APPROACH: Grounded theory is a research approach that develops theory through the cyclical analysis of data (an inductive approach, which contrasts with positivist scientific approaches that set up and then test theory, and then reject or accept it). Its strength is that it allows for the questions asked to change as the research proceeds, theory develops bit by bit, and more is learnt. In this way, the research is made iterative, open and emergent.
Positivist approaches to research fix the questions and methods of research in advance, and do not allow for learning from the field to shape the process.
First developed by Glaser and Strauss (1967), and refined many times since then, grounded theory is a classic approach for using in qualitative research, analysis and theory-building. It is not appropriate for every type of research, but variants of it have been taken up enthusiastically by qualitative researchers in particular.
Another value of grounded theory is that it helps to make research more sensitive to context and place-based - as data are considered to be specific to the context in which the research is taking place. The findings may later be scaled up - see Working Across Scales - but until then, the research is considered as situated and particular to the place and people involved. This also makes it a useful approach for some Transition research projects, e.g. that focus on local initiatives.
Grounded theory involves a standard set of stages and processes, which are detailed in further sources and literature.
Use grounded theory as an alternative approach to analysis and theory-building in qualitative research projects.