Critical Incident Technique (CIT)

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What is CIT and how do I run a CIT study?


CIT is a tool for exploration/planning, evaluation projects and empowerment/animation projects:

  1. Planning/exploration: a new project, project component or activity should be designed. For this purpose the use of exploratory, i.e. creating a picture of the situation “from the scratch”, describing the point of departure (base line) and giving recommendations for improvements, approaches, action....
  2. evaluation: a project should be assessed. In this situation the method should contrast the expected situation (the expected results) against reality. This should also lead to recommendations for improvements but based on explanations of achievements and shortcomings.
  3. empowerment/animation: a new project should be designed where the empowerment of certain groups (i.e. women) are the main perspective. The general key objective of the project is “to build local capacity” , mobilisation of own knowledge and resources in giving the target group a mean to express themselves and their view of certain incidents.

Critical Incidents (CI) are short narrative descriptions of situations where there is a problem of a systemic organisational and institutional adaptation, or where there is a problem rising from differences between the interacting parties. Critical Incident Technique is a qualitative tool to analyse and unearth the problem solving behaviour of people. It points a critical problem situation and packs it into a short story. This will trigger off the reflection process of the interviewed person and animate his/her problem solving behaviour. The Critical Incident Technique is situational and relies on the realistic situation of its narrative. The Critical Incidents are either presented as a story only or can be equipped with alternative explanations and feedback. In the case where beforehand “solutions” are prepared and discussed with the interview partners (i.e. the persons interviewed, the interviewees), the interview partners are expected to choose the "best" explanation considering the context.


qualitative research method narrative story telling

Detailed Description

[the meat of the topic – clearly, crisply communicated summary of the topic. Where relevant, a brief story – no more than 1-2 paragraphs - of how this topic has been turned into practice, ideally from the KM4Dev archives? If the example is long, separate into a separate subsection]

KM4Dev Discussions

[Summary of the discussions on the KM4Dev list which provided source material. People who contributed to the discussions are cited at the end of the section in italics: "The following members of the KM4Dev community contributed to the discussion thread on ...: XY (launched the discussion), ...]

Examples in Application

  • Exploring communication relations & flows in a system (eg. in an organisation or community)
  • Exploring possibilities and potentials of introducing new technologies or methods
  • Evaluating a KM initiative in an organisation
  • Getting opinions and ideas of people on a specific situation (in planning and strategy processes)

(works great in the field/at grassroot level, eg. in rural communities, with illiterate people, ...; has at the same time effects of awareness raising, empowerment, training - and mostly people find it fun, more fun than eg. a normal survey)

Related FAQs

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Further Information

You can download a short manual on how to use CITs here: (Critical Incident Technique in Knowledge Management)

Some background thinking about the principles applied in CITs can be read on Dave Snowden's blog, where he reflects how (ie. from what) we learn and how to get people to talk about failure:

Original Author and Subsequent Contributors of this FAQ

  • Marc Steinlin

Dates of First Creation and Further Revisions

--Marc.steinlin 07:18, 9 August 2007 (EDT)

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