You are on page 1of 26

The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at


A critical reflective discourse

of an interventionist
research project


John C. Dumay
Faculty of Economics and Business, University of Sydney, Darlington, Australia
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to provide a reflective discourse about a particular
interventionist research project utilising a critical framework.
Design/methodology/approach The paper uses Alvesson and Deetzs tasks of critical research
to analyse the application of interventionist research methodology and address the issues of access,
data collection and ethnographical concerns.
Findings Access issues are expanded to consider the concerns of the researcher and the researched.
Interventionist research needs to develop a methodological approach moving beyond the concept of
triangulation and to develop the concept of catalytical processes, expanding the emic and etic
functions of interventionist research. The paper identifies that skills of the researched and the
researcher need to be developed and recognises that the skills required are different to those currently
possessed by academic researchers.
Research limitations/implications The paper examines only a single application of an
interventionist research project conducted over a short period of time with a specific outcome in mind.
Practical implications This paper provides a discussion of a working example of an
interventionist research project and highlights to researchers and practitioners some of the advantages
and disadvantages of undertaking such an approach to solving organisational problems.
Originality/value The reflective critical discourse as outlined in this paper contributes to the
practice of interventionist research by opening up further the discussion of how it can be implemented
in practice and what are some of the considerations from both the perspective of practice and the skills
base of the participants.
Keywords Research methods, Narratives, Intellectual capital
Paper type Research paper

Qualitative Research in Accounting &

Vol. 7 No. 1, 2010
pp. 46-70
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/11766091011034271

1. Introduction
Interventionist research is not widely accepted (Suomala, 2009, p. 10), however, recent
and emerging research into the practice has identified that mangers in organisations
who have implemented it find the teaming of researchers and practitioners to
solve organisational problems to be a powerful combination (Suomala, 2009, p. 11).
Interventionist research has its foundations in traditional observation based case study
research but differentiates itself by allowing the researcher to become fully immersed
in the phenomenon being studied ( Jonsson and Lukka, 2006, p. 5).
In essence most field based case study work involves an element of interventionist
research, even though it may not be recognised when the research is reported
or published (Suomala, 2009, p. 10). In field work, the researcher is immersed in the
organisation and its practices and becomes involved with the actors asking and
probing with questions such as What else Tell me more How did that happen?
Why Can you give me an example of that? and occasional silence, in order to elicit

more detail and depth (Parker, 2004, p. 170). The interventionist researcher extends
the case study methodology by collaborating with the organisation in developing
actual solutions to problems (Jakkula et al., 2006; Suomala, 2009). Therefore, an
interventionist researcher can make both a theoretical contribution and an
organisational contribution by assisting organisations in implementing change.
Interventionist research puts the researcher in a position to, as Lewin puts it,
challenge the status quo (Parker, 2004, p. 172). Thus, it is argued that interventionist
researchers need not only to become immersed in helping solve problems associated
with the phenomenon under investigation, but also to be critical in their observations
and interventions as they construct the data of the research project (Alvesson and
Deetz, 2000, p. 21). Interventionist research is not commonly used in fields such as
management accounting, but it has a long tradition in other fields, such as engineering
(Suomala, 2009, p. 10).
This paper aims to make a contribution to the practice of interventionist research by
being reflective and critical of it as a process. By doing so insights into its effectiveness,
implementation and the required skills of the researcher and others involved in the
project can be developed (see Alvesson and Deetz, 2000, pp. 16-20). This paper develops
these insights by providing a reflective discourse about a particular interventionist
research project utilising a critical framework. The reflective discourse provides a
manifestation of the researchers involvement in the project and its data and considers
the broader relevance of the research to help answer the so what? or even so why?
questions about interventionist research (Alvesson and Deetz, 2000, p. 200). The critical
framework utilised is based upon Alvesson and Deetzs (2000) critical management
research framework where the term critical is utilised not to find fault with current
thinking about interventionist research but to question its current application. Thus,
the focus is on critique, giving an assessment of interventionist researchs good and
bad qualities, rather than criticism, which is to concentrate only on what is wrong
(Alvesson and Deetz, 2000, p. 8; Dumay, 2009, p. 193).
This paper has been divided into five further sections. Section 2 presents a literature
review on the topic of interventionist research. Section 3 describes the organisation that
participated in the research and their motivation for doing so, along with background
information about the relationship between the researcher and the project. Next,
section 4 describes the critical management research framework that provides the
theoretical approach of the paper. Section 5 follows with a discussion, from a critical
perspective, of the conduct of the research project. Section 6 concludes the paper by
highlighting some important observations and discusses what may be required to
advance the concept of interventionist research.
2. Interventionist research
Lately there has been increasing interest in the interventionist research methodology,
especially from a management accounting perspective ( Jakkula et al., 2006; Jonsson
and Lukka, 2006; Suomala, 2009), as evidenced by contemporary research (see CIMA,
2009) and calls for papers on the topic. However, as the methodology has not been
widely advocated, there are few specific empirical publications ( Jakkula et al., 2006).
Perhaps, part of this problem is semantic, in that what this paper refers to as
interventionist research can also be described as action research clinical research
action science design science and the constructive research approach

research project



( Jonsson and Lukka, 2006, pp. 9-12). As Suomala (2009, p. 11) identifies, if considering
the variety of terms used to describe interventionist research, in one research
institution there have been at least 30 research projects, more than 20 peer reviewed
empirical papers and 100 research papers on the topic. In each of these projects and
papers, interventions into organisations have been a key element (Suomala, 2009, p. 11).
Recent and emerging research into the practice has identified that mangers in
organisations who have implemented this form of research have found the teaming of
researchers and practitioners to solve organisational problems to be a powerful
combination (Suomala, 2009, p. 11).
The methodology is much more widespread than a current search on the literature
would suggest as it has a long history dating back to as far as 1913 in the early days of
action based research methodologies (Parker, 2004, p. 171). So while the methodology
has its foundations in the different qualitative research methods that have evolved over
many years, in essence, it is not restricted to, or based entirely on, any one of these
approaches. It differentiates itself from traditional case study methods by allowing the
researcher to become fully immersed in the organisation and phenomenon being
studied (Jonsson and Lukka, 2006, p. 5). Thus, it places the researcher in a dual
researcher/consultancy role.
The collection of data in non-interventionist research tends to focus on interviews,
supported by the analysis of historical documents, with a low emphasis on the role of
observation (Yin, 2003; Jonsson and Lukka, 2006, p. 7). In contrast, the interventionist
researcher relies on observation, more particularly his or her involvement in the
process under investigation ( Jonsson and Lukka, 2006, p. 7). The main advantages of
this are the ability to collect more subtle and significant data allowing researchers to
put academic theory into action, enabling participation in the change process and
increasing the level of recollection when writing up the results of research ( Jonsson and
Lukka, 2006, p. 8).
The interventionist researcher also extends the case study methodology by
collaborating with organisations in developing actual solutions to problems (Jakkula
et al., 2006; Suomala, 2009). Successful interventionist research is seen as making a
contribution to change processes in an organisation; this is in contrast to case study
research, which is conducted by an observer in an academic ivory tower and which
may have little or no impact on the organisation and is unlikely to be generalised to
other organisational settings (see Lukka and Kasanen, 1995). Therefore, an
interventionist researcher needs to make both a theoretical contribution and an
organisational contribution by assisting and analysing organisations implementing
change ( Jonsson and Lukka, 2006, p. 3).
Additionally, Jonsson and Lukka (2006, p. 3) outline that:
[. . .] the distinguishing character of [interventionist] research is the need for the researcher to
cross the border between the etic [outsider] and the emic [insider] perspectives there and
back again. This shift between differing logics provides opportunities for new insights since
the researcher wants to achieve solutions that work in the field and come back with evidence
of theoretical significance.

