PhD seminar: Gaining access

In this full-day seminar we will discuss different aspects of gaining access to empirical case and field data. We will use your personal projects as examples, will walk you through different aspects of access, and discuss how you can improve your strategy for your PhD project.

  • Time: Thursday 29. February 2024, 10:00-16:00.
  • Location: Room 454 IT-vest Gløshaugen.
  • Registration: Please contact Tangni.
  • Language: English.

This seminar is a part of our seminar series on sustainable digital transformations.


A tentative agenda is as follows:

  • Round the table, get to know each other, and presentation of your case.
  • Group work on discussing challenges and creating a prioritized list based on your personal experience.
  • Presentation in plenum.
  • Short presentation by organizers.
  • Group work discussing strategies for addressing the challenges.
  • Presentation in plenum.
  • Plenum discussion of gaining access, and how our various collaboration programs (e.g. NTNU-NAV-HMN) can help.

Preparing for the seminar

We hope to make this day interactive and led by you. To do this we want to ask you to reflect on and write some notes about the following topics that we can use in group and plenary discussions. You don’t need to prepare any presentation or send us anything written. Just spend one hour of quality time and reflect on these topics so you meet up prepared for our discussions!

Here are the topics:

  • Note: If you are in an early phase and have not done some of the things in the list, try to reflect on your plan and how you think you will go forward for each bullet point.
  • Write down and reflect on how you have managed to gain access to your case. Did you do it yourself or did someone help you? Who did you approach and how? How did you prepare yourself before trying to gain access? How would you classify your access to the case today, as success or failure? What did you learn? What could have been done differently?
  • Is your case an institution with formal structures and affiliation (e.g. a municipality), or are you doing research on unaffiliated individuals (e.g. single mothers)? Did you have a gatekeeper to the case, or are you in direct contact with informants? If through a gatekeeper, how has the communication worked out? How was the reception of you as researcher among the informants? How close have you come to the case? Do you have access to key informants?
  • What is your research design and are your data generation methods? How did access to case affect your planning of your research? Do you use existing data, or do you generate your own? How labor-intensive is the process of data generation for your informants? How do you justify the efforts your informants have to invest in helping you?
  • What do you think about the quality of the data you manage to generate from your informants? are the data relevant? Are they sufficient? Are they trustworthy? Is you case politically hot topic? If yes, how do you think it affects your data?
  • Try to see your data generation activities from the perspective of your informants. What value do you think they gain from providing you access to their knowledge? How relevant do you think they find your research? Do you take measures to ask them and make your results relevant for them? Do you discuss your findings with them?
  • What ethical issues do you see in gaining access? What are the expectations to you as researcher regarding recruiting, confidentiality, etc.?

We will use these as discussion points during our event on Thursday.

Some of the topics discussed during the seminar

  • Recruiting. Who is in charge? How do they select informants? How does it lead to valid results?
  • Language. Many foreign PhD students within digitalization. How do we communicate? Who can give an interview in English? How does it affect the validity of the results?
  • Flexibility of the research question. How flexible are the PhD students to change their RQs in response to the informants? How committed are the informants to follow up the changes?
  • Difficult to design a relevant research study without an owner in the case organization. We always assume the researcher should design the study. The result can be a study that is not relevant to the organization.
  • Time to build trust and gain deep access, versus time to finish a PhD project and publish the results.
  • Vocabulary. The language of the researcher and the informant can be different even if talking about the same phenomenon. How to translate? (A problem also inside the organization).
  • Iterations. Research questions and theory development happen in iteration. How to implement them in an efficient way?
  • Digitalization. Who is in charge of digitalization in NAV?

Reading list

Here is a list of some papers and books that will help you to go deeper into the topic of gaining access.

Buchanan, D., Boddy, D., & McCalman, J. (2013). Getting in, getting on, getting out, and getting back. In A. Bryman (Ed.), Doing Research in Organizations. Routledge.

Buskermolen, N. (2023). Problematising access: reflections on ethnography in a bureaucratic organisation. Journal of Organizational Ethnography, 12(1), 76–87.

Coleman, S. (1996). Obstacles and Opportunities in Access to Professional Work Organizations for Long-term Fieldwork: The Case of Japanese Laboratories. Human Organization, 55(3), 334–343.

Feldman, M. S., Bell, J., & Berger, M. T. (Eds.). (2003). Gaining access: a practical and theoretical guide for qualitative researchers. AltaMira Press.

Johl, S. K., & Renganathan, S. (2010). Strategies for Gaining Access in Doing Fieldwork: Reflection of two Researchers. Electronic Journal of Business Research Methods: EJBRM, 8(1), 42, 42A–50.

Negrin, K. A., Slaughter, S. E., Dahlke, S., & Olson, J. (2022). Successful Recruitment to Qualitative Research: A Critical Reflection. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 21, 16094069221119576.

Okumus, F., Altinay, L., & Roper, A. (2007). Gaining access for research: Reflections from Experience. Annals of Tourism Research, 34(1), 7–26.

Shenton, A. K., & Hayter, S. (2004). Strategies for gaining access to organisations and informants in qualitative studies. Education for Information, 22(3-4), 223–231.

Smith, E. (2012). Getting in through the front door: The first hurdle of researching in companies. International Journal of Training Research, 10(3), 153–163.

Van Maanen, J. (1979). The Fact of Fiction in Organizational Ethnography. Administrative Science Quarterly, 24(4), 539–550.