The existence and significance of cognition in organizations and its influence on patterns of behaviour in organizations and organizational outcomes are increasingly accepted in information systems (IS) research (Barley, 1986; DeSanctis & Poole, 1994; Griffith, 1999; Griffith & Northcraft, 1996; Orlikowski, 1992, 1994 #208). However, assessing the commonality and individuality in cognition and eliciting the subjective understanding of research participants either as individuals or as groups of individuals remain a challenge to IS researchers (Orlikowski & Gash, 1994). Various methods for studying cognition in organizations have been offered - for example, clinical interviewing (Schein, 1987), focus groups (Krueger, 1988), discourse-based interviewing (Odell, Goswami & Herrington, 1983). This article proposes that cognition applied to making sense of IT in organizations can also be explored using Kelly’s (1955) Personal Construct Theory and its methodological extension, the Repertory Grid (RepGrid). The RepGrid can be used in IS research for uncovering the constructs research participants use to structure and interpret events relating to the development, implementation, use and management of IS in organizations. In the context of this article, cognition is considered to be synonymous with subjective understanding: “the everyday common sense and everyday meanings with which the observed human subjects see themselves and which gives rise to the behaviour that they manifest in socially constructed settings” (Lee, 1991, p. 351). Research into cognition in organizations investigates the subjective understanding of individual members within the organization and the similarities and differences in the understandings among groups of individuals (Jelinek & Litterer, 1994; Porac & Thomas, 1989). In IS research, it is the personal constructs managers, users and IS professionals use to interpret and make sense of information technology (IT) and its role in organizations. The discussion here outlines the myriad of ways the RepGrid can be employed to address specific research objectives relating to subjective understanding and cognition in organizations. It illustrates, from a variety of published studies in IS (see Table 1), the flexibility of the RepGrid to support both qualitative and/or quantitative analyses of the subjective understandings of research participants.
We propose to use a framework to facilitate this discussion (see Figure 1) that presents a two-dimensional view of the types of research using the repertory grid. The examples in Table 1 are mapped along these two dimensions.
Distinguishing research using the repertory grid
Key Terms in this Chapter
Idiographic: The idiographic approach focuses on the subjective experiences of the individual and presents results in expressions and terms used by the individual. The resulting RepGrid is considered unique in that there are no common elements or constructs employed in the elicitation process across the sample.
Elements: Elements are the objects of attention within the domain of investigation. They define the entities upon which the administration of the RepGrid is based. For example, to explore the critical success factors (CSFs) of IS projects, IS researchers can use IS projects as elements in the RepGrid.
Construct: Constructs represent the research participant’s interpretations of the elements. Further understanding of these interpretations may be gained by eliciting contrasts resulting in bi-polar labels. Using the same example, research participants may come up with bi-polar constructs such as “high user involvement – low user involvement” to differentiate the elements (i.e., IS projects). The labels represent the CSFs of IS projects.
Cognition: Cognition is considered to be synonymous with subjective understanding, “the everyday common sense and everyday meanings with which the observed human subjects see themselves and which gives rise to the behaviour that they manifest in socially constructed settings” ( Lee, 1991 , p. 351).
Links: Links are ways of relating the elements and constructs. The links show how the research participants interpret each element relative to each construct. Further, the links reveal the research participant’s interpretations of the similarities and differences between the elements and constructs.
This work was previously published in Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology: edited by M. Khosrow-Pour, pp. 53-58, copyright 2005 by Information Science Reference, formerly known as Idea Group Reference (an imprint of IGI Global)