Assumptions, research design and data collection strategies

Chapter 1 Introduction

The purpose of this assignment is to offer a critical analysis of the underpinning assumptions and research design and data collection strategies and the practice of academic research. Two research papers are chosen for the purpose of this analysis. The first paper is a quantitative study and the second paper is a qualitative study. They are as follows:-

Shafer, W. E., Fukukawa, K. and Lee, G. M. (2007) ‘Values and the perceived importance of ethics and social responsibility: The U.S. versus China’, Journal of Business Ethics, 70 (3), pp. 265-284.

Tsoi, J. (2007) ‘Stakeholders’ perceptions and future scenarios to improve corporate social responsibility in Hong Kong and Mainland China’, Journal of Business Ethics, pp. 1-14.

The main reason for selecting these two papers is that they both report upon the area of corporate social responsibility, which is the focus of my PhD. Within the field of corporate social responsibility (CSR), there has been considerable research discussing the relationship between values and perception with the attitude/behaviour of businesses towards CSR. These values are considered quantifiable and thus have been measured quantitatively using scales developed by authors such as Forsyth (1980), Singhapakdi et al.(1996), and Vitell and Patwardhan (2008). Interviews have been used to bring forward the values that are deemed important by stakeholders, and were explored qualitatively by Fukukawa and Teramoto (2009), Siltaoja (2006), and Lähdesmäki and Siltaoja (2009).

The two papers selected both looked at cross-cultural values and perceptions, however, they utilise different methods of investigation. This difference could provide a good basis for comparison, in terms of philosophical assumptions, research design, and the method of data collection.

The analyses will begin for each paper with an introduction of the research aims, followed by the epistemological and ontological position, the research design, followed by analysis of its research methodology, the alternative research design and lastly, conclusions from this discussion will be provided.

Chapter 2 Review of Quantitative Research paper

2.1 Research Objectives

This study by Shafer, Fukukawa and Lee (2007) examined the values and the perceived importance of ethics and social responsibility on managers from China and the U.S. The authors used scales instruments to obtain quantitative data in order to make inferences on whether the managers’ nationality and personal values have effect on their ethical perception.

The American and Chinese managers are assumed to differ in their personal values and subsequently this should be reflected from their responses to the “Perceived Role of Ethics and Social Responsibility” (PRESOR) scale. The authors provided the relevant background information and built up the reasoning for their hypotheses. The first hypothesis was that managers from China would believe less strongly than American managers in the importance of ethically and socially responsible conduct to achieve organisational success. The second hypothesis was that both American and Chinese managers’ personal values are believed to have significant impact on the responses to the scale. These hypotheses seem to correlate strongly with the research objectives which are to determine that there is variation in response due to cultural differences.

2.2 Epistemological and Ontological Assumptions

It is likely that the authors based their research on moral philosophy which “refers in particular to the principles of rules that people use to decide what is right or wrong” (Ferrell, Fraedrich and Ferrell, 2005:19). This paper seems to indicate that the principles of rules of managers of different cultures are likely to differ and thus ethical decision-making would vary. The authors provided examples of other empirical research to support this notion. The assumption that personal values can influence ethical decisions shows that the research is likely to infer an ontological assumption of realist, whereby reality is seen to have an existence independent of the activities of the human observer (Blaikie, 2007:13). As the research strives to compare values and perceptions, these elements are thought to be measurable and quantifiable; seemingly leaning towards the empiricism position in which the key idea is that knowledge comes from observing the world (Blaikie, 2007:19). The authors employed deductive research whereby the “hypotheses formed are tested to determine if the statements can be supported” (Sekaran, 2003:31), which is a typical research approach of empiricists. Taking possibly the stance of positivists, these values are assumed measureable, and are thus thought to form the social reality that these values affect the perception of corporate social responsibility amongst the managers from these two countries.

2.3 Research Design

The intention is to establish the differences in personal values, by using large quantities of data, which would be representative of the overall population of American and Chinese managers. This suggests that there are two assumptions, that values are measureable and that it is possible to generalise the population from the sample. In order to generalise, a considerably large amount of data is required, thus a survey research instrument was employed.

