Andrew was a part-time student who worked in a large firm of consulting engineers with projects throughout Europe and Asia. The company undertook such major projects as the building of a hospital in Asia and the construction of a major conference centre in a southern European city. Andrew was an operations director and had had particular responsibility for introducing a company intranet three months previous to the time of his research proposal.

In part, the intranet was introduced with the idea of forging a sense of shared community between the consultants working on projects, whatever that project may be or wherever it was located. The consultant engineers were from all parts of the world, although English was the language in which the company’s business was conducted. English would therefore be the medium for the intranet.

The specific ‘shared community’ objectives of the intranet were to reduce the feeling of isolation among the engineers, give them an immediate source of important company and technical information, and foster a sense of team spirit at both company and project level. Andrew knew that the intranet was being used frequently and that informal feedback suggested that people liked it and found it useful.

However, he wanted ‘harder’ evidence that the considerable resources the company had devoted to the introduction and implementation of the intranet were worth while. He drafted an outline proposal and took it along to the first meeting with Sarah, his project tutor. To Andrew’s surprise Sarah was sceptical about his idea. She thought three months was too short a timescale in which to judge the effects of the intranet in relation to the ‘softer’ anticipated outcomes of lack of isolation and fostering team spirit.

She also thought that to meet the objectives Andrew would need to do some qualitative work. That would involve talking to engineers of different nationalities in different locations throughout the world. She felt that the quality of the data from the questionnaire that Andrew had thought about was unlikely to meet his objectives with sufficient authority.

Andrew felt dispirited when he left the meeting with Sarah. He’d agreed to think the matter over and then they would meet again a week later. But Andrew felt that Sarah might be right in her misgivings about the six-month period and he knew that he simply had insufficient time to carry out the primary research in the way Sarah had suggested. Maybe he would have to think of another approach . . . or another dissertation topic.

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