Combining Phenomenology and Grounded Theory in Software Engineering: An Experience
Phenomenology and grounded theory are two prominent qualitative methods, particularly used in social sciences research. Phenomenology is carried out to understand the individuals’ actual experience regarding a phenomenon. The method describes "what" individuals experience and "how" they experience it. The focus is on the meaning of the exposures experienced by individuals regarding the phenomenon. Grounded theory on the other hand allows researchers to explore a phenomenon in depth with individuals, by which a theory is then generated. The goal is to go beyond the understanding of phenomenon by producing a theory that describes comprehensively the problem being studied. Although these two methods are initiated by similar motivations, namely to understand a phenomenon, they however employ slightly different approaches during execution. The differences make them fit complementary together to produce a more concrete and holistic outcome. To research that occasionally use qualitative methods such as Software Engineering, these methods bring new and multifaceted experience. Software Engineering research opts for qualitative methods to promote understanding, as many phenomena in the field have yet to be understood by its community. In that respect, grounded theory is becoming quite a norm in Software Engineering research in recent years, phenomenology however is relatively sporadic. This paper shares the experience of employing as well as combining phenomenology and grounded theory in Software Engineering research. The sharing is intended to inspire future research in twofold: more technical fields such as Software Engineering to employ qualitative methods in research; and leveraging the benefits of combining two qualitative methods complementarily in one study.
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