Innovations in unobtrusive methods

Knight, A. P. (2018). Innovations in unobtrusive methods. In A. Bryman and D. A. Buchanan (Eds.), Unconventional Methodology in Organization and Management Research, pp. 64-83. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Abstract. Twenty years ago, engineer and computer scientist Rosalind Picard (1997, p.228) imagined a future in which ‘a financial analyst might combine his cell phone, pager, online stock reports, analysis software, and personal email agent into one computer that fits in a belt, watch and shirt pocket’.  Clearly the future is now.  An estimated 1.4 billion people owned a smartphone in 2013 – more than one fifth of the global population (Heggestuen, 2013).  By 2020, that proportion is expected to rise to approximately 70 percent (Ericsson, 2015).  And smartphones are just the tip of the iceberg, as a proliferation of internet-connected devices expands the linkages among humans, computers, and networks.  Consider just a few of the devices released recently.  Glasses developed by companies like Google and Snap enable users to capture and share multimedia content in real-time; wristbands like those developed by Fitbit, Apple, and Samsung facilitate fitness tracking, payments, and more.

The ubiquity of connected devices (Swan, 2012) – and the metrics that they unobtrusively capture – has led data to become increasingly central to the global economy.  Companies have integrated novel unobtrusive data streams into their business models and operations (e.g. Walker, 2012; Wilson, 2013).  These data streams can elucidate consumer preferences and responses to advertising, enhance human resource practices, and improve collaboration networks – to name just a few publicized applications.

Much like new data streams have enriched contemporary businesses, innovative unobtrusive methods hold great promise for researchers who study organizational functioning (Tonidandel et al., 2016).  The idea that researchers can benefit from using unobtrusive methods is certainly not new.  More than half a century ago, Webb and colleagues (1966) implored researchers in their classic book Unobtrusive Measures to use a more diverse set of data streams in their work, noting that, ‘Today the dominant mass of social science research is based upon interviews and questionnaires.  We lament this overdependence upon a single fallible method’ (pp.1-2).  Notwithstanding a steady drumbeat of pleas over the years for researchers to use unobtrusive methods (e.g. Hill et al., 2014; Webb and Weick, 1979), survey methods continue to dominate the literature, especially in organizational behaviour, and researchers still often rely on a single data source (Podsakoff et al., 2012; Scandura and Williams, 2000).

The purpose of this chapter is to describe a new suite of unobtrusive methods, such as the traces that people leave throughout the digital world as they search the Internet, post content on social media, and navigate an increasingly digitally-connected physical world.  These methods, which did not exist when Webb and colleagues published their book, make it easier and cheaper for researchers to use unobtrusive methods than ever before.  As a result, we social science researchers have fewer and fewer excuses for relying on a single source of data, obtrusively acquired, in empirical studies.

Using recurrence analysis to examine group dynamics

Knight, A. P., Kennedy, D. M., McComb, S. A. (2016). Using recurrence analysis to examine group dynamics. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 20, 223-241.

Abstract. This article provides an accessible introduction to recurrence analysis—an analytical approach that has great promise for helping researchers understand group dynamics. Recurrence analysis is a technique with roots in the systems dynamics literature that was developed to reveal the properties of complex, nonlinear systems. By tracking when a system visits similar states at multiple points in its life—and the form or pattern of these recurrences over time—recurrence analysis equips researchers with a set of new metrics for assessing the properties of group dynamics, such as recurrence rate (i.e., stability), determinism (i.e., predictability), and entropy (i.e., complexity). Recent work has shown the potential value of recurrence analysis across a number of different disciplines. To extend its use within the domain of group dynamics, the authors present a conceptual overview of the technique and give a step-by-step tutorial on how to use recurrence analysis to study groups. An exemplar application of recurrence analysis using dialogue-based data from 63 three-person student groups illustrates the use of recurrence analysis in examining how groups change their focus on different processes over time. This is followed by a discussion of variations of recurrence analysis and implications for research questions within the literature on groups. When group researchers track group processes or emergent states over time, and thus compile a time series dataset, recurrence analysis can be a useful technique for measuring the properties of groups as dynamic systems.

Spring 2017 Courses

Organizational Research Methods (PhD), January to May, 2017

This is an introductory PhD seminar on organizational research methods. In this course we will together critically examine the building blocks of rigorous research and publishing in the organizational sciences, across a range of research questions and specific research methods. We will do this through readings, class discussions, and exercises, as well as through writing and reviewing one another’s work.

Key Learning Objectives

  • Expose you to a range of methods commonly-used by organizational scholars, helping you to learn the language and foundations of dominant methodological approaches.
  • Improve your ability to critically consume organizational research from a variety of methodological approaches.
  • Provide you with different methodological tools that may be useful for your own research interests and questions.
  • Develop your ability to identify the strengths and weaknesses of research, as well as the tradeoffs that scholars make in the research and publication process.
  • Strengthen your ability to communicate your ideas, interests, and contributions through your writing.