycles identify areas of pressing concern to leaders, faculty and students within the college. A grounded theory is developed and constructs are defined by the community of practice, informed by theory from PAR outsiders.
Round 2: A quant survey is developed to explore deeply into issues and constructs developed by the PAR teams to cross check for validity, to confirm or deny, to support or modify the emerging grounded theory and provide the basis for future inquiries as selected by PAR teams. (Note: this is s summary of the actual process used at CGSC as the basis for this case study. The various tangents deriving from the initial rounds of inquiry generated my epistemological concerns with the pragmatic assumptions of mixed emthods)
|Justification||Needs qual to help explain significant, , non-significant, outlier or surprising quant results||Exploration is needed because:
1. no existing instrument
2. unknown variables
3. immature theory or framework
Well suited for exploring a phenomenon or when researcher wants to generalize to other populations, test emerging theory or classifications (p. 75)
|Variants||1. Follow-up explanations (quan results, insights need additional explanation)
2. Participant selection (where a sampling of representative outliers are selected for follow-on inquiry)
|1. instrument development model
2. taxonomy development model
Feasible for single researcher
2 section report of results
Supports both single and multiple phase studies
Appealing to quan researchers
|1. easy to design, describe, implement and report
2. although initial emphasis is on qual, the quan phase makes it easier to appeal to quan audience
3. both variants supports multiphase studies well
|Challenges||1. Time consuming
2. Decisions on which individuals to use by phase w/justification
3. Difficulties with IRBs
4. Deciding which results to explore
5. Specifying criteria for follow-on inquiry (before or after results?)
|1. time consuming
2. difficult to specify phase 2 construct for IRB prior to phase 1 results
3. deciding up front which individuals to use in phase 2
4. which data to use in phase 2 instrument
5. deciding relevancy of phase 1 results for phase 2 taxonomy
|Timing||2 phase sequential model||2 phase sequential model|
|Weighting||I think the QUAL(quan) model is more likely. This design relies on at least a mature enough state of theory to allow for initial quan inquiry, but we are more concerned with the interpretation and application of insights than in model or theoretical validation||the equal weighted choice is more logical; the desired outcome is an improvement to state of theory (quan) by either a better instrument or by an improved taxonomy (ontology). Yet the reliance on initial qual inquiry as a guide makes it at least co-equal to quan.|
|Mixing the data||Either Merging or Connecting is more likely than embedding. Embedding implies a single phase, whereas this is defined as a 2phase design. The improved explanation of initial quan findings is how the design could be “connected”. If the interpretation or meaning making is intended to create “rich description” then either variant of merging is logical||Connecting is by far the most logical design choice, as the 2 phases are explicitly linked; quan follows qual and the connection is either an instrument or a taxonomy.
There is a distinct “manufacturing or processing” aspect to this design, which does not seek to produce a rich description that is a blend, but rather produces a better quan framework as guided by the initial qual inquiry
Research model 1: Explanatory:
Research model 2: Exploratory:
Analyzing the data:
In both models of mixed methods design the quantitative data would be subjected to power analysis, tests for relationship and causality. The quantitative hypotheses are framed in the form of null hypotheses in order to determine if there were differences that could be attributed to a difference in instruments and what they are measuring (existing survey vs the Noel-Levitz survey); through time series tests to see if there is a treatment effect, and with the samples subjected to control variables to examine the effects of demographic, career experience, educational goals and faculty specific effects on the measures of satisfaction and importance.
Qualitative data would be subjected to thematic analysis according to the practices of the grounded theory, narrative inquiry and PAR traditions/ Narrative inquiry traditions are especially important here as outlined in Boje (2001).
Analyzing the mixed data would be drivcefn by the specific design selected as noted above.
Theoretical analysis of the consequences of choice in mixed methods design
Both designs would be interpretable as providing a deeper insight and understanding than a study restricted to either of their individual qualitative or quantitative components. The functional definition of mixed methods (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2007, p.5) would lead decisionmakers, particularly of the pragmatic worldview, to ‘receive the wisdom of experts” and seek to straightforwardly apply the insights based on a justifiable belief that they now knew more about what was going on, and had in some fashion reduced the amount of uncertainty about the world around them. My central argument is that there are situations so complex and uncertain that no amount of research and conclusions drawn from best practices of the traditions of both quantitative and qualitative inquiry, and the best practices emerging from mixed methods as described by Creswell and Plano Clark. In fact my use of the word “situation” in the preceding sentence, is an implied assumption that there is such a thing in the real world as a definable “situation” or problem set which may be bounded and contained by a problem solving, decisionmaking entity. While this construct is the basis for the post positivist tradition, which has endlessly proven its utility in countless settings, it is normal for pragmatists to conflate utility with reality.