Here, the researcher is seen to act on that situation in concert with the host
organization, observes process and outcome, and analyses findings in view of the
relevant literature (Jonsson and Lukka, 2006, p. 4). This methodology not only reflects
upon the observations of the researcher, but also on the impact the interventions have

in the organisation. According to Downey and Kuusisto (2009, p. 4), the main benefit
for researchers is the ability to develop insights into the implementation of new
management innovations in organisations; for practitioners the benefit is to gain the
assistance and knowledge of academics as a resource in the implementation process.
What then are some of the practical issues and/or questions that need to be addressed?
As with any type of research, interventionist research has its proponents (Jakkula et al.,
2006; Jonsson and Lukka, 2006; Suomala, 2009) and detractors. These differing viewpoints
are generally founded in the debate between positivism and alternate, qualitative,
approaches to research (see Morcol, 2001; Jonsson and Lukka, 2006, p. 6). Interventionist
research is currently seen as an alternative approach and extends beyond the limits of even
conventional qualitative research. In essence it sits on the far end of a continuum at which
the opposite is occupied by simple case study methodology. Thus, as with any different
methodological research approach, there are aspects of its conduct that would suit further
investigation in order to define the boundaries of the approach, even though the line may
not be permanently defined. This means it should be critiqued in practice, with particular
attention to how the participation of the researcher is impacted as this stands in stark
contrast to the positivist or neo-positivist view, which is concerned with objectivity,
neutrality, scientific procedure, technique, generalization and discovery of laws
(Alvesson and Deetz, 2000, p. 49).
This paper offers a critical examination of interventionist research in action
whereby the researcher was engaged to assist the Sydney Conservatorium of Music
in developing a strategic plan. In order to progress this examination, the following
section outlines the organisation and the project for which the researcher was engaged.
3. The case study organisation and project
The Sydney Conservatorium of Music (the Conservatorium) is a faculty of the
University of Sydney (Australia). It has a long history of developing fine musicians and
is considered a world class music education institution, arguably amongst the best in
the world (see Collins, 2001, for a detailed history). Its primary goal is to continue to
build on its success and to further concrete its reputation on the world stage as it
approaches its centenary of foundation in 2015.
In 2008 the Conservatorium had over 600 academic and support staff, servicing over
4,500 students in tertiary, secondary and community based education programs.
In addition, for 2007, it conducted over 170 concerts and 290 student recitals, attended
by more than 23,000 people. To service these activities it has a budget of about
AUD$17M, the majority of which is related to expenditure on staff. In its current
operating environment, the Conservatorium is being challenged by a number of issues,
securing the necessary financial resources to carry out the mission of the
acquiring the physical and human resources necessary to carry out the mission
of the Conservatorium; and
developing and communicating the strategic intent and activities of the
Conservatorium to its diverse range of stakeholders.
To plan for these challenges the Dean initiated a project in July 2008 to develop a
new strategic outlook towards the Conservatoriums centenary celebrations in 2015.

research project



This project involved the help of a representative from the Board of Advice to the
Conservatorium, an external consultant (the researcher), the academic staff and the
professional support staff of the Conservatorium. The result of this project was
the creation of the strategic plan document. The researcher was engaged by the
Conservatorium to drive the project and to be responsible for delivering the final
The researcher became involved with the project through his academic association,
as a mature PhD student, with a member of the Board of Advice. Through that
association the Board member became particularly interested in the researchers PhD
topic, which provided the potential to examine the Conservatoriums issues from a
different perspective. As a result the researcher was asked to develop a project
proposal and to submit it to the Dean for approval. The eventual tasks of the project
were as outlined below tasks of the interventionist research project.
The researcher will undertake the following tasks:
(1) Conduct interviews with key stakeholders.
(2) Organise interview transcripts.
(3) Analysis and reporting of findings of key stakeholder interviews.
(4) Prepare material for the strategic workshop.
(5) Liaison with University staff in relation to the provision of financial and KPI
information required for the development of the strategic plan.
(6) Write first draft of the strategic plan.
(7) Edit draft based on comments and feedback from workshop participants.
(8) Presentation of draft for comment to the Dean.
(9) Edit draft prior to printing.
The Sydney Conservatorium will be required to assist in the following ways:
(1) Arrange the scheduling of the face to face interviews with stakeholders.
(2) Arrange and co-ordinate resources for the strategic workshop.
(3) Printing and or distribution of material for the workshop.
(4) Secretarial support and distribution of material from the strategic workshop.
(5) Coordinate the availability of university staff to meet the consultant to discuss
financial and KPI reports and data.
(6) Printing and or distribution of the first draft of the strategic plan.
(7) Printing and distribution of final draft of the strategic plan.
In this project, a total of 28 academic and support staff managers were interviewed
or involved in the research process and the production of the strategy document
(Dumay et al., 2008)[1], supported by other internal sources of information as outlined
in Table I. The participants were chosen because they represented a cross section of
people across the organisation who would be impacted by, and involved in changes in,
strategic direction. The initial focus was on the developing understanding of the
circumstances of the Conservatorium, using interviews and historical documents.
This was followed by an extended period of involvement with the Conservatoriums
people in the development of the strategy document, which culminated in the conduct

Data source

Primary format

Interviews with senior academics

and support staff
Strategic workshop with staff

Digital voice recordings and

Strategic map and handwritten
feedback from participants
Excel spreadsheet
Online surveya
Prior strategic plan
Printed document plus supporting
soft copy computer files
2008 15 Budget working papers Spreadsheet
Various internal and external
documents related to the
Conservatorium website

Hard copy and computer files

HTML Documents

Date produced
July August 2008

research project

August 2008
July August 2008
September 2006


July 2008 work in

Various dates from 2000 to
December 2008
August 2008

Note: As the interviews were conducted during semester break some of the staff responded via an
online survey and answered the same set of questions as were asked in the semi-structured interviews

of a strategic workshop designed to elicit a cohesive voice of key people within the
The underlying research agenda of the consultant was to investigate how the theory
of intellectual capital (IC) and the use of narrative (see Mouritsen et al., 2001a) could be
used to assist in building a strategic plan document that would be able to effectively
communicate the Conservatoriums strategic intent to both its internal and external
stakeholders. The use of IC theory, in relation to value creation is relevant to the
Conservatorium because the value it creates is intangible as its main product is music
IC been defined in many ways over the years but the original definition of Stewart
(1997, p. x):
[. . .] the sum of everything everybody in a company [organisation] knows that gives it a
competitive edge [. . .] Intellectual Capital is intellectual material, knowledge, experience,
intellectual property, information [. . .] that can be put to use to create wealth [value].

As Mouritsen et al. (2001b, p. 404) also explain, IC:

[. . .] is a theory of wha creates value, and a story of how the resources of the firm
[organisation] are composed and bundled in order to create value.

Narrative came to the fore in IC research and practice after the work of the initial
pioneers of IC moved from the simple one page matrices that dominated the early days
of IC to more complex and comprehensive documents where it was utilised to give
meaning to the measures of IC. Later approaches to understanding the utility of
IC narrative have in common their focus on identifying how the organisation will
develop its IC resources in the future rather than considering only past IC activities.
The Conservatorium offered an opportunity to examine the utility of IC narratives in
an attempt to understand value creation and strategic intent in an organisation prior to
having it report on IC activities. Utilising narrative in an experimental manner in the
Conservatorium project (Jonsson and Lukka, 2006, p. 4) would put it to the test.

Table I.
Data sources



Additionally, the conduct of a strategic workshop was utilised to put to the test
Westleys (1990) concept of strategic conversations and the microdynamics of inclusion
in strategic processes of middle mangers in organisations. Here, the workshop was
purposeful in that it specifically targeted the involvement of administrative mangers
and senior academics in the process of strategy review and formulation. The intended
outcome was to plant the seeds of a strategic conversation among the managers and
academics in the interest of progressing the project.
In order to progress the discussion of the issues surrounding this specific
implementation, a brief discussion of the methodological framework employed is
presented next.

