«People Matter: A hermeneutic exploration of reflective practice and facilities management Melanie Bull A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of ...»
I have now established that I am in the constructivism/social constructionism camp, and have placed my paradigm somewhere between radical humanism and interpretive sociology, which I am comfortable with, but the next stage of this journey is to explore my research strategy, and identify the method I have used to carry out the research.
Research strategy and methods This section will focus on my approach to the research strategy, my chosen research method and also some discussion on the social actors used within the research.
Research Strategy I have carried out my research through a hermeneutic exploration.
Hermeneutics is the study of interpretation (Follesdal, 2001) and the research has been an exploration of whether facilities managers are engaged in reflective practice and the benefits they feel this may have given them from both a personal and organisational context. Using the hermeneutic approach fits with my own philosophical stance of constructivism/social constructionism as my aim was to understand the individual through discussion. I have tried to remain open to subjective understanding of those discussions. More importantly I felt this could be done by using some of the person centred counselling techniques allowing me to hear the voice of the social actors by using open ended questions and to encourage them to enter into further self-exploration. There was a chance for me to try to view the world in the other person’s shoes as we explore their own life histories and what is important to them in relation to the use of reflective practice and the benefits this has made for them personally and to their wider networks. This again leads me to Vygotsky (1978) and his referral to social constructivism/constructionism linking social relationships as an influence to our individual cognitive processes. Gummesson (2000) provides a
model to aid the understanding of the cycle and this is highlighted below:
Figure 4: Model of Hermeneutics
The process of the hermeneutic cycle was drawn on from Gummesson's model (2000) which involved initial discussion (Chapter 2) of my pre understanding, and acknowledgement of my own life history and also some exploration of the literature in reflective practice, this pre understanding was then taken into the hermeneutic spiral. The text from the interviews was then revisited in several iterations to reflect on the text, my own thoughts and the theory until I was satisfied that I had gained the understanding on that particular theme. This process occurred for each of the four themes, and left me with my own interpretative understanding of the text and delivered the final spiral of my hermeneutic synthesis in Chapter 5.
Using the hermeneutic approach allowed me to understand and report on the social reality of the "actors" and to create meanings and interpretations of their own thoughts, whilst trying to remain true to their language; there is also a need for the researcher to ensure that their own interpretations remain true to the actors and, potentially to ensure this, some feedback could be gained from the actors. It is important to stay within the information and to remain within the hermeneutic circle and the recognition of my own influences and the impact this has on the study needs to be recognised. In order for the research to be robust, all decisions should be reflected upon, including the use of the theoretical framework and be made explicit to others (Koch, 1996).
The research has taken an emergent format within the tradition of interpretative research, and therefore the use of narrative and my approaches has evolved as I have engaged with the text.
Research Concept "Concepts are the building blocks of social theories" (Blaikie, 2010:111) The approach to my research has been a qualitative investigation through the hermeneutic tradition as this allows for the me as the researcher to engage in the understanding of meaning of everyday language and to try to form some concepts from this social world (Giddens, 1976) or the "lived experience" (Laverty, 2003) and also to ensure it is an interpretation of the information as opposed to a translation. Hermeneutics allows for a bottom up approach by adopting the position of the researcher as the learner rather than expert;
therefore the learning will be taken from the experiences of the social actors.
These lay concepts are taken to allow for the researcher to create more technical concepts. These concepts are created through iterations of examination and reflection, and further re-examination. The concept is not static and therefore allows for the researcher to explore the information and for the concept to be evolving throughout the process. The aim is to provide a useful description and understanding to fit the research being discussed (Blaikie, 2010). As the research focuses on reflective practice, I found this approach to be most appropriate for my own beliefs and personal fit.
The Social Actors The social actors that I have worked with for this research were taken from students/alumni that have engaged with our professional programmes in facilities management, as these are all underpinned by reflective practice. As our students are based all over the UK due to the delivery method of the course, there is a mixture of face to face interviews and telephone interviews; and also emailed questions. These students are all part time professionals studying on a blended learning basis. From our course perspective, blended learning relates to part time distance learning and part time block study. To enable the reader to understand the delivery mechanism for teaching reflective practice on the undergraduate certificate in FM the next paragraphs gives a short explanation of delivery mechanism.
The students submit two assessments, a piece of reflective writing and then a reflective portfolio as part of the Reflective Practice for FM module. The first assessment is based on a role play workshop activity in relation to FM that is delivered in the first block and they have to submit a 1500 word reflection on this, outlining their learning, their strengths and limitations recognised during the full day workshop activity and also recognising areas for development. The portfolio includes five learning outcomes including communication skills, problem solving abilities, identification of strengths and limitations and areas for personal development and use of feedback. They are encouraged to reflect on not only the learning on the course but also the impact of this learning to their working practice using specific examples as evidence.
