Pragmatic is a philosophy that seeks to steer clear of metaphysical debates on the nature of truth and reality in favour of practical understandings of concrete, real-world issues. Its pragmatist approach to research allows it to work alongside other epistemological frameworks such as a theoretical constructivist approach to socially constructed reality and qualitative-dominant interpretivist understandings of meaning (Morgan, 2014b).
Pragmatism offers an alternative to dogmatic philosophical approaches such as positivism and interpretivism; it is also able to address concerns that positivism and interpretivism can be misguided by a lack of an underlying logic or rigour. As a pragmatic philosophy, it provides a framework to guide researchers from the design stage through data collection, analysis and writing. It is a framework that can be used to navigate qualitative applied social research on organizational processes such as NGO development and operations.
One of the key aspects of pragmatism is its emphasis on contextuality; this involves taking into account the various factors that contribute to the meaning of an utterance. This includes semantics, grammar and a number of other considerations such as the speaker’s intention and the implication of an utterance. For example, when someone says that they have two sons, the implication of this statement is that they do have two sons. However, if they say that they have Phosphorus, this could mean that they have two daughters and one son as well. This is a pragmatist perspective that takes into account a person’s context when determining the meaning of an utterance.
Another key aspect of pragmatism is that it does not require the researcher to be omniscient; in other words, there is no requirement for them to know everything they need to know at the start of their research. Instead, the researcher must be open to learning more as they carry out their research and develop a deeper understanding of the problem and the NGO process they are researching. This can include incorporating follow-up surveys or re-examining data to identify further gaps in knowledge.
The final key aspect of pragmatism is the use of feedback. This means that the researcher should take their product to customers and get their feedback so that they can make changes to their product or service. This process is known as customer-driven innovation and has been shown to improve the success of new products and services. It is an iterative process and requires the researcher to continue to gather feedback throughout their product’s lifecycle.
It is worth noting that there are some criticisms of pragmatism; for instance, the ‘pragmatist’ label has been associated with an empiricism that is too subjective and can lead to the ‘pragmatist illusion’ in which outcomes are measured on a sliding scale depending on the researchers personal interests. Additionally, pragmatism has been criticised for failing to distinguish between epistemological and ontological issues, particularly when it is applied to moral issues such as ethics and morality. Nevertheless, the authors believe that if pragmatism is applied judiciously, it can be a useful paradigm for research on NGO processes.