|Elements form a crucial component of all
repertory grid applications. They are central to the construing process
construct elicitation. The elements used in grid applications (albeit
or elicited) determine the type of constructs you will elicit from your
interview respondents. Because elements are so central to grid work,
must be taken in identifying / eliciting them.
Characteristics of elements
- Homogeneous – elements must all be
same type (or homogeneous). That is, they must either be all people,
objects, all situations, all experiences, or all events…
Ensuring the elements are of the same group
makes the elicitation of personal constructs much smoother and simpler.
examples of elements used in past grid studies have looked at different
of managers, leaders, job applicants, work activities, work roles, work
relationships, events in organizational life, information systems,
organizations, products, bank loan applications to different countries,
alia. However, if your purpose is to elicit more complex cognitions
way people construe, interpret and make judgments about their
may be based on people, objects, situations and events, you may
re-wording your elements into "doing-words" so that they all become
hence homogeneous). Such extensions in the way elements are worded can
the powers of the grid.
- Discrete and representative –
should provide a reasonable coverage of most aspects of whatever is
investigated. They should literally represent the four corners of your
matter: the key things that make up your area of study. They must be
in order to elicit a wide range of constructs about a chosen topic. It
recommended to use elements that are sub-sets of another, as this will
construct elicitation problematic. Moreover, if your elements can be
into opposites, you most likely have parts of constructs instead of
elements in their own right.
- As short as possible – elements
specific and easily understood by the respondent. In this respect,
elements is an adequate number for most applications. Past applications
used between 7-25 elements. In the end, it all depends on how much time
your grid respondent is prepared to sit down and talk about the topic
investigation. Usually, a typically grid with 9 elements can take
between 1-2 hours, solid! More elements will take more time. Nine
usually recommended (though not essential) because it also allows you
to make a
decent enough coverage of your area of investigation; And it is also
practically convenient as you can use the typical triadic comparisons
element twice (e.g.: 123, 456, 789, 147, 258, 369).
or elicit elements?
- Previously experienced – When
elements, they must be well known to the person to whom the grid is
administered. A general rule is for the respondent to have had actual
experience (current or recent experience) with each of the elements so
personal constructs generated from the grid interview are relevant and
Naturally, in the
true spirit and intent of
Kelly’s Personal Construct Psychology,
eliciting both elements and constructs,
and getting the respondents to rate their own elements based on their
constructs make the technique free from observer bias. Depending on how
researcher intrusion you are prepared to live with in your grid
grid designers / interviewers have the choice of supplying the elements
eliciting them from respondents. In essence there area three (3) ways
- Interviewer can
- Ask the grid
interviewee to generate a list
of elements based on the focus of the study, or
- Elicit the elements
from the interviewee
based on a set of questions (usually in matching pairs), the answers to
will be the elements
- Supply elements: supplying elements
you the advantage of choosing those items you want the interviewee to
because these are the elements that you are interested in finding out
people make sense of them based on their actual experience. The
however is that there is a chance your respondent has no or very little
experience with them which could generate constructs that are not
the respondent. In this respect, you could do a bit of research of your
(say a pilot test) that helps identify elements that your intended
bound to have had experience with. And it would be wise to ensure that
interviewee has experience with the supplied elements prior to the
- Ask grid interviewee to generate a list of
elements by free-response: This approach lets the respondent
nominate what is
considered the key elements that make up the subject matter you want to
investigate. This can be very revealing as new insights can be gained
allowing the respondent to define his / her own parameters (given the
study). However, this approach has its own disadvantage in that the
respondent may mention items / elements that are most familiar to them
deliberately disregard items that they do not like or feel are not
If you are comfortably with living with this type of bias in the
favor then this may be the element choice strategy for you.
Both the last two
strategies for eliciting
elements are more consistent with Kelly’s intentions of keeping the
much free from observer bias as possible. In the final analysis, you
choose the approach that best suits the purpose of your study in
grid. As a case in point, if one of your goals is to compare between
grids, you will need to keep the elements (or constructs) constant.
Elicit the elements from the interviewee
based on a set of questions: This way of eliciting
elements from grid
respondents is similar to how Kelly elicited his elements using "role
If for example you want to investigate how subordinates perceive their
relationship with past and current supervisors, you may ask them to
supervisor you liked; a
supervisor you didn’t like; an
effective supervisor; an
ineffective supervisor; a
supervisor similar to you; a
supervisor dissimilar to
you; your current supervisor
etc… (One caution is that you want to ensure that
the interviewee gives you a different name / element for each question
ask). And if you are dealing with people (which can be quite personal
sensitive) you may like to suggest that the respondent use initials or
first names to identify them for themselves without revealing the true
of the person to a third party.
- Bell, R.C , Vince,
J., Costigan, J. (2002). Which
vary more in repertory grid data: Construct or elements? Journal of
Constructivist Psychology, 15, 305-315.
- Easterby-Smith, M.
(1980). The design,
analysis and interpretation of repertory grids. International Journal of
Man-Machine Studies, 13, 3-24.
- Easterby-Smith, M.,
Thorpe, R., Holman, D. (1996).
Using repertory grids in management. Journal
of European Industrial Training, 20,
- Fransella, F,
Bannister, D. (1977). A Manual of
repertory grid technique. United Kingdom: Academic Press.
- Fransella, F. (Ed.).
handbook of personal construct psychology. England:
- Jankowicz, A. D.
(1990). Applications of
personal construct psychology in business practice. in. R. A. Neimeyer,
G. Neimeyer (Eds.) Advances in
Construct Psychology 1: 257-287.
- Jankowicz, A. D. (2003). The easy guide to the
repertory grid. Chichester: Wiley.
- Kelly G. 1955. The psychology of personal
constructs. New York: Norton.
- Stewart V, Stewart A.
applications of repertory grid. England:
- Wright, R.P., Lam, S.
S.K. (2002). Comparing apples
with apples: The importance of element wording in grid applications Journal of
Constructivist Psychology, 15, 109-119.
Robert P. Wright