It can be argued that there is could be a tacit agreement between constructionists and post-positivists to allow each other the primacy of method and interpretation based on typical problems, and indeed much work is being done to increase cross-discipline understanding, cooperation and integration. The common assumption between these two worldviews is that the end product of such effort is a measureable increase in our knowledge of the world as it is, from which we may exert more control and prediction by having reduced the amount of uncertainty by some amount. This tacit shared assumption I submit is expressed through the research practice of pragmatists who are “naturally” drawn to the mixed methods designs and practices described so well by Creswell and Plano Clark. Given the fertile and as yet only partially explored areas best suited for mixed method research it would be natural for the deeper philosophical theory or theories of mixed methods to be postponed, much as Smart, Feldman and Ethington (2006) found a willingness for researchers to revert to their preferred and more easily measured research domains and begin to neglect the messy and challenging issues of environmental factors affecting student success. One is reminded of the story of the man who’d lost his key in a dark alley but was searching for it under the streetlight because the light was better there.
I am arguing that there are situations where even mixed methods are properly and rigorously applied, and interpreted in best professional practice, that the insights may serve only to help decision-makers appreciate the vastness of what they do not understand, and better act within an uncertain environment, humble in their ignorance, yet moved to action from values and on the basis of principles informed by the best practice of inquiry.
It is my contention that in those situations described so aptly as “wicked problems” by Rittel & Webber, (1973) that a deep theory of mixed methods may be developed that is co-equal to that of qualitative and quantitative methods. I argue that mixed methods not only are useful in solving less-than-wicked problems, as described by Creswell and Plano Clark, but most appropriate to engage with uncertainty and complexity for the express purpose of appreciating deeply the current situation. The deep theory of mixed methods I anticipate would require explicit inclusion of all 4 world views, since there is no a priori basis for excluding any of the 4. I thinkit quite likely that a reasonable assumption of a deep theory of mixed methods in fact could require an explicit inclusion of the best practices of each world view in some fashion, details to be determined, of course.
The shift in epistemological perspective seems important to me, and which should be developed in tandem to the directions for improvements in design and pure method described by Creswell and Plano Clark. Checkland’s application of soft systems methodology, artfully describes “learning towards success” in a satisfying way (Checkland & Poulter, 2006).
The best expression of the theoretical stance towards irreducible complexity intersecting the human need for the state of nature or through any objective criteria (Boje, 2001) and in the work of Hayden White (1987) concerning the relationship between narrative discourse and the historical representation. These insights are causing me to reflect deeply on my own essentially pragmatic worldview and its underlying assumptions, and lead me inevitably back to the proposition that we need the methodological theory of mixed methods developed simultaneously with that of its design choices and specific methods.
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Some advice for a friend grappling with the difficulty of finding and keeping a tight focus of the issues emerging from his group research into sex discrimination in the workplace. I wish i could foloow my own advice and stay focused
Phil: here’s a thought experiment: what would happen if you treated your research inquiry as a journey and proceeded step by step out from your start point, sensing and responding to the co-researchers needs as you go?
i see you trying to get your arms around a topic that is miles wide and deep; it addresses one of the most complex sociological issue-complexes of all time; i hear you devleoping plans to “understand all of it” in order to do….what?
what if you had in your hand something precious already being developed thru the voluntary contribution sof your trusted others in your group. what are the questions with the most energy that are emanating from that group? which you CAN get your arms around? what research is needed to satisfy their hunger to know, and do, and be and become? what’s the emotional driver that keeps this group going? to satisfy what end? what need? maybe, let the research direction and depth support that hunger to know
do all the members of your group share your interest in the massive research undertaking you are describing? have you already mentally left the group to climb your own mountain?
just thinking out loud, as i go through the same cycles of trying to solve the largest problems i can imagine, often at the expense of taking care of my own little garden plot