Original Research

Using trust to gain credible access to the boardroom: A methodological contribution

Morris Mthombeni
South African Journal of Business Management | Vol 54, No 1 | a3913 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajbm.v54i1.3913 | © 2023 Morris Mthombeni | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 26 January 2023 | Published: 29 September 2023

About the author(s)

Morris Mthombeni, Gordon Institute of Business Science, University of Pretoria, Illovo, South Africa


Purpose: Researchers have found it difficult to gain access to board members to collect credible data. Acquiring such insights, however, is becoming increasingly important in view of rising numbers of corporate failures. This article is part of a broader study conducted to identify the drivers of effective board leadership in a cross section of companies in selected countries, where trust and distrust were used as the primary levers to gain credible access to board members.

Design/methodology/approach: A qualitative research approach was adopted, with data collected via semi-structured interviews with 47 directors of companies in a range of countries.

Findings/contribution: The data collection process was guided by nine literature-informed board access strategies designed to overcome potential barriers to structural and substantive access to credible information sharing. The board directors who were interviewed were more forthcoming upon learning that the researcher had board experience and was thus able to empathise with their own experiences. This contributed to an atmosphere of trust during the interviews.

Practical implications: This paper highlights the methodological advances made in the access dimension of process studies, focusing on difficult-to-access subjects like boards of directors.

Originality/value: In addition to the literature-informed board access strategies, the researcher abductively developed a methodological board access conceptual framework. This framework comprises process and empathy levers designed to enable researchers to gain surface-level, moderate-level and deep-level access to board members for the purpose of extracting progressively credible data on board processes from hard-to-access individuals.


board of directors; board access; board processes; trust; distrust.

JEL Codes

M10: General

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth


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