Evaluating Internal Public Relations Using the Critical Incident Technique

Authors, Title and Publication

Zwijze-Koning, K. H., De Jong, M. T., & Van Vuuren, M. (2015). Evaluating internal public relations using the critical incident technique. Journal of Public Relations Research27(1), 46-62.


This study validates the critical incident technique (CIT) as a communication audit method to evaluate internal communication. Communication audit techniques, especially the qualitative approaches that give employees the opportunity to speak their minds, are invaluable resources for diagnosing communication problems in an organization and developing solutions. As one current method used in communication audit, CIT involves asking employees to recall particular events that represent positive or negative communication experiences. For each event, a set of questions is asked about what exactly happened, who was involved, and what the consequences were. In the data analysis phase, the incidents are used to identify underlying structural patterns regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the internal communication.

To validate the CIT method, the authors conducted 165 face-to-face interviews with employees in three organizations. Specifically, three assumptions of CIT were verified: participants can describe discrete communication events, these events have structural connotations, and they are related to sense making. Results showed that though the assumptions were met to different extents, the CIT is, indeed, a communication audit instrument that can be fruitfully combined with an interpretive perspective on organizational communication. The method’s flexibility allows participants to focus on whatever characteristics they find important in their organization. Its qualitative nature allows the auditor to explore participants’ interpretations of the events mentioned in detail. Overall, the CIT is a valuable instrument in the communication audit toolbox and produces rich qualitative results that may be used to diagnose an organization’s communication practices.

Implications for Practice

Organizations should 1) incorporate the CIT as a communication audit technique to assess the quality of internal communication; 2) use a combination of quantitative and qualitative approaches to gather rich data; and 3) utilize the CIT data to interpret more detailed opinions and insights from employees about communication in the organization, which could be easily linked to actual organizational behavior.

Location of Article

The article is available online at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1062726X.2014.924840?journalCode=hprr20 (abstract free, purchase full article)

Posted in [Research Library], Employee / Organizational Communication, Measures and Measurement and tagged , , , , , .

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