Chapter 13: Issues in Empirical Field Studies of Organizational Routines
13 Issues in empirical ﬁeld studies of organizational routines1 Brian T. Pentland and Martha S. Feldman Introduction In organizational research, the most familiar units of analysis are individuals, groups, establishments and organizations. These units have relatively clear boundaries, which make them observable, distinguishable, comparable and countable. By comparison, organizational routines are diﬃcult to observe, distinguish, compare and count. In this chapter, we draw on our own ﬁeldwork experiences as a basis for reﬂecting on the issues of studying organizational routines through empirical ﬁeld studies.2 We focus on two very basic issues: identiﬁcation (White, 1992) and comparison (Ragin, 1987). Identiﬁcation involves recognizing empirical instances of a routine, the parts as well as the whole. Comparison can be cross-sectional (involving diﬀerent routines), or longitudinal (involving changes in the same routine over time). Together, identiﬁcation and comparison form the foundation for all empirical work on routines. We begin with a ‘confessional’ (Van Maanen, 1988): a behind-the-scenes look at our own research process on routines. Our experiences and observations, and those of other ﬁeld researchers, have led us to conceptualize organizational routines as generative systems rather than ﬁxed things (Feldman and Pentland, 2003). With this conceptual framework as a guide, we discuss how identiﬁcation and comparison apply to organizational routines. Issues such as point of view and concurrency can make identiﬁcation and comparison particularly problematic when conducting ﬁeld research on routines. Where appropriate, we draw upon examples of how these issues have been handled in existing...
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