Grounded Protocols and Grounded Introspection: Creating Action from Grounded Theory
I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of protocols which are used for teacher interventions but I always felt
they were too immutable, controlling, and ultimately, ineffective. Why not create protocols grounded in data? Grounded protocols would be investigative sessions that include a teacher and possibly two analysts who question
an individual through his or her teaching experience. (This procedure is an extension of what I call “grounded introspection,"
in that it examines an individual or a system in which an individual is embedded. The difference is that the examination isn’t
self-directed but led by an outside analyst. I’ll discuss this later in the paper when I review my ideas concerning grounded introspection). Later this data could be reduced into categories, a core
variable, and a substantive theory indicating the distillate of this individual’s experience in the classroom. It’s
important to remember that outcomes could be either positive or negative but will always reflect an authentic picture of that
individual’s personal reality related to his or her environment.
Finally, a “discovery phase” would be engaged that prioritizes actions that are quantifiable within the
individual’s own sense of understanding. We all vary in the ways we reason our social environments: We individually
aspect our personal connections based on private prisms. Therefore, my view of
myself in relation to teaching student “A” may be much different than student “A’s” conception
of this situation. Protocols should endeavor to create “discoveries” that allow participants to re-“aspect”
themselves through the examination and “awareness activation” of these personal prisms.
What’s interesting here is that the method I suggest (grounded protocols) has a built-in modification
and evaluation element. This is because of the nature of case studies and the style of data collection. Case studies follow
the dictate of the individual studied and take shape through long discussion sessions. Ideas are modified as the process moves
forward. These modifications are based on individual evaluative procedures initiated by the examinee through what I call the
“discovery phase." Although when data is reviewed and ready for the discovery phase to begin, it is not necessarily
the final step unless it earns its way. If it doesn’t satisfy the needs of the examinee, then more data should be collected
(sampled) and prepared and discovery begun again until an end-point is reached. In this way the viability of the action is ensured; it is active until saturation is reached and the examinee understands whatever he or she needs to understand.
The problem with this approach is that it could be misused and become some sort of “pop” analysis
intended to expose individual weaknesses. This is not the goal and must be avoided at every step. The protocol shouldn’t
be about the person but the meaning behind the behaviors that might be hindering or assisting personal growth in a system
that person inhabits. The discovery may be guided, but it should allow the examinee to find, and resolve if necessary, the
meaning of those behaviors and how they affect growth. Once again, to an extent, the process is the solution. Of course, those
agreeing to join the study might be more apt to embrace discovery but this can’t be easily controlled because the study
would be limited to the volunteers available.
But ultimately, if done right, building guided self-reflection from the bottom-up in respectful examinee/analyst
cohorts, could be of great benefit to organizations looking to create (and understand) cultures of change within stagnant
systems. As I stated previously, I call this type of guided self-reflection a grounded protocol, which emerged from my idea
of grounded introspection.
We exist within numerous systems of social interaction and although GT/GA
requires that we must lose our preconceptions prior to study, I believe that a well trained analyst could uncover a core variable
in an “embedded” situation, and could then postulate a cogent operational theory regarding that system. Grounded introspection studies a system within which the analyst is fixed, often times without being consciously
aware of the connection, and attempts to closely replicate some of the characteristics of a full-blown GT study. Furthermore, that same type of introspective speculation could be applied to individual reflection for
the purpose of personal, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and physical maintenance.
This notion was inspired by Simmons’ (1994) therapeutically-based approach called grounded therapy, which as he states is, “…a methodological approach to counseling/therapy that as
a form of grounded action incorporates many of the methodologies of the grounded theory research method” (Simmons &
Gregory, 2003, p. 3).
Traditional social systems are distinguished by external characteristics that combine to organize the relations of members
within the system. By sharing linguistically rich dialogues, members develop goals and construct norms of behavior that interlock
with the goals of the community. The purpose of the system should always be clear. When distractions occur members either,
enjoin a discourse and then modify the system, or the system suffers and sometimes dies. Taking this into account it’s
easy to see the power of the operational theory of GA as it is a natural step that
guarantees the health of the system. It is a part of the process of expansive continuity that all systems need to survive.
And in the same way social systems communicate, we as members of the system, almost by default, develop similar characteristics
in the maintenance of ourselves. For example, if we look at Maslow’s (1943), “Hierarchy of Needs” (physiological, safety, love needs, esteem needs, self-actualization) we can see
that within his theory all needs have a social context, if we accept this, then it is clear that our thoughts and actions
are prescribed by our desire to succeed in relation to those around us, and what better way to perform our inner processes
than under the guidelines of GT?
We also have rich, internal monologues that occur because we inherit the power of linguistic interaction from our culture,
therefore we communicate within ourselves with our dominant language, thus forming personal strategies for the advancement
of our social connections and success as it pertains to personal preferences within the system we inhabit. I maintain that
these monologues can be studied and personal psychological profiles with embedded
core variables examined, with the purpose of developing operational theories that could be used to maintain general individual
health. (For instance, an individual could break his or her life into certain categories like work or health and perform GI to understand the essential reason why he or she didn’t get a promotion or
Alfred Adler (1936) once suggested that we use our dreams to work out problems in our waking lives:
Dreams attempt to solve problems according to the individual style of life and they are not to be interpreted as common
sense. It has been shown that the ancients always considered dreams in connection with a problem
of life. That they were right in doing this is shown by the fact that the more satisfied a person becomes, that is, the less
his problem disturbs him, the less he will dream (p. 8).
He felt that humans derive purpose from the successful interaction of social systems and that as thinking beings we
tend toward introspection, and although intrapersonal skills vary, humans are able to partake in inner conversations that
can be directed toward solving dilemmas in that individual system; a type of introspection that could apply some of the attributes
of open coding as a guide. These introspections could be embedded; about a system an individual inhabits, or personal, regarding
Change is the prime directive for any student of organizational reform and the generation of theories is only the starting
point for revising moribund social systems. But with frameworks like grounded action, the potential to shape theory so that
its essential concepts can be converted to palpable reform exists. As Simmons & Gregory (2003) stated so poignantly in
their treatise on grounded action:
Perhaps as a society we are too optimistic in our belief that social and organizational problems can actually be substantially
mitigated or solved. Be this as it may, we maintain that applying grounded action to social and organizational problems will
produce optimal, sustainable, positive results in relation to previous approaches (p. 12).
From optimism comes hope, and the great hope of GA lies in its ability to
adapt. Although human behaviors are fundamentally the same as they were at the start of the century, due to factors like globalization
the situations in which they interrelate are evolving at an exponential rate. What’s more, because of the speed that
systems are interacting with each other in our world, the potential for unpredictable collision is immense, and from these
impacts new constructs will arise and the need for methodical, locally coherent strategies for systemic change will increase.
Hopefully, this will lead analysts to higher levels of social understanding that can be applied to modify existing configurations,
as the drive for human decency and respect is a consequence of the same convoluted, yet entirely human path.