CTF blog: In situ methodologies2017-12-01
Much discourse among service researchers circles around ‘value-in-use’, but still tend to apply research methods examining ‘value-ex-use’. Taking the ‘use situation’ seriously, we have reason to pave the way for advanced ‘in situ methodologies’.
What is this phenomenon called ‘service’, and how can we learn more about it? In this blog I argue in favour of the actual ‘service situation’ being the crucial point of departure for future service research, in order to advance existing methodologies and create more in-depth theories. The ‘situation’ is the focus of the first order value experience, both positive and negative, and a place where informants (a better word for respondents) in fruitful ways can contextualize and specify their experiences.
I argue for a slightly new direction for service research. There are basically three arguments. The first one is ontological and concerns the nature of service. I take the position that service is a social construction, a dynamic concept, and that research has the capability of increasingly achieving a better understanding of the service reality; a kind of critical realism standpoint. In line with this, the service research community should avoid using literature-based conceptualizations in a routinized manner (reproducing the hegemonic tradition) but also avoid the position that any theory goes (the relativist fallacy).
The second argument is epistemological. When we attain knowledge of social activities, such as services and products, we can say that such knowledge is based on the subjective meanings of the individual, continually interpreting the symbolic environment, which includes the actions of others, and acts based on this imputed meaning—i.e. symbolic interactionism. If this holds, it is crucial to capture the process of interpretation through which actors construct their actions. Building on an anti-positivistic hermeneutic view of social action we may outline study approaches which take advantage of the social resources used by customers in the hands of the researchers, as realized in the ‘use situation’. Epistemological assumptions, based on the possibilities of gaining knowledge, need to comply with ontological assumptions regarding the socially-constructed reality.
The third argument is methodological, and appears to be a logical consequence of the two previous arguments, and address how concrete methods are consistent with assumptions regarding the possibility of gaining knowledge (epistemology) of a given reality (ontology). This means that we face a challenge of using methods that are highly relevant to the phenomena we are studying. Data collecting techniques using naturally occurring data are preferable to retrospective surveys. Customer involvement techniques and real-time data should be prioritized, rather than retrospective quantitative surveys of a priori-determined constructs or variables. Using the ‘power of the example’ in data analysis and the contemporary attempts to apply practice-theory approaches in order to identify and unfold practices—i.e. doings and sayings in human action and their relationship with different structures—is fruitful resources when grasping the conditions of human action and social order, in mundane and varyingly routinized services.
Methods that allow proximity to service phenomena and the involved actors, whatever perspectives they may have, can grasp this plural reality. The idea that the subjectivity and inter-subjectivity of actors is constructed during interaction, internally and externally, leads to our understanding of reality always being temporary, although we embrace the idea that research has the capability of achieving a more profound understanding of the reality we are interested in. Examples of collecting and analysing data in situ include using naturally-occurring data about service conversations (conversation analysis), collectively-produced meanings (discourse analysis), recorded observations (video ethnography), and other methodologies for social culture analysis. These provide analytical material and the building blocks needed to build more in-depth and empirically-grounded theory, not forgetting the provision of the rich resources of service developers and other practitioners. For example, observing consumers’ actual (not imagined) behaviours in a real service setting, and then involving them in analyses of their own life worlds, or confronting them with different working hypotheses, preliminary research ideas, may enrich analysis substantially. Another example is shadowing consumers while they are using services. In some cases, we as researchers have gained the ability to observe and articulate things that informants (respondents) have difficulties articulating. In such cases, we can use an ‘under cover’ approach of entering the service situation and using our personal, observational, and analytical sensitivity to uncover important factors. Observations can be supported by video recordings, making it possible to repeatedly observe and ensure descriptive and explanatory models of service realization.
Personally, I have been conducting this type of research for many years now. Do you have interest in reading more, see Echeverri, P., 2017, In Situ Methodology: Outlining a New Direction for Service Research. European Review of Service Economics and Management or contact me. I'm happy to discuss the fruitful, but bumpy road of this in situ methodology.
Dr in Business Administration