NPT can help inform, guide or structure your emerging interpretations, conclusions and recommendations. You could think of it in a similar way to how ideas, insights or concepts from any theory - be it some aspect of Foucauldian scholarship, or Goffman's canon or writings about Actor-Network Theory - are used to help make sense of and situate your analytic findings. In this way, NPT may act as a source for inspiration to enable you to further conceptualise your empirical work.
So you've already got a research question - which over the course of the project might have been reshaped, reviewed and extended - and engaged in a cycle of fieldwork, preliminary and more focused coding and analysis. Hopefully you've now developed some nice analytic ideas and directions. In an ideal world, you will have also been reading widely, engaging in a diversity of literatures to help you re-think your emerging analysis. NPT can also help you shape the potential trajectories for your findings in three basic ways: as an aide memoir, as a sensitizing device or as an explicit structuring device.
Aide Memoir: You can use it as an 'aide memoir', as just another theoretical idea to help you to reflect on your analysis. We all rely on theories, be tacitly or explicitly, to help us make sense and give some structure to our interpretations. Any issue that NPT raises for you can be a nice way to ask some simple, basic questions. For example, has this technology or way of working been normalised? At what point is it at?
- Is still being implemented - so, being designed, piloted or introduced?
- Is it being embedded - so, incorporated into practice, and still causing some chaos, having minor teething problems or fitting-in nicely?
- Or is it becoming integrated - so, over time, it has lost its novelty and become routine and un-noteworthy, or are people and policies still having to work hard to sustain it?
You may be more taken by one of the four constructs or specific components of NPT. So thinking with the ideas behind 'reflexive monitoring', may help you question the basis of some tensions you've identified between two groups of actors. In such ways, you may be able to reflect, however briefly, on one or two of the ideas from NPT to help you think with your findings.
Sensitizing device: You can also use it as a sensitizing device, something that begins to direct your thinking in a slightly more structured way. We all know that, depending on your theoretical perspective, certain aspects of your fieldwork and analysis will stand out more than others. Some weight your focus more on structural issues, others on more individual, cognitive, factors. NPT can offer you at the very least, some inter-related conceptual issues to further guide your thinking.
- For example, you may have generated a list of 'barriers and facilitators' for the implementation of new way of working in a specific organisation. If you think with NPT, you might begin to notice that all everyone in management position talks about are the quite practical organisational issues, be they related to developing new organisation wide infrastructures and protocols to enable greater coordination and monitoring. You also might note that the researchers and technology developers all focused on how the technology is user-friendly, easily learnt and fits within current technical systems. Yet for those who have to enact the technology in their day-to-day work, it seems to upset the flow of their work with patients, and so can make them appear unprofessional and uninterested in patients' narratives.
Clearly, even without NPT you should probably spot a mismatch between the different parties. However, by thinking with NPT, can help you reframe your list of barriers and facilitators, to ask questions not only about which group of actors have which problems, but also what sort of problems these are (i.e. in which domains of NPT do these problem lie). Centrally, it may enable you to establish and argue what could be modified and what needs a radical rethink. It offers you a theoretically-informed way to begin to discuss issues that are relevant for the problem at hand.
Structuring device: You can also use it in a more substantive, normative way, in that your interpretations, conclusions and recommendations could be structured along the domains of the theory.
- For example, you might be undertaking some feasibility work for the introduction of a randomised controlled trial. You've done some interviews with a range of stakeholders - different practitioners, patients, and a few support staff and managers - observed some consultations and clinic work. You could then structure your recommendations about how to design, present and implement the trial around the headings of each domain. So you might argue in relation to 'coherence' that for the issues to be trialable, you need to focus on two areas. For patients, the value of the new intervention is far from obvious and it sounds very similar to something they already experience, albeit that they will not be treated by their usual practitioner. As such, getting them to consent to take part may be a problem, as they cannot see the added value of the additional burden of having to attend 'special trial' clinics. For those practitioners that will have to implement the intervention, the value is also questioned. For them, they already do this kind of work, albeit in a less structured and protocol driven way. So, irrespective of researcher enthusiasm and support from senior practitioners (those who will not have to undertake day-to-day trial work), you will need to find a practical way to transform how these other groups make sense of the trial. You would then continue to structure your findings in relation to the other domains of NPT.
However, as noted in previous section, NPT is not a theory-of-everything. If you intend to use it in a very structured way, remember that not everything you discover will fit nicely or neatly within the concepts that it offers. You need to customize the concepts of the theory to the phenomena you are studying and be aware of the issues that fall outside it field of vision.
There is one final use of the theory that is slightly different from those above. You could also use it - and we all need these in our thinking and writing - as something to argue against!
Things to consider
- Above all, you need to ask yourself, does NPT help you explain the phenomena and make some informed conclusions? Is it a source of inspiration?
- If no, do not try and force your findings through NPT; go in search of something that is more effective to help you.
- If yes, use it and think with it. Be creative with it.