Autopilot? A reflexive review of the piloting process in qualitative e-research

Pritchard, Katrina and Whiting, Rebecca (2012). Autopilot? A reflexive review of the piloting process in qualitative e-research. Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management, 7(3) pp. 338–353.



Purpose: This paper examines an oft-neglected aspect of qualitative research practice – conducting a pilot – using the innovative approach of ‘e-research’ to generate both practical and methodological insights.

Approach: Using the authors’ ‘e-research’ pilot as a reflexive case study, key methodological issues are critically reviewed. This review is set in a broader context of the qualitative methods literature in which piloting appears largely as an implicit practice. Using a new and emerging approach (‘e-research’) provides a prompt to review our ‘autopilot’ tendencies and offers a new lens for analysing research practice.

Findings: We find that despite an initial focus on ‘practical’ aspects of data collection within our ‘e-research’, the pilot opened up a range of areas for further consideration. We review research ethics, collaborative research practices and data management issues specifically for e-research but also reflect more broadly on potential implications for piloting within other research designs.

Practical implications: We aim to offer both practical and methodological insights for qualitative researchers, whatever their methodological orientation, so that they might develop approaches for piloting that are appropriate to their own research endeavours. More specifically, we offer tentative guidance to those venturing into the emerging area of ‘e-research’.

Value: This paper offers insight into an oft-ignored aspect of qualitative research, whilst also engaging in emerging area of methodological interest.

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