Educational Developers As Researchers: The Contribution of Insider Research to Enhancing Understanding of Role, Identity and Practice

Sep. 10, 2013

Source:  Innovations in Education and Teaching International, Vol. 50, No. 4, 2013, p. 388–398.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The aim of this article was to explore the experiences of insider researchers and to draw comparisons between that role and the role of the educational developer, noting in particular the ambiguity of an ‘in-between’ existence that is common to both roles.


The article illustrates how five aspects of insider research: proximity, multiple roles, internal politics, ethics and voice, may enable these tensions to be viewed from a different perspective.

Proximity to research participants
It has been widely acknowledged that the ‘native’ researcher who is able to participate, observe and blend into situations is less likely to alter the research setting and more likely to win the trust of respondents and undertaking research inside the organisation within which the researcher works brings additional advantages.

However, this proximity may also lead to assertions of bias and problems with the interview process.
For example, the respondents, who are familiar with the author's substantive role in the university, may have established a perception in their minds about the purpose of her research, which created a particular frame of reference for the interview.

This may have led them to filter their responses to give her an idealised version of what they thought she wanted to hear, or even withhold useful information.
One method of maintaining distance between the interviewer and respondents is to adopt a formulaic approach to the interview, consciously entering a role-play when adopting the role of interviewer and asking naïve questions to prompt respondents to answer more fully.

Managing multiple roles
Despite proximity to respondents facilitating access, tensions can arise when managing the dual roles of researcher and educational developer, in particular when interviewing members of the university executive, since additional roles surface. When interviewing the Vice-Chancellor and Pro Vice-Chancellor for Learning and Teaching, the author's role as a (subordinate) manager of a centre was added to those of researcher and educational developer, which affected the pattern of each interview.

Elites are used to being in charge and talking about their organisation, which can result in interviews becoming monologues.
The author not only found it challenging to keep the interview with the Vice-Chancellor focused on the topic of e-learning, but she also felt compelled to react to responses in her manager role rather than remain within her researcher role.

Internal politics
The events that took place after these interviews made the author realise that if she had been more closely attuned to views expressed within them, she might has been more prepared for the internal politics that surfaced over the implementation of e-learning later that year.
By reading the transcripts carefully, it was possible to perceive differences between the Vice-Chancellor’s and Pro Vice-Chancellor’s approaches to engaging with the faculties over operationalizing the e-learning strategy.

Ethical dilemmas
Responsibility of care takes on a different perspective when the researcher holds a position of authority as a manager within the organisation.
The author had to consider whether she was exploiting her respondents, who may have felt obliged to participate in the research because of her position, or that they were being used as a means to an end for her benefit.

Finding a voice
It is important to establish transparency about whose voice is represented through research accounts.
The author found that the project she was leading developed a parallel timeline to her research and in order to complete both effectively, she had to find a point to separate them.
When it was completed and she turned back to the research, she found that she was able to write it up more critically and more confidently, having found her own voice, rather than feeling constrained by internal politics and the potential reactions of my colleagues and senior managers.


The author concludes that both insider researcher and educational developer are required to adopt a balancing act to function effectively and constantly need to reflect on their position to maintain the validity of their activities.
Awareness of the impact of ‘proximity’ enables them to evaluate their relationships with other members of their institution and take appropriate action to gain deeper insight into the perspectives of others.

Both need to accept that they have multiple roles and by actively managing themselves in these roles and regulating their behaviour accordingly, they can minimise the impact of internal politics and find an appropriate voice.
Finally, the article proposes that a deeper understanding of themes surfaced here can usefully contribute to enhancing the understanding of the educational developer’s role and identity and also support the research necessary for underpinning successful educational development work in the future.

Updated: Oct. 11, 2015