The reflective practice module is the first module delivered on their first block study days followed by submission of their portfolio 18 months later. The students attend the university every 3 months for a block study, and at each block they are reminded about the reflective portfolio, with an interim submission approximately 12 months in and also a reflective practice workshop at their final block. Anecdotally the portfolios represent evidence of engagement and learning, and also a strong change in mindset from the beginning of the course to see the benefits of reflective practice.
To engage the students with reflective writing in the first instance they are encouraged to write an account of an incident of work, explaining the situation of what happened, and the outcome and then chat this through with one of their peers. Following this there is a lecture, discussion and workshop on reflective practice and the students revisit the first account which was written descriptively and they are then encouraged to write this as a reflective account, drawing more on the impact on themselves and their learning from the experience.
Throughout the course, each module requires the student to hone their reflective practice skills through either summative assessment or action learning in the classroom; reflecting on their own performance in practice.
I emailed four different cohorts of students and asked them to complete some short open ended questions in relation to using reflective practice (I had 34 responses and this has also formed part of the hermeneutic analysis) and then invited them to express whether they would be happy to participate in the
interviews. For reference, the emailed questions were:
Q1. Have you ever used reflective practice in the workplace? (If yes, go to 1a and if no, go to 1b) Q1a. Please briefly explain a situation when you have used it and how this impacted on your own professional practice Q1b. If you have never used reflective practice in the workplace, please explain why not Q2. Do you feel reflective practice has enhanced your working practice in general? (If yes, go to 2a or if no go to 2b) Q2a. If it has, please explain why Q2b. If it has not, please explain why Q3. For those of you that have recognised that you have engaged in reflective practice in the workplace, how has this impacted on your personal development?
Originally my estimate was between ten-fifteen potential interviewees. The potential interviewees were emailed and asked if they would be prepared to participate in my research. As this is a qualitative piece of research the exact number could not be defined initially and I have interviewed 12 students in total and felt I had achieved theoretical saturation (Blaikie, 2010). With the hermeneutic approach there was a point where I felt I had enough information and nothing new was coming out of the interviews, therefore the suggested number was just that, and was not set in stone. As Laverty (2003:18) suggests "The number of participants necessary for studies of this type will vary depending on the nature of the study and the data collected along the way. Researchers may continue, for example, to engage in interviews with participants until they believe they have reached a point of saturation, in which a clearer understanding of the experience will not be found through further discussion with participants"
The method used was interviews through unstructured discussions engaging in life histories. I wanted to understand the broader environment and narrative for the individual and I didn’t feel that just asking a set of questions through a semi structured interview would have given me this. I wanted to understand more about the individual and their current and historical personal and working lives.
There may be aspects of previous roles as well that have assisted in their own engagement with reflection. Life histories allow the social actors to have a "voice" and this is further reiterated with the hermeneutic approach. (Bheenuck, 2010). Biesta et al (2005) suggest that life histories allows for a wider understanding of the social actors stories against a background of wider processes and contexts. Chase (2005) suggests that this type of research may help to understand structural and cultural influences in our everyday social world. There is also some sense making from the complex lives of individuals and even engaging in a life history approach may allow for some deeper critical reflection (Bathmaker, 2010).
In taking this approach, I have reflected on the use of life histories which gave an interesting background to the individuals, although the level of engagement in their background was varied and some gave me a very “glossed”, almost potted history versions whilst others were very open and honest and shared some inner thinking and feelings. (Dhunpath, 2000).
The interviews were carried out over the period of approximately one year, and the first six were carried out within a period of 2 months at the beginning of this timeframe and transcribed; whilst the final six were carried out approximately 7 months later via a mixture of face to face and telephone and also transcribed.
This was due to the geographical distance of my interviewees. In total there were 7 face to face interviews and 5 telephone interviews.
Qualitative information or text analysis is a "dynamic, intuitive and creative process of inductive reasoning" according to Basit (2003:143); as a qualitative researcher the information has been analysed by myself and I have recorded the discussions and transcribed them as I feel there is a need to hear the text and recognise the changes in tones and pitch. The object of analysing qualitative information is to understand the relationships and assumptions that form the makeup of the social actors and in particular for my research their own engagement with reflective practice (McCracken, 1988).
In analysing the information, I have looked at themes that have emerged from the discussions and after the initial review of the texts as a whole, I will be entering the hermeneutic cycle of looking for emergent themes, establishing the themes and then revisiting the literature, taking on board my own reflections and then revisiting the text. This cycle will continue until nothing new emerges from the information. As discussed by Crist and Tanner (2003), in relation to the use of hermeneutics in nursing research, there is a suggestion of various phases in relation to the analysis during the hermeneutic process as outlined below through an adapted table which draws on their phases and my
understanding related to my research approach:
Table 2: The hermeneutic process