4. The critical perspective

It is important here to distinguish between the methodology employed in analysing
interventionist research and the methods that were employed in the actual research
project. This section deals with the critical management framework (Alvesson and
Deetz, 2000) that has been employed in the analysis of the interventionist research
method and how it relates to the conduct of the analysis of qualitative research in
general (a brief outline and critique of the research methods used in the project forms
part of the discussion in the following section).
As discussed earlier, the interest in examining interventionist research lies in its
ability to make a contribution from both an academic and organisational perspective
( Jonsson and Lukka, 2006, p. 3). In order to examine how these two outcomes are
effectively achieved a framework is required. For this purpose Alvesson and Deetzs
(2000) treatise on critical management research is utilised. A critical analysis of
interventionist research in action is justified because of the growing need to further
develop research methods that respond to what academics and practitioners refer to as
the failure of positivist and neo-positivistic research, as well as mainstream qualitative
approaches to research (e.g. grounded theory), to develop law-like grand theories of an
object (see Alvesson and Deetz, 2000, pp. 49-60). The critical research methodology
outlined next is designed to do just that.
The term critical forms a basis from which to examine a contemporary application
of interventionist research action. Thus, the focus is on critique rather than
criticism (Alvesson and Deetz, 2000, p. 8). By utilising critique in the examination of
interventionist research this paper transcends simply the finding of fault by offering
insights, which are developed by identifying, challenging (see Alvesson and Deetz,
2000, p. 8) and examining the manner in which interventionist research translates into
practice. The examination of interventionist research in practice is important, timely
and motivated by the recognition that there is scant empirical evidence to understand
its utility and the practical consideration of its implementation (Jakkula et al., 2006).
Thus, this paper takes a critical research perspective towards interventionist research
with its main objective being to seek understanding of interventionist research
in action. But how can this be achieved? To answer this question the work of
Alvesson and Deetz (2000, pp. 17-20), who outline three tasks of critical research
insight critique and transformative redefinitions is utilised. Each is outlined
briefly next.

4.1 Insight
According to Alvesson and Deetz (2000, p. 17), the task of insight is to demonstrate
our commitment to the hermeneutic, interpretive and ethnographic goals of local
understandings closely connected to and appreciative of the lives of real people in real
situations. So, insight from a critical interventionist perspective involves trying to
understand the impact of the practice on both the people and the organisations to
which they belong. Thus, the question is not What is interventionist research? but
How is interventionist research? (see ODonnell et al., 2006, p. 7).
4.2 Critique
The objective of critique is to counteract the dominance of taken-for-granted goals,
ideas, ideologies and discourses which put their imprints on management and
organization phenomena (Alvesson and Deetz, 2000, p. 18). A critique of
interventionist research is important as it has been posited by Suomala (2009, p. 11)
that, to date, managers who have participated in interventionist research see it as a
powerful tool. However, he also notes that (Suomala, 2009, p. 10):
[. . .] the potential advantages and disadvantages of this research approach tend to be
discussed at a more conceptual level. It would seem that additional empirically grounded
examples are needed in order to further understand the forms and methods of this research

Thus, a critique of a particular implementation of an interventionist research project

would provide such an empirically grounded example. The goal here is to ensure that
the espoused advantages of the approach are not taken for granted and the
disadvantages and potential dangers are identified and discussed.
Utilising critique offers the opportunity to research the theory and practice of
interventionist research at an organisational level. The researcher can therefore
become involved with the researched, opening up a discourse between the two, so that
the privileged understanding of each can be combined and brought forward. The result
of this discourse increases the understanding of the dynamics of the process in
practice, rather than developing more theoretical views from a distance (see ODonnell
et al., 2006, p. 6).
4.3 Transformative redefinition
The final task of the critical perspective is the development of critical, managerially
relevant knowledge and practical understandings that enable change and provide
skills for new ways of operating (Alvesson and Deetz, 2000, p. 19). This task is
especially important to interventionist research as there needs to be greater
understanding of the skills required by the researcher in undertaking an
interventionist research project. For example, as (Jonsson and Lukka, 2006, p. 40)
Interventionist research, if seriously conducted, is a most demanding task for a scholar.
Not only does it require the command of prior literature and analytical skills like any
research approach, but it also requires considerable people skills, boldness and and as
interventionist research necessarily takes time a lot of persistence. Given the current
tendency to favour and adopt the publish or perish attitude, it is no wonder that
interventionist research is relatively rarely encountered in the management accounting

research project



These and other challenges will continue to evolve from ongoing examination of
interventionist research, but should be taken as opportunities to develop insights that
influence future research practice (see Alvesson and Deetz, 2000, p. 20). In order to
progress the critical agenda, managers will need to learn new skills (Alvesson and
Deetz, 2000, p. 20) that will enable them to better understand the evolving insights and
critiques of interventionist research. By utilising these new skills better decisions about
how interventionist research can be utilised in a particular organisation can be made.
In the next section each of these tasks is utilised in a discussion of the outcomes of
the project.
5. Discussion of the interventionist research project from a critical
In developing the discussion of interventionist research from the three tasks of critical
research this paper will also draw upon four specific concerns of the practice of
research from a critical perspective. These are related to the issues of access,
interviews, ethnography and the situational focus (partial ethnography) (Alvesson and
Deetz, 2000, pp. 193-210). In this paper, however, the issue of interviews will be
expanded to cover data collection and analysis in general and the issues of
ethnography and partial ethnography will be combined and focus on the role of the
researcher inside the organisation.
5.1 Access
Insight. Access is often one of the most difficult and contentious issues faced by
researchers (Alvesson and Deetz, 2000, p. 193). Organisations are often reluctant to
allow access to researchers, especially in the case of critical research, if the research
findings could be adverse to the organisation (Alvesson and Deetz, 2000, p. 193). But in
the case of interventionist research the issue of access may potentially be easier to
overcome as there are benefits for the organisation as well as the researcher and as
Suomala and Lyly-Yrjanainen (2009, p. 5) outline the access is often based on the value
added provided by the researcher [. . .] . In the case of the Conservatorium this was the
intent of the project with the eventual value-added being the production of the strategic
As with other types of research access is often achieved through a gatekeeper
being a person who has the required status to help open the doors to the research
project (Creswell, 1998, p. 117). In the case of interventionist research the gatekeeper
may also have self interest in the development of the research as this person may
acquire further status and esteem from finding the researcher who has the skills and
abilities to assist the organisation. In this case the gatekeeper was a member of the
Board of Advice to the Conservatorium, a semi-retired businessman who was involved
in constructing the previous strategic plan. In this case he sought advice from the
researcher to help out the Conservatorium. Thus, the researcher had the door opened
for him, rather than having to knock on the door to gain entry.
Another issue that surrounds access is based on what the researcher wants from the
project. As Suomala and Lyly-Yrjanainen (2009, p. 14) have observed sometimes
interventions can even be done only to gain access to a company of interest in order to
study something not considered relevant by the managers. This is probably more
often than not the case as the there has to be something in it for the researcher as well.

In this case the researcher wanted to examine the utility of IC narratives in an attempt
to understand value creation and strategic intent in an organisation and this
opportunity was enabled by the Conservatorium project. This is not to say that the
primary motives are counter-productive, rather that they are complementary.
In order to carry out an interventionist research project, the researcher must gain
further in depth access to the organisation and become a member of a team in order to
get the insider view of the organisation. If this is not achieved then the researcher
becomes merely a tourist and will only have access to the sanitised tour guide
version of events ( Jonsson and Lukka, 2006, p. 5). More importantly the researcher
needs to access organisational resources and people necessary for the conduct of the
role (Jonsson and Lukka, 2006, p. 16). As outlined in Section 3, clear lines of
responsibility for researcher and the Conservatorium were established. Thus, there
exists a role in the research project for a go-to person who is distinctly separate from
the researcher. This persons role is to ensure that the researcher becomes part of the
day-to-day processes in the organisation and helps to diminish the focus on research
process typical of observational research interactions with organisational actors; they
help develop participatory interactions more akin to the interventionist process
required for the conduct of interventionist research.
The gatekeeper might also play this role, but more often than not it will be someone
with an intimate knowledge of the organisation. The go-to person in this case was a
senior manager who had established a career with the university and became a close
and trusted ally in the development of the strategic plan. In this case there was also
some self interest on her part in the successful completion of the strategy document as
it was the go-to person who was ultimately responsible for delivering it. Thus, the
engagement of the researcher to assist in the development of the strategy was seen as
beneficial as it provided the additional skills and resources required for delivering the
Critique. Access, from an interventionist research perspective, is only ever scantly
mentioned in the literature (see Jakkula et al., 2006) even though it is an essential first
step in the conduct of any research project. The role of the gatekeeper and the go-to
person is seen as essential to assist the researcher in gaining access and providing
them with the resources to complete the project as they too can personally benefit from
the success of the intervention. This may be both good and bad as the personal
self-interest of the gatekeeper and the go-to person may contradict that of the
researcher and/or the organisation. In the case of the Conservatorium only the good
aspects were revealed with both the gatekeeper and the go-to person taking on active
roles by editing, proofreading and providing facts and figures and critique in the
production of the strategy document. Thus, the active role of these participants was
influential in the successful completion of the strategic plan.
This highlights the interactive nature of the research project, whereby the numerous
self-interested agendas of the actors and the organisation need to be aligned. While in
the case of the Conservatorium the project did advance to its fruition, in hindsight it
was because the team of people who drove the project, being the researcher, Dean,
gatekeeper and go-to person, were clearly motivated to deliver the project on time.
The reasons for this were that the researcher was being remunerated for his role and
was motivated in part by a contractual agreement; the delivery of the strategic plan was
an essential function of the Deans stewardship of the Conservatorium; the gatekeeper

