What is a Repertory Grid?

Malcolm Tatum

Repertory grids are strategies that are utilized in the process of interviewing individuals. The basis of this approach involves the use of factor analysis as a means of properly evaluating the personality of the individual being interviewed and adjusting the course of the interview in a manner that enhances the productivity of the interview. While developed mainly as a research tool, the basics of the repertory grid can also be used in other situations, such as a job interview or even conducting an interview with a public figure.

Mental health professionals may use a repertory grid during counseling sessions.
Mental health professionals may use a repertory grid during counseling sessions.

The essentials of the repertory grid as an interviewing technique are founded on the work of George Kelly. In the mid-1950’s, Kelly developed what is known as the Personal Construct Theory. This theory, published in 1955, suggests that it is possible to make use of four basic elements as a way to identify how a individual relates to past experience. As a result, it is possible to develop a working profile of certain personality traits that are likely to be present during the interview and thus tailor the course of the interview so that the maximum amount of data is extracted.

Repertory grids refer to strategies that are used in the process of interviewing people.
Repertory grids refer to strategies that are used in the process of interviewing people.

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The first element or part of a repertory grid technique is focused on the topic for the interview. Ideally, the topic will include something about the personal experiences of the individual who will be interviewed. This element helps to establish the foundation for the remaining parts of the grid.

After the topic is established, the next step involves identifying examples or instances that are likely to be relevant to both the topic and to the interviewee. For example, if the topic of the interview has to do with rose gardens, a likely set of examples may include taking along images of various roses. The images are likely to prompt the individual to share information about the history and proper cultivation of each type of rose. As a result, the amount of data that is obtained from the interview is significantly increased.

Creating a set of constructs also helps to provide a basis for comparing and contrasting the examples or instances under discussion during the interview. The interviewee may be able to compare two rose hybrids and note that one performs well in a less humid climate while the other thrives in high humidity. The constructs add another dimension to the data shared during the interview and make it possible to explore specifics about the more general instances or examples.

Finally, a repertory grid involves the process of rating both the instances and the constructs that have formed the basis for the questions asked during the course of the interview. Here, the person being interviewed is provided with the opportunity to make use of a sliding scale to evaluate various instances, and possibly be offered the tools to create a hierarchical listing of the instances that demonstrates their level of importance in the opinion of the interviewee. Doing so helps to establish the position of the individual undergoing the interview process and may also reveal interesting data based on the responses.

The use of a repertory grid is common in many different settings. Market researchers often use the technique to qualify responses from consumers. Reporters utilize a repertory grid model when interviewing public figures. Educators employ the strategy as a way of measuring the effectiveness of various teaching methods. Even mental health professionals make use of a repertory grid as part of the process of therapy and counseling sessions. As a means of extracting information in an organized manner, the grid works well in just about any situation.

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