Repertory grid

The repertory grid provides insight into the way people evaluate different things. It can be applied to products and expectations, as well as to perceptions of people and their roles. Two or three elements are chosen and weighed up against each other. This way, the preferences of an individual can be evaluated by different variables.


  • Duration
    Long (more than 1 hour)
  • Complexity
  • Group size
    8 to 24 persons

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Description Long

The Repertory Grid is a lively child of the 50s. For a while, however, it fell into oblivion, but in recent years, it has begun to attract attention once again. This method was developed by George Kelly, whose view of the world was shaped by constructivism. This is great for us, because it means that reality can also be shaped. A real goody for the design thinking process.


Kelly’s Personal Construct Theory assumes that, based on their experiences, every person has many hypotheses as to the cause of the current situation, and how it might develop in the future. That is why our different experiences will lead us to different perspectives. Imagine a group of three travellers that return to their holiday apartment, and find that they cannot turn on the light. The first might assume that there is no electricity, because the last utility bill was not paid. The second complains that something else is not working either. The third might even call for help, because he suspects that there is a burglar in the house.


The more we learn, the more these internal concepts not only change continuously – they are also not evident to others. It is also difficult to verbalise these implicit constructs. The repertory grid interview method can help us here.


The prerequisites

In order to use this tool, and to illustrate the implicit elements, one first needs to choose a topic, and something that can be used as an example for the testers (elements). These could be objects, images or film sequences that are comparable to each other in a structured interview situation with a strict syntax, but they must also differ in terms of certain characteristics or details. This illustrative material should, of course, be in line with your questions about a new product or service.


What can the repertory grid do?

  • It can help to reveal perceptions of expectations towards products or services, such as events, they can be compared to each other in a follow-up procedure.
  • It also serves to compare the roles of individuals within in a company or analyse situations, for example, contact with clients.
  • Finally, this questioning technique can also be used to better describe brands in terms of perception, which enables a better differentiation from the competition
  • In the end, you will receive information that would help to improve product design, services, teamwork or the company’s reputation.
  • The repertory grid can be combined with other interview techniques, a customer journey, focus groups, and so forth.


How do I utilise the repertory grid?


Choice of testers:


The selection of testers is based on their familiarity with the elements, the topic and the questions.


Choice of elements:

  • They must be known to the testers.
  • They must be comparable to each other.
  • They must mean something to the testers.
  • They must open up a broad spectrum of differences.


The number of elements should range from six to twenty-five, to ensure that the exercise is not too complex, but that the results are still representative.


1. The survey of constructs:

  • Groups of three are formed to record the commonalities and differences in the hidden constructs (TRIAD Method).
  • Commonalities are referred to as ‘Construct poles’, while differences are called ‘Contrast poles’.
  • Testers should find two commonalities and one difference.
  • The exercise continues until they are unable to name any new constructs.


2. The rating

  • In the end, a tester evaluates all the elements, according to a rating scale, based on all the constructs that have been surveyed.


3. The evaluation

  • One can use the qualitative approach, for example, the content, contingency or equivalence analysis clarifies how frequently categories correlate with or exclude each other.
  • The grid also permits quantitative evaluation (among others, principal component analysis or cluster analysis).

Hints from experience

The progression is relatively time intensive. An interview can take up to one hour, which is why it is not always easy to find testers. It is also possible to compare in pairs, rather than triads, although this approach only provides valuable information on the participants' preferences.


There are numerous variations of these processes.


One can specify the choice of elements and constructs. It is useful to research the elements, since they must be known to the testers. This also applies to the selection of constructs from a given pool. There are four options: 1. The ‘classical grid’ in which testers choose elements and identify the constructs. 2. The grid in which the elements are specified. 3. The grid in which the constructs are specified. 4. The grid in which elements and constructs are specified.


The rating scale assesses all of the elements with regard to all of the constructs. Rating scales with five or six options are the most common. In this respect, the testers assign each construct to an element (contrastive pairs) and evaluate how significantly it relates to the particular element.


Attention: Using this method frequently can lead to a pattern in which one becomes prejudiced in terms of the grid, and keeps asking the same questions. This type of interview approach requires patience and a strict demarcation from one’s own interpretations, and one must leave the result open. You always need to consider whether the questions that are posed are relevant, from the testers’ perspective, regardless of how well they seem to suit the respective project. Based on the numerous variations, is it not always easy to choose the correct method.

Tools list

  • Paper and pencil


Author: Thomas Duschlbauer. Der Querdenker: Das Toolkit mit 30 ausgewählten Methoden (German); ISBN: 9783907100639

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