research project



was a passionate lover of music and the Conservatorium; and the collation of the
strategy document was part of the go-to persons role. The issue of remuneration of
the researcher seems to be a contentious one (see Jonsson and Lukka, 2006, p. 16) as it is
argued that the reward for the researcher is gaining access to critical information
( Jonsson and Lukka, 2006, p. 17). On the contrary, an adequately remunerated
researcher allows for the organisation to choose a researcher with a high level of skills
and who has the ability to reliably deliver the intended outcomes.
So while this project was not marred with conflicting personal or political agendas
among the key actors it is worthwhile to note that this may not always be the case in
interventionist research. Here, it should be recognised that the individuals who play the
key roles in the research process may have conflicting agendas and this may cause
problems for the research project in two ways. First, it may be counter-productive to
the conduct of the project as the interventionist researcher now has the additional task of
dealing with the conflict rather than concentrating on accomplishing the main task at
hand. Second, if there are inherent conflicting agendas in relation to the eventual output
of the research project then the results will suffer in validity. This is because if the output
of the project is completed where there is a meeting of the minds of the key actors the
output has validity in that it is part of a shared voice of the organisation and
the researcher. On the other hand, if there is not consensus among those in key roles the
output may lose validity as there is no longer a common voice and if this is
communicated informally throughout the organisation this may prevent rather than
help engender change.
Transformative redefinition. The above analysis highlights the need for some
rethinking about the roles of the different actors involved in interventionist research and
the types of skills that they need in order to ensure that interventionist research is carried
out effectively. For the researcher, skills such as developing rapport and a firm
grounding in research methods (Creswell, 1998, p. 117) are still important, but they also
must be tempered with expert knowledge of the phenomenon to be addressed and the
ability and confidence to intervene (Jonsson and Lukka, 2006, p. 40) and to understand
the consequences of such actions. Having the expert knowledge appears to be the most
important skill required as it becomes the prerequisite for gaining access to the
organisation. This is because, in non-interventionist qualitative research, the objective is
to explore a social or human problem (Creswell, 1998, p. 15) whereas in interventionist
research a primary objective is to solve, rather than explore, specific problems or to
improve organisational processes (see Jakkula et al., 2006, p. 2). This was the case at the
Conservatorium, as the gatekeeper actually sought out the expertise of the researcher
and it took a number of discussions spanning several months for the gatekeeper to
assure himself that the researcher had the ability to carry out the project. Thus, expert
knowledge helps justify the gatekeepers decision to open the door to the researcher.
The skills of the gatekeeper must also not be ignored. This person is essential to the
selection of the researcher. He or she needs the requisite skill to understand both the
problem at hand within the organisation and the ability to select the researcher from a
pool of possible people (or solutions) to address and solve the problem. Such a person is
likely to have years of managerial experience at a high level. This was the case with the
Conservatoriums gatekeeper who had over 20 years experience as a CFO of an
internationally renowned company and extensive experience on the Board of Directors
of another like company.

Once inside the organisation the researcher may no longer need to justify his or her
expertise on the phenomenon to other organisational members in the same manner as a
non-interventionist researcher, as his or her resume of skills and expertise are known.
If this were a fairy tale, the researcher would be seen as a knight in shining armour
coming to save the day, requisite with the tools of trade a sword, body armour, a
trusty steed and the courage and determination to win the day. In the case of the
Conservatorium, the researcher brought 15 years of international consultancy
experience, two Masters degrees, a PhD and a proven ability to design and implement
change programmes. This resume, in essence, justified the presence of the researcher
especially among the academic and professional staff who were the primary actors
contributing information to the project and who were the people who would be most
affected by the outcome of the project (see Table I). Were this not to be the case then the
researcher may be presented with the additional task of legitimising themselves in the
eyes of the organisations members as a person with the requisite skills and abilities to
carry out the task at hand.
The next most important person in relation to skills appears to be the go-to
person. This person needs to have a set of skills that helps open the internal doors of
the organisation and helps the researcher gain access to the information required to
accomplish the task at hand and to ensure that the organisations part of the project is
accomplished. Again this person will need professional management skills, rapport
and some expert knowledge of the problem to be solved. This was the case with the
Conservatoriums go-to person, who was a senior manager with years of University
experience. A most particular skill required of the go-to person in the case of the
Conservatorium was the need to keep an open mind about the process and the ability to
work co-operatively with the researcher. This is because there are potential conflicts
that could arise as both the go-to person and the researcher are required to work
together to deliver the outcome. Possible conflict could arise if the engagement of the
researcher to solve a problem is perceived as an incursion on the go to persons
Happily this was not the case at the Conservatorium as the researcher was
welcomed as a resource who had the skills and abilities to resolve how the strategic
intent of the Conservatorium was to be disseminated. During the project the researcher
also took on an informal role as a teacher and the go-to person as a student. In fact,
the go-to person was working on completing a Masters degree in a related field of
study and thus took the opportunity to leverage the knowledge and resources of the
researcher in both understanding the methods employed in the project and for
professional development. This highlights that interventionist research is not a one
way process where the researcher learns about a phenomenon, but rather
interventionist research promotes a dual iterative learning process for the researcher
and the organisations actors (see Jonsson and Lukka, 2006, p. 35).
5.2 Data collection
Insight. While Alvesson and Deetz (2000, p. 194-9) specifically address the use of
interviews in the critical analysis of research the discussion here will be expanded to
cover the data collection in general from the interventionist research perspective.
In this paper, interventionist research is argued to be a methodology different
to case study research, to which it is closely related ( Jakkula et al., 2006, p. 3;

research project



Jonsson and Lukka, 2006). So while interventionist research has its origins in case
study research, drawing on all the normal tools of case study research, such as
interviews, documents and observation, these should not be utilised, as advocated by
Yin (2003) as just an approach to research rather than a specific methodology. Rather,
the choice of research methods in an interventionist research project should be
developed not only from the perspective of developing a case study; rather the choice
should be purposeful and structured to the research being undertaken.
One of the main reasons for promoting the use of different research methods in case
studies is the triangulation of empirical material. As Alvesson and Deetz (2000, p. 80)
outline, the general purpose of triangulation is to gather information from different
sources so one can home in on themes. This process of providing additive insights
from different data sources in order to develop credibility by offering a mutually
consistent picture of a particular event, process, relationship or concept (Parker,
2004, p. 162) seems rational from the perspective of trying to explore the phenomenon
rather than intervening in it. But interventionist research is not about developing a
mutually consistent picture; rather it aims to paint a new picture that resolves
problems. Thus, if interventionist researchers were to use case study research methods
based on this notion of triangulation then the intent of interventionist research might
not be achieved. In short the modes of analysis do not work from differing points of
view on the same thing; they are producing and elaborating in the act of research
different phenomena for different reasons (Alvesson and Deetz, 2000, p. 67).
Therefore, the application of different research methods in an interventionist project
needs to be more purposeful, thus turning it into a purposeful methodology rather than
a collection of methods.
In the case of the Conservatorium it was not so much about homing in (Alvesson
and Deetz, 2000, p. 80) but also about homing out. Here, the idea was to gather the
divergent views of strategy and its workings from the Conservatoriums stakeholders,
internal and external, in addition to identifying common themes. This is because
organisational actors have different views, opinions, positions and experiences and
thus their view of the world is unique. By only looking for common themes researchers
can only discover common answers, but interventionist research is designed to make a
difference and as Jonsson and Lukka (2006, p. 4) advocate, interventionist researchers
need to experiment in order to make that difference. So in order to experiment, the
interventionist researcher needs to examine the different views and possibilities in
order to develop interventions. Interventions into organisations are in all cases
experimental as the outcome can never be known in advance. The way in which the
experiment at the Conservatorium was conducted in relation to the methods employed
is outlined and critically examined next.
Critique. In this case specific research methods were used to experiment and bring
forth the solution and intervene along the way as outlined in the project time line in
Figure 1. Here, the research and consultancy methods were purposeful in their
application. First, a review of secondary sources of information was conducted; being
internal documents, the prior strategic plan and working papers already prepared for
the impending plan (see Table I). This was a sense-making exercise, rather than a
methodological content analysis, designed to give the researcher a firm grounding in
the current strategic context.

