Critical incident technique as a tool for gathering data as part of a qualitative study of information seeking behaviour.
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MARCELLA, R., LOCKERBIE, H. and BAXTER, G., 2013. Critical incident technique as a tool for gathering data as part of a qualitative study of information seeking behaviour. In: I. RAMOS and A. MESQUITA (eds.) Proceedings of The 12th European Conference on Research Methodology for Business and Management Studies ECRM-2013. 4-5 July 2013. Sonning Common: Academic Conferences and Publishing Limited. Pp. 247-253.
Since devised by Flanagan in 1954 as a tool to explore what people do to achieve an organisational aim, the critical incident technique (CIT) has been used in various disciplines as a method of understanding human behaviour. This paper provides an overview of the use of CIT in the specific field of information behaviour, both in large-scale quantitative studies designed to assess the quality and impact of library and information systems and services, and in more qualitative research examining the information needs and use of particular professions or occupational groups, or of particular societal or community groups. It highlights the inconsistent application of CIT in academic research, and the quantitative versus qualitative tension that exists in discussions of the use of CIT as a data collection tool. The paper also discusses the use of CIT by the authors in a study of the information seeking behaviour of oil and gas professionals in a health and safety context, considering that project in relation to Flanagan’s five main steps in the CIT process, and in terms of the benefits and limitations of the technique identified by Flanagan and by other commentators. The authors believe that CIT has particular advantages in the study of information behaviour as a method of illuminating the ways in which the context of information need impacts on information behaviour, how participants feel, and in particular in identifying positive and negative behaviours in information seeking and use. The authors also argue that CIT must be used in a thoughtful manner and in a full recognition of its weaknesses in the design of future research.