Grounded Theory is used to develop theory from data. It is a qualitative method, based on several stages of analysis of primary data. Open coding is first used to generate a set of themes, which are then categorized into higher level concepts using a process called focussed coding. The production of theoretical memos to explore the ideas behind the categories provides a synthesis of new ideas, and these can then be used to support the extraction of a core category. The core category illustrates the relationships between the categories, but this can take the form of a model, typology or even a storyline. The core category could also be described as a thesis.
The 'soft' side of computer related research relates to people. There is not only a great diversity amongst people in general, but also many subtleties relating to the specific context in which they relate to technologies. Any computer system becomes part of a socio-technical system when in use, and this is most evident with tools which facilitate collaborative or social interaction. Trist (The evolution of socio-technical systems, 1981) identifies three levels at which socio-technical systems have to be investigated:
Primary work systems - these relate to systems which work in a bounded environment, for instance the people and tools involved in producing a particular academic paper or proposal. These have a specific purpose, which provides a focus for the people and activities.
Whole organization systems - these can be self-contained workplaces, such as a workgroup which deals with end to end production of a resource, or entire businesses or organisations. Trist describes them as persisting "by maintaining a steady state within their environment"
Macrosocial systems - these include systems in communities, and which operate at a societal level. Trist calls these 'domains'.