Reflecting on the ‘Curated Debate’ Over Using ‘Templates’ in Qualitative Research

Black and white staged picture of two boxers in fighting stance with fists extended and referee in background.
While the lively debate over using templates for qualitative inquiry might be more scholarly than pugilistic, as demonstrated in Denny Gioia’s collection of responses noted below, it’s just as real as the 1914 ‘curated debate’ between Marty Cutler and Jack Johnson. (Photo: Library of Congress)

Denny Gioia of Pennsylvania State University’s Smeal College of Business reflects on the paper. “Curated Debate: On Using ‘Templates’ in Qualitative Research,” that he and 14 co-authors saw published in the Journal of Management Inquiry.

Do you like a good academic fight? A little gloves-off fisticuffs about what might be viewed from afar as some sort of arcane academic debate, but really isn’t? Rather, the central concern here is actually a debate-in-disguise about an issue with wide-ranging philosophical and practical implications. One of the currently raging issues in our field has to do with the use of “templates” in qualitative research – and qualitative research is back on the rise in academia because it is once again recognized as having the ability to convey a richer understanding of many organizational dynamics, especially those related to key processes. One of the prime targets for accusations that “rigorous” approaches to doing and presenting qualitative research (i.e., those that use what might be construed as templates) is a methodology that I have been developing and honing for over 30 years. That methodology has now become a prime target for assertions that its use is somehow ruining qualitative research. Those assertions have stirred an interesting little debate.

The big issues associated with the debate run the risk of dropping out of sight if this issue is viewed as one of interest only to qualitative cognoscenti. It’s not. To explore many of the issues surrounding the debate, I invited a number of the contributors to a special issue that recently appeared in Organizational Research Methods to either reiterate or elaborate their stances or to write a rejoinder to an essay I wrote to kick off the debate (i.e., Jacqueline Mees-Buss, Rebecca Piekkari & Catherine Welch, Jane Le & Torsten Schmid, and Karen Locke, Martha Feldman & Karen Golden-Biddle). I also invited a couple of well-known scholars (Ann Langley and Kathy Eisenhardt) to write statements about their approaches to doing qualitative research. Furthermore, I invited a number of scholars with a long history of using the targeted methodology to articulate the benefits of using a systematic approach to qualitative research (Davide Ravasi, Claus Rerup and Kevin Corley).

Finally, I also invited David Silverman to offer a rejoinder to my blistering attack on him, not only because I had singled him out, but also because he is a well-recognized qualitative scholar in his own right. All these folks are good sports, particularly those whom I assailed in the essay that serves as a trigger for the debate. 

If you enjoy reading short pieces from a group of people who know how to think in an insightful way and know how to write in a readable fashion, you should have a look at this curated debate about a topic that should interest all of us, not just those who do qualitative research.

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Dennis Gioia

Dennis A. Gioia is the Robert and Judith Auritt Klein Professor of Management in the Department of Management and Organization. Gioia is a member of the MBA core faculty, as well as the Executive MBA core faculty. He also is a former faculty director of the Developing Managerial Effectiveness executive program, and has served as a faculty leader in many other executive development programs for both private and public organizations. His current research deals with sensemaking and sensegiving processes during strategic change efforts, knowledge transformation processes, the role of organizational identity and image in attempting to accomplish change, and identity formation and change processes.

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