Stakeholder interviews

Interview analysis

Strategic Draft strategic plan
Feedback from
workshop participants
Final draft
for comment

Printing of
final document

research project






Figure 1.
Project time line


Next, interviews were conducted with stakeholders in order to develop the internal and
external views of strategic intent and implementation. These were then analysed
using a loose open coding method similar to that found in grounded theory analysis
(see Parker and Roffey, 1997) using NVivo software (See www.qsrinternational.comfor
more information). Once developed the analysis of key themes was given to the Dean,
gatekeeper and go-to person for feedback and follow up discussion. The analysis
after adjustment for feedback was then given to the participants in a strategic
workshop as preparatory material and the workshop was conducted the following
week. The workshop served to confirm the initial hypothesis and data collected from
interviews, thus becoming a mechanism for involving staff in the strategy creation
process and linking together individual opinions into a more cohesive voice of the
Conservatorium. Using the information from all sources, a draft strategic plan was
developed and went through a number of iterations of feedback, redrafting and editing
with the Dean, gatekeeper, researcher, professional staff and academics before
eventual publication. The use of multiple sources of data emanating from different
research methods was designed to elicit information and inform the development of the
final strategy document.
While the above is described as a seeming logical process the actual process utilised
required a cycle of analysis and action of going inside (emic) to gather data and interact
with the Conservatoriums stakeholders and then stepping outside (etic) of the research
process to analyse the data using a theoretical frame before repeating the cycle again,
while at all times observing the organisation. As Jonsson and Lukka (2006, p. 3)
advocate, these emic and etic experiences are essential to interventionist research. In this
case the researcher slipped in and out of these modes in the different stages of the
development of the strategy document outlined in the first column of Table II.
The above demonstrates how more than one theoretical perspective is applied to
interventionist research, which is akin to how people and organisations operate in
practice. This is because human beings are capable of the reflective monitoring of their
actions and those of others and this influences our future actions and vice versa (see
Giddens, 1984, p. 29). In doing so, human beings are able to draw upon all of their
experiences during this process of reflexivity and action, as is evidenced in Table II by
the particular issues that were identified during the research (second column) and the
different theoretical ideas that were applied to address the issues at hand (third
column). Thus, the utilisation of an interventionist approach opens new possibilities for
developing insights into the application of theory into practice. This is discussed next

Developing the IC plot

Developing strategic
Developing the strategic
IC narrative
Table II.
Emic and etic stages of
the research/consultancy

Etic (outside) purposeful

Emic (inside) consulting/research theoretical frame(s) utilised &
Explicating the value creation of the Narrative Theory (Czarniawska,
IC Theory (Skoog, 2003; Cuganesan,
Addressing the need to reflect the Microsociological Theory (Westley,
desires and ambitions of the
organisation as articulated by its
people and stakeholders
Articulating the voice of the staff Sense-making and Narrative
and stakeholders
Theory (Weick and Browning, 1986;
Weick, 2001; Snowden, 2002)

Notes: Objective of the research/consultancy. Understanding how IC narratives can be further utilised
to understand value creation and strategic intent in an organisation prior to reporting on its IC
activities and identifying accounting based IC measures

from the perspective of developing strategic conversations (see Westley, 1990) at the
Conservatorium, which was an essential part of the intervention undertaken.
Here, the research and interventions were specifically aimed at the professional
managers and academics who are often left out of the strategic process. In this case the
development of strategic conversations (Westley, 1990) was a desired outcome as it
was observed that many of the stakeholders, especially professional and academic
staff, did not have a familiarity with the then strategic intent of the Conservatorium.
This was initially hypothesised by the gatekeeper and the researcher at the concept
stage of the project and was clearly evidenced from comments made during
the interviews when the interviewees were asked about their perception of the
Conservatoriums strategy:
This suggests close familiarity with the strategy. Most people dont have this, including me.
When Ive looked at some of these documents, Ive thought that the education role was
somewhat sidelined unfortunately.
If you had provided a strategy document to read and then asked these questions it would
make sense [. . .] but I cant answer [. . .] until I have read the strategic document.

This was of particular concern because when the organisations people are left out of
strategic development processes, extensive dissatisfaction amongst staff can result
(Westley, 1990, p. 337). This was compounded by the fact that the Conservatoriums
previous strategic document was created in a top-down fashion, with mainly top
management and senior academics involved in its creation. This approach is seen as
problematic because of a desire, especially by middle management, to become involved
in strategic conversations, to have access to the decision makers and to make sense of
the organisation (Westley, 1990, p. 350). Therefore, involving the academic and support
staff in the strategic workshop became an invaluable part of the development of the
strategic plan. The workshop permitted and developed a multidirectional (discourse
and response) strategic conversation among the attendees. This planted the seed for

continued strategic conversations over the ensuing time the strategy was being
developed and served as a sense-making mechanism for the attendees as it enabled
greater understanding and confirmation of the strategic issues plot identified in the
interviews as well as divergent views. This is evidenced in feedback from the
workshop participants:

research project

[. . .] many complex ideas both positive and negative good to give voice to both sides
although much still based on effectively funding strategies.


Its interesting how much the comments engage with the Conservatoriums educational
Insightful experience in terms of how people view the past and present and [. . .] attitudes to

Thus, the use of documents, interviews and a workshop were not merely research
methods designed to home in and provide triangulation on the phenomenon being
studied but rather as part of a process of intervention, analysis and further
intervention. In reflection the intervention and analysis cycle began at the outset when
the researcher and the gatekeeper began their initial discussions of the issues and the
potential involvement of the researcher in helping resolve the problem of strategy
dissemination at the Conservatorium. From here the seeds of strategic conversations
were then planted by the gatekeeper with the Dean; then by the Dean by engaging the
researcher in the project; then by the researcher in the conduct of interviews, gathering
feedback, the workshop, developing and circulating drafts of the strategic plan
document. Thus, there had always been, from the inception of the project a process of
intervention that acted as a catalyst prior to analysing the situation at hand in
preparation for the next intervention. A neologism for this process is catalytical
whereby the researcher (actor) is a catalyst for change while at the same time being
Catalytical is thus defined as a research (or consultative) process whereby the
researcher intervenes within the organisation and allows the existing organisational
processes, both formal and informal, to take their normal paths while observing and
analysing the results in preparation for future interventions. This catalytical process
expands the concept of the emic and etic interplay as described by Jonsson and Lukka
(2006) earlier. Being catalytical is more than just moving in and out of the organisation,
it is intended to make impact, to probe (see Brown and Eisenhardt, 1997; Kurtz and
Snowden, 2003; Snowden and Boone, 2007), by purposely acting to engender a
response, to be a catalyst for action and outcomes and to stand back to observe and
analyse the result. In practice the process is not nearly so simple, as outlined in Table II
earlier, because catalytic processes are constant and evolutionary.
For example, the interviews and the interview questions:
What do you see as the main focus of the Conservatoriums strategy and how
does it affect your role?
What do you see as the major challenges being faced by the Conservatorium in
implementing its current strategic objectives?
Imagine it is 2015. Describe to me your vision of the Conservatorium and its
activities at that point in time?



