The repertory grid is a technique for identifying the ways that a person construes (interprets/ gives meaning to) his or her experience. It provides information from which inferences about personality can be made, but it is not a personality test in the conventional sense. It is underpinned by the Personal Construct Theory developed by George Kelly first published in 1955.
A grid consists of four parts:
- A Topic: it is about some part of the person's experience
- A set of Elements, which are examples or instances of the Topic. Working as a clinical psychologist, Kelly was interested in how his clients construed people in the roles they adopted towards the client, and so, originally, such terms as 'my father', 'my mother', 'an admired friend' and so forth were used. Since then, the Grid has been used in much wider settings (educational, occupational, organisational) and so any well-defined set of words, phrases, or even brief behavioral vignettes can be used as elements. For example, to see how I construe the purchase of a car, a list of vehicles within my price range could make an excellent set of elements
- A set of Constructs. These are the basic terms that the client uses to make sense of the elements, and are always expressed as a contrast. Thus the meaning of 'Good' depends on whether you intend to say 'Good versus Poor', as if you were construing a theatrical performance, or 'Good versus Evil', as if you were construing the moral or ontological status of some more fundamental experience.
- A set of ratings of Elements on Constructs. Each element is positioned between the two extremes of the construct using a 5- or 7-point rating scale system; this is done repeatedly for all the constructs that apply; and thus its meaning to the client is captured, and statistical analysis varying from simple counting, to more complex multivariate analysis of meaning, is made possible.
Constructs are regarded as personal to the client, who is psychologically similar to other people depending on the extent to which s/he would tend to use similar constructs, and similar ratings, in relating to a particular set of elements. And it is the way that the constructs are identified that makes a Repertory Grid unique.
The client is asked to consider the elements three at a time, and to identify a way in which two of the elements might be seen as alike, but distinct from, contrasted to, the third. For example, in considering a set of people as part of a topic dealing with personal relationships, a client might say that the element 'my father' and the element 'my boss' are similar because they are both fairly tense individuals, whereas the element 'my wife' is different because she is 'relaxed'. And so we identify one construct that the individual uses when thinking about people: whether they are 'Tense as distinct from Relaxed'. In practice, good grid interview technique would delve a little deeper and identify some more behaviorally explicit description of 'Tense versus Relaxed'. All the elements are rated on the construct, further triads of elements compared and further constructs elicited, and the interview would continue until no further constructs are obtained.