The critical incident technique is a research process that invites respondents to identify events (incidents) they deem significant (critical) for a particular purpose, typically associated with job performance within an occupation. Researchers use data from participants’ accounts to form categories of behaviors that contribute to the success or failure of a given purpose.

History of the Method

John C. Flanagan is credited with developing the critical incident technique, originally in connection with studies of World War II aviators (part of the Aviation Psychology Program, out of which emerged the American Institute for Research). Flanagan and his colleagues were interested in why pilots-in-training fail their programs, how pilots respond when they become disoriented, and what leads to failed bombing missions. His research technique permitted him to gather multiple ...

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