Can you give examples of the most strategically important resources (human,
relational, structural, physical and monetary) required to achieve that vision?
In your role how would you be able to contribute to the development of these
What do you see as the major challenges to be faced by the Conservatorium in
achieving your vision of the future?
Which activities are being undertaken by the Conservatorium to meet these
Which activities could be undertaken by the Conservatorium to meet these
Which indicators of outcomes are available or need to be available to measure the
progress of the Conservatoriums activities?

Were not only designed to elicit information from the respondents, they were also
designed to be a catalyst for the strategic conversations (Westley, 1990) that it was
hoped would evolve from them and to engender reflexivity of the interviewees into the
process by putting the topic of strategy firmly on the current organisational agenda.
The intention was for the awareness of strategy to evolve and to disseminate to the
staff as a result of the interview process and then to observe the outcome. In essence, at
a micro level, each interview question is an intervention in its own right; it is a catalyst
for action. Therefore, each response from the interviewee is an outcome that needs to be
analysed by the researcher before asking the next question or responding to the
interviewees reply.
The above discussions question the real purpose of the interviews and other
research methods in the conduct of interventionist research. Is it just to gather data, set
the scene or to actually achieve some form of intervention? As outlined above, the
conduct of the methods utilised in the Conservatorium project was purposeful and
designed to make interventions along the way. It appears that the current literature on
interventionist research is somewhat silent on the impact of research methods from an
intervening perspective. The research is separated from the interventions. For
example, as Suomala and Lyly-Yrjanainen (2009, p. 12) disclosed about use of research
methods in a particular project:
The process related to this lasted a little less than one year, and it consisted of several
interviews, workshops and analytical work on the basis of organizations process models and
target setting descriptions for sourcing activity.

They elaborate further on the result of their research process:

As a conclusion, the interventions in the research stream connected to life cycle costing were
initiated by a couple of interesting findings namely the paradox between the potential and
the lack of utilization of LCC [life-cycle costing] raised by questionnaire and interview
studies in the field (Suomala and Lyly-Yrjanainen, 2009, p. 13).

Thus, it is advocated that research methods as applied in interventionist research

should not be separated from the interventions but are in reality part of a catalytical
process that needs to be both understood and applied by the researcher and those
inside the organisation who are jointly responsible for the outcomes of the project.

Transformative redefinition. From the above discussion there needs to be a

realisation that the skills required from a researchers perspective need to be developed
not only from a research skills perspective but also from an interventionist perspective.
First, from a research skills perspective there is recognition that the interventionist
researcher, like a case study researcher, requires a mastery of a broad range of data
collection techniques, but the problem is often that as researchers their training and
application of research methods is usually limited to those applied in their earlier studies
(Yin, 2003, pp. 100-1). As an interventionist researcher it is imperative to develop and
possess a multitude of research skills in addition to the expertise required to conduct the
research. Not doing so will prevent the researcher from utilising the different sources of
data and possibly preventing the gaining of sufficient depth of knowledge of the
problem to be solved before interventions take place (see Yin, 2003, p. 101).
In the case of the Conservatorium the researcher had extensive experience in case
study research, interview skills, qualitative data analysis, the use of analytical software
and in the conduct of workshops. More specifically the researcher utilised skills
from specialist training as a Cognitive Edge practitioner (See
index.php for more information), which is designed to assist qualitative researchers/
consultants to delve into the inner workings of an organisation. Thus, the manner in
which the different research methods were developed and applied in practice differed
from what would be expected of a more academic application of the particular
methods. For example, the conduct of the strategic workshop utilised a method known
as The future, backwards (see Cognitive Edge, 2008) rather than applying techniques
that would be more akin to traditional focus group methods (see Creswell, 1998, p. 124).
Second, the researcher needs to be skilled in the art of intervening in organisations.
Few researchers would be trained in or have experience of this. As Jonsson and Lukka
(2006, p. 37) outline, there can be serious ramifications as a result of a researcher
intervening and thus:
The researcher also needs to consider the various risks [their] interventions may cause for
those co-operating with [them], and to the entire host organisation. Making interventions
carelessly may lead to the elephant-in-the-glass-store [bull-in-a-china-shop] effect, where
the researcher causes a lot of damage to the target organisation.

So what kind of skills does an interventionist researcher need in order to intervene?

In essence it would depend on the level of intervention. Interventionist research can
cover a wide continuum of interventions from the minimalistic approach where the
researcher becomes a comrade to the organisation, operating in an anthropological
mode (Jonsson and Lukka, 2006, p. 21) to one where the researcher is responsible for
the design and implementation of interventions, becoming the consultant (see Jakkula
et al., 2006, p. 3) or the manager responsible for the change (see Suomala and
Lyly-Yrjanainen, 2009, p. 9). Clearly the skills required on either end of the continuum
are different.
In the case of the Conservatorium, the project was very much consultancy oriented
with specific deadlines and outcomes. Here, the researcher needed to draw upon the
skills attained from his managerial, consulting and educational experiences. What is
recognised here is that each interventionist project will have differing levels of
intervention and involvement, at both the micro and macro level, therefore different
sets of skills are required. Thus, the primary skill required is the ability of the
promoters of the project, especially the researcher and gatekeeper, to understand what

research project



is required to perform the intervention and to ensure that it is likely to be carried out
with minimal risk to the organisation.
Furthermore, this also then begs the question of how to design interventionist
research in the future. As interventionist research is a purposeful process so then should
be its design. Thus, academics, practitioners, consultants and managers need to develop
the skills required to design effective interventionist research, balancing the skills,
reputations and tasks required of the participants and the required outcomes.
Developing the right mix of academic, consulting and managerial people and tasks
therefore becomes an important consideration for the effective conduct of an
interventionist research project. Considering the infancy of interventionist research
these considerations should be seriously addressed by researchers in the development of
future project as not getting this right could put the success of the project in jeopardy.
5.3 Ethnographic considerations
Insight. In the above discussions the issue of the involvement of the researcher inside the
organisation has been touched on, but in this section the discussion from an
ethnographical perspective is widened in order to situate it better within the context of
carrying out interventionist research. This is not to advocate that an interventionist
research project is an ethnography (it could very well be so), but rather to examine those
features of ethnographic research which are applicable to the interventionist approach.
The distinguishing features of a traditional ethnographical study as a process is that it
involves prolonged observation of the group, typically through participant observation
in which the researcher is immersed in the day-to-day lives of the people or through
one-on-one interviews with members of the group (Creswell, 1998, p. 58). In essence it is
advocated that good interventionist research takes time and could even take longer
( Jakkula et al., 2006, p. 5); years as opposed to the average year or so an ethnographic
researcher takes in the field (Alvesson and Deetz, 2000, p. 200). Interventionist research
can take a considerable amount of time to conduct, especially where it may take a
number of months between deciding on an intervention, implementing it and then being
able to observe the impact (see Wihinen et al., 2008, p. 8).
Alternately, in line with the continuum of involvement, from anthropological to
consultative, as outlined in the discussion of data collection above, there is also scope for
much shorter periods in the field that are more focused on the analysis of specific
situations (Alvesson and Deetz, 2000, pp. 200-1). In the case of the Conservatorium, the
situation under investigation was on the consultative end of the continuum and required
a specific project to be completed within a specific time frame as outlined previously in
Figure 1. The luxury of an extensive period of time in the field while undertaking the
intervention at hand was not available in fact it would seem that to take a year or
more to develop a strategic plan would smack of managerial incompetence rather than
be evidence of a well thought out and implemented project. Sometimes the time spent in
the field doing interventionist research is constrained by the project at hand rather than
by a philosophical requirement that advocates extended periods of observation.
Critique. The shorter timeframes that can result in specific interventionist
research projects need not be a specific disadvantage. As Alvesson and Deetz (2000,
pp. 200-1) outline in their discussion of partial ethnography this may allow for
doing something more critically imaginative with the material. In the case of
the Conservatorium, this was especially the situation. The outcome or artefact of the

research project was the final strategic plan document, which, unlike traditional
strategic plans, developed a strategic narrative supported by non-financial measures
as its main output. The more traditional economic and budgetary analysis was left to a
final section of the document that was distributed to the internal stakeholders and was
not released in the public version available on the Conservatorium web site. One
example of the innovative features of the document was the development of the
Strategic value chain to represent the plot of value creation at the Conservatorium.
This is outlined in Figure 2.
The elements expressed in the Strategic value chain were derived from identifying
common themes in the responses to the interview and survey data, internal
documentation and the researchers observations. The purpose of the Strategic value
chain was to provide a high level, simple, narrative articulation of the strategic factors
that are seen to lead to the production of value by the Conservatorium. In this regards the
first four factors; Attract and retain world class educators and administrators;
Attract and retain world class students by becoming an institution of choice; Develop
world class research and performances; and Develop key benefaction support for the
conservatorium represent the strategic inputs required to achieve organisational value
outputs represented by the last two links; Placement of graduates in leading roles in
music education and in the music industry and Recognition as a Sydney Icon,
Australias Premier Music Education Institution and in the Top 10 in the World. Thus,
it is the elements of the Strategic value chain that form the plot of the story to be told of
how the Conservatorium plans to proceed strategically in the future.
So, rather than using one of the many specific IC frameworks to outline IC strategy,
the Strategic value chain represents a flexible framework, which can be adapted to
multiple settings. This is because its only requirement is the articulation of the linkages
of an organisations value creation process, regardless of the type of organisation or its
setting. But the IC plot represented by the Strategic value chain is only the skeleton of
the strategy and additional flesh is required (see Laughlin, 1995, p. 81) to make the
strategy whole and this was then developed in the eventual text of the strategy
document. In the end the public document was reduced to less than 30 pages (less than 40
for the internal document) in contrast to the 150 plus pages contained in the previous
strategic plan. In essence it was designed to allow more people to understand the
strategic intent of the Conservatorium as it did not require accounting and business
expertise to read the document (see Weick and Browning, 1986).
There are, however, disadvantages to this situational, short-term focus. In the case of
the Conservatorium three important disadvantages are outlined. First, there was no
opportunity to understand the causality of many issues (Alvesson and Deetz, 2000, p. 205),
such as why strategy was not effectively disseminated in the first place. Its limited
dissemination was hypothesised and in fact the hypothesis was found to be true. Because
of the time constraints and the specific situational focus of the research process there was
neither the time nor scope to investigate the issue further.

Attaract and retain

world class
educators and

Attaract and retain

world class
student by
becoming an
institution of

Develop a world

Develop key
support for the

Placement of
graduates in
leading roles in
the music

recognised as
the best Australian
music education
institution and in
the top 10 in the

research project

Figure 2.
The Conservatorium
of musics strategic
value chain



Second, the project ended as soon as the outcome of the research project was completed,
although there was an offer to return to do some follow-up work. In this case it was
possible to develop the desired outcome, a strategic plan for the Conservatorium (an
outcome for the organisation) based on the IC narratives (an outcome for the researcher).
Thus, there is further research required to determine the eventual outcome of the current
approach to developing strategy as the current outcome is only temporary and fleeting
(Alvesson and Deetz, 2000, p. 205).
This then begs the question from a research perspective of trying to understand how
sustainable are the interventions in the organisation if the intervention is so fleeting? or
did the organisation learn from the intervention? This is problematic because this would
require continued observations of the outcomes of the strategy developed, which would of
course, require continued research, possibly using observation rather than intervention.
This is not to say that the impact would not be sustainable but rather that it may have
more chance of being sustainable. This is because traditional case study research does not
implicitly involve direct interactions between the researcher and the researched; rather it
encourages the opposite in order for researchers to bracket themselves from the
organisation and avoid bias (Alvesson and Deetz, 2000, p. 64). In opposition to this there is
every opportunity for the knowledge and skills of the interventionist researcher to be
transferred to the organisations participants (and possibly vice-versa as well) as a result of
the interactions between them. In this case there was evidence of this direct learning as the
go-to person in this case was openly enthusiastic about using the project as a learning
exercise. Thus, while the term of intervention was short, the legacy of the project lives on in
the transfer of skills and knowledge from the researcher to the researched.
Last, as with any focus on a particular event, which is limited by time and focus, the
results of the research cannot be generalised (Alvesson and Deetz, 2000, p. 204). It is easy to
give the impression that the process at hand was successful, as evidenced by the
acceptance and publication of the strategy document, and that such a process could be
transferred to other like organisations, but this could be a dangerous and treacherous path.
The particular research project, as disseminated in this paper, highlights the possibilities
of action and understanding from the interventionist research perspective, especially from
the point of view of a project designed to have a specific outcome in a specific period of
time, which even from the interventionist research perspective is not the norm. Thus, the
particular event under scrutiny can hardly be used as the only springboard for an account
of the whole history of the particular [. . .] event (Alvesson and Deetz, 2000, p. 204).
Transformative redefinition. The main focus of the ethnographical approach taken
in the Conservatorium project is the development of a strategic plan in a limited time
frame. This project required intensive periods of study, at both a micro and macro
level, with a limited duration of time for analysis (Alvesson and Deetz, 2000, p. 202).
As such the techniques utilised to analyse the data, which are based on the assumption
that the researcher has a certain luxury of time to complete, are required to be adapted
so the analysis can be completed within the time constraints of the project. For example,
to be able to analyse and respond to an interviewees response in the context of the
catalytical process described earlier is a skill that would take some time to develop.
This truly puts the analytical and time management skills of the researcher to the test.
On the opposite tack, if the researcher was participating from the
anthropological side of the continuum, different analytical and time management
skills would be required. In essence the conduct of interventionist research is

dependent on both the nature of the project and the time constraints required for
delivering the outcomes. The shorter timeframes may well take the researcher out of
his or her comfort zone as it is unlikely that other forms of structured academic
research would have involved similar time pressures and thus the researcher would
most likely not have developed the skills necessary to conduct interventionist research.
6. Conclusion
The conclusion of this paper makes several general observations about the conduct of
interventionist research in order to summarise its contribution towards narrowing the
gap between interventionist research theory and practice. In examining the specific
research project of the Conservatorium a critical analysis of interventionist research
in action was utilised to respond to the growing need to develop further research
methods that respond to what academics and practitioners refer to as the failure of
positivist and neo-positivistic research, as well as mainstream qualitative approaches
to research (e.g., grounded theory), to develop law-like grand theories of an object. This
critical examination is intended to question how interventionist research was applied
in practice and to make a contribution to an organisation by challenging traditional
qualitative research methods that do not intervene in organisations.
The first general observation made is that there is a growing need for understanding
the concept of access and how this plays an important part in the conduct of
interventionist research. Often the issue of access is confined to how the researcher gains
access to the organisation and who may be key informants (see Creswell, 1998, p. 60) but
little is discussed beyond that point. Access to the organisation and the continued
development of access appear to be important considerations along with the need to
recognise that the skills of the organisations participants are equally as important as the
skills of the researcher.
A second observation is that interventionist research needs to be purposeful in its
application, to be methodological. This seems to differ to most current approaches to
interventionist research, which even though they are based on action research, are
disseminated more as case studies using a combination of research methods, rather
than a specific methodology. Different research methods are advocated in case study
research to engender triangulation but it is advocated here that the use of different
research methods should be utilised in a purposeful process that gathers as many
divergent views from the organisation as it does common ones.
In the analysis of the Conservatoriums case it was shown how the research was
designed to achieve a specific outcome and how the researcher utilised not only the
emic and etic principles of moving in and out of the organisation, but extended this to
the concept of being catalytical which was defined as the process by which the
researcher is both a catalyst for action by intervening and analytical in observing the
results on a continual basis. This is an important extension of the emic and etic
principles of interventionist research as it highlights the very fact that by having a
researcher embedded in an organisation and working on a change process, that their
actions are always a catalyst for change.
This catalytical process (or processes) may well be worth further investigation from
an interventionist research perspective. Future research could, for instance, investigate
how the process works in practice and whether or not it is possible to identify distinct
stages that occur within an interventionist research project. The limitation in this

research project



paper is that the catalytic process has only been observed and discussed within the
context of this particular case and as such it cannot be assumed to be applicable or
identifiable in all interventionist research. In essence, upon reflection, the catalytical
process happened as a result of intervening and it was not a purposeful aspect of the
project. Having now identified it as a process, it well may be beneficial to understand
catalytical processes in more depth so that future researchers can purposely apply it to
future interventionist research projects.
A final observation is that the skills that the researched and the researcher need to
conduct interventionist research are wide and varied depending on the purpose of
the project. The researched need to develop skills that allow for a matching of
the specialisation of the researcher to the needs of the particular intervention while
ensuring that the people within the organisation have the ability to work with the
researcher to accomplish the task at hand.
The researchers required participation and skill sets are based on a continuum of
projects from the anthropological to the consultative and the time periods involved could
range from a number of years to short and well defined. Anthropological studies may not
require a significant departure from traditional academic research skills. In contrast the
skills required to deliver specific outcomes under the pressure and constraints of
time will require that researchers develop skills that allow them to engender a perpetual
cycle of intervening, analysing and responding without the luxury of long periods of
reflection. This firmly places the researcher in a role for which traditional approaches to
academic research training may not have prepared him or her.
So what then is the way forward? To promote the conduct of interventionist
research by encouraging it from both an academic and organisational perspective. It is
the realisation that mutually beneficial outcomes can be achieved that should be used
as the focal point from both perspectives. The ability for organisations to have access
to leading edge thinking (and technology) as a resource and the ability for academics to
experiment with such thinking inside organisations in a real setting opens the
possibility to reduce the divide between theory and practice. In order to generate the
skills required for this to happen, from both the academic and organisational
perspective, more academics will be required to leave their academic ivory towers
and more practitioners are needed to involve themselves in the conduct of research.
Narrowing the divide between academia and practice should thus help to develop
practical and relevant processes that engender progress in organisations.
While it is not espoused that the interventionist research approach outlined in this
paper is the answer, it does go towards exemplifying how research conducted in this
manner has an impact through its direct involvement with the subject organisation. The
reflective critical discourse as outlined in this paper thus contributes to the practice of
interventionist research by opening up further the discussion of how it can be
implemented in practice and what are some of the considerations in terms of both
practice and the skills base of the participants. Progress only seems to be tempered by
the paucity of academic researchers who have the breadth of skills, experience and
confidence to undertake interventionist research projects and the desire for
organisations to open the doors to the opportunites presented by the interventionist
approach. As Suomala and Lyly-Yrjanainen (2009, p. 6) advocate some additional
examples of interventionist research studies would enable researchers (and
organisations) to better recognise the potential and structures of interventionist studies.

1. A copy of the public version of the document can be downloaded from
Alvesson, M. and Deetz, S. (2000), Doing Critical Management Research, Sage, London.
Brown, S.L. and Eisenhardt, K.M. (1997), The art of continuous change: linking complexity
theory and time-paced evolution in relentlessly shifting organizations, Administrative
Science Quarterly, Vol. 42 No. 1, pp. 1-34.
Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) (2009), Current research, available at:
(accessed 14 August 2009).
Cognitive Edge (2008), The future backwards, available at:
php?mid10 (accessed 12 August 2008).
Collins, D. (2001), Sounds From the Stables: The Story of Sydneys Conservatorium, Allen &
Unwin, Crows Nest.
Creswell, J.W. (1998), Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing among Five Traditions,
Sage, London.
Cuganesan, S. (2005), Intellectual capital-in-action and value creation: a case study of knowledge
transformations in an innovation project, Journal of Intellectual Capital, Vol. 6 No. 3,
pp. 357-73.
Czarniawska, B. (1998), A Narrative Approach to Organisational Studies, Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA.
Downey, J. and Kuusisto, K. (2009), A summary of three interventionist research projects,
Research Update, Vol. 2009, p. 4.
Dumay, J. (2009), Intellectual capital measurement: a critical approach, Journal of Intellectual
Capital, Vol. 10 No. 2, pp. 190-210.
Dumay, J., Walker, K., Greenwood, L. and Wauchope, B. (2008), Strategic Outlook 2008-2015,
Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Sydney.
Giddens, A. (1984), The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration, University
of California Press, Berkeley, CA.
Jakkula, V., Lyly-Yrjanainen, J. and Suomala, P. (2006), Challenges of practically relevant
management accounting research the scope and intensity of interventionist research,
paper presented at the 5th New Practices in Management Accounting Research
Conference, Brussels, 14-16 December.

Jonsson, S. and Lukka, K. (2006), Doing Interventionist Research in Management Accounting,

Gothenburg Research Institute, Gothenburg.
Kurtz, C. and Snowden, D. (2003), The new dynamics of strategy: sense-making in a complex
and complicated world, IBM Systems Journal, Vol. 42 No. 3, pp. 462-83.
Laughlin, R. (1995), Empirical research in accounting: alternative approaches and a case for
middle-range thinking, Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 8 No. 1,
pp. 63-87.
Lukka, K. and Kasanen, E. (1995), The problem of generalizability: anecdotes and evidence in
accounting research, Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 8 No. 5, pp. 71-90.
Morcol, G. (2001), What is complexity science? Postmodernist or postpositivist?, Emergence,
Vol. 3 No. 1, pp. 104-19.

research project



Mouritsen, J., Larsen, H.T. and Bukh, P.N. (2001a), Valuing the future: intellectual capital
supplements at Skandia, Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 14 No. 4,
pp. 399-422.
Mouritsen, J., Larsen, H.T. and Bukh, P.N.D. (2001b), Intellectual capital and the capable firm:
narrating, visualising and numbering for managing knowledge, Accounting,
Organizations and Society, Vol. 26 Nos 7-8, pp. 735-62.
ODonnell, D., Henriksen, L.B. and Voelpel, S.C. (2006), Guest editorial: becoming critical on
intellectual capital, Journal of Intellectual Capital, Vol. 7 No. 1, pp. 5-11.
Parker, L. (2004), Qualitative research, in Burton, S. and Steane, P. (Eds), Surviving your Thesis,
Routledge, London.
Parker, L.D. and Roffey, B.H. (1997), Methodological themes: back to the drawing board:
revisiting grounded theory and the everyday accountants and managers reality,
Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 10 No. 2, pp. 212-47.
Skoog, M. (2003), Visualizing value creation through the management control of intangibles,
Journal of Intellectual Capital, Vol. 4 No. 4, pp. 487-504.
Snowden, D. (2002), Complex acts of knowing: paradox and descriptive self-awareness, Journal
of Knowledge Management, Vol. 6 No. 2, pp. 100-11.
Snowden, D.J. and Boone, M.E. (2007), A leaders framework for decision making, Harvard
Business Review, Vol. 85 No. 11, pp. 68-76.
Stewart, T.A. (1997), Intellectual Capital: The New Wealth of Organisations, Doubleday/Currency,
Suomala, P. (2009), Interventionist research contributing to management accounting through
industry university collaboration, Research Update, Vol. 2009, pp. 10-11.
Suomala, P. and Lyly-Yrjanainen, J. (2009), Interventionist management accounting
research: the scope and intensity in three series of empirical research, paper presented
at the 32nd Annual Congress of the European Accounting Association, Tampere,
13-15 May.
Weick, K.E. (2001), Making Sense of the Organization, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford.
Weick, K.E. and Browning, L.D. (1986), Argument and narration in organizational
communication, Journal of Management, Vol. 12 No. 2, pp. 243-59.
Westley, F.R. (1990), Middle managers and strategy: microdynamics of inclusion, Strategic
Management Journal, Vol. 11 No. 5, pp. 337-51.
Wihinen, K., Laine, T. and Suomala, P. (2008), Need for integrative pricing approaches:
an empirical illustration, paper presented at the 6th conference on New Directions in
Management Accounting, Brussels, 15-17 December.
Yin, R.K. (2003), Case Study Research: Design and Methods, Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA.
Corresponding author
John C. Dumay can be contacted at:

To purchase reprints of this article please e-mail:

Or visit our web site for further details:

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.