The PRESOR scale developed by Singhapakdi et al. (1995) was used. The reasons that the PRESOR scale was chosen over the cultural dimensions formed by Hofstede (2001) were argued; examples of the latter in other research were shown to be inconsistent and inconclusive in its directional impact, thus making theoretical predictions difficult. The use of PRESOR scale in other research was exemplified and seemed to have established the reliability of its measurement. The PRESOR scale was explained further in the introduction of the paper. Thirteen out of sixteen original items were selected and the authors justified this by stating that only these thirteen items had significant factor loadings in the Singhapakdi, Scott and Franke (1999:25) study. These items were grouped into two categories; the Stockholder and the Stakeholder views. The Stakeholder View reflects the importance of ethics and social responsibility to organisational survival and success, whilst the Stockholder view indicates that organisational success depends on more than just profitability and obligations to the stockholders (Axinn et al., 2004:104)

In the methodology section, the Schwartz value instrument and a demographic questionnaire were mentioned as being used together with the PRESOR scale. There was little mention of the reasons the Schwartz scale was used and how it was applied. It was only later in the appendix that the items considered in the Schwartz scale was provided in details. A clearer explanation could have improved the clarity of the paper.

The research design employed the use of two research instruments (PRESOR scale and Schwartz value instrument) as means for data collection. The sample of practising managers from the two different countries was given the same survey to complete, thus the responses could be compared on that basis. The results from the analyses were then compared against the hypotheses formed, affirming or not affirming the hypotheses. This process is typical of the deductive approach (Blaikie, 2007:70).

2.4 Data Collection

The sample consisted of 311 practising managers, enrolled part time in selective MBA programmes in the U.S. and China. The participation was voluntary and the scales were completed as an in-class exercise. The authors acknowledged potential problems from this sample selection. The first is that, although the MBA programmes in these two countries appear to be comparable, the sample may have confounded the effects of national differences and MBA programme differences. Secondly, the sample was not randomly selected as the authors had asked their students to complete the scales in-class. The authors did not provide further justification for these two problems and thus this is believed to have weakened the external validity of this investigation (Bryman and Bell, 2007:204). Aside from this comment from the authors, there was very little mention of the validity of the measurement which makes it difficult to make further discussion on this. The basis of their selectivity and the criteria in which these programmes were said to be comparable, were also not provided in details. The details of its comparability may have helped clarify and strengthen the validity of the selection criteria, as well as making the paper more understandable.

Considering the objectives of the research, in which the authors seem to be looking at making generalisations on the affect of personal values, there is a need to collect large quantities of data. The survey method seems to be appropriate as surveys are easy to distribute to large number of people and costs can be kept to a minimum (Bryman and Bell, 2007:195). This relates to external validity, which is “about generalisability of results beyond the focal study” (Easterby-Smith et al., 2008:87). In this paper, external validity was not discussed; however, it is likely that the results are meant to be applicable for the context of China and the U.S. only.

The authors stated the limitation of which the participants can not be assumed as representative of the broader populations of managers in these two countries, due to the fact that the MBA programmes were selective in nature. The research took consideration of the possibility that the age and experience differences of their sample might affect the results, and thus these factors were examined for significance. The scale was translated to Mandarin Chinese and later back-translated with resolution of discrepancies, to take account of the language difference. These examples seem to reflect on the effort of the authors in ensuring that the results are not significantly affected by other variables. In order to test the dimensionality of the PRESOR scale, a principal components factor analysis with varimax rotation and Kaiser normalisation was applied. This is typical of a quantitative study where factor analysis is usually applied as part of the research design.

In terms of research replication, this research had provided considerable amount of information which would possibly allow other researchers to perform similar research. The items from the two views (Stockholder and Stakeholder) of the PRESOR scale were provided in details. In addition, the authors also mentioned the calculation method used, such as the use of mean values and the Univariate Analysis of Covariance models (ANCOVA). The only exception would probably be the PRESOR scale itself, whereby the questions that were asked and the choice answers were not explicitly given, which might mean that future researchers might find it difficult to replicate the research and might even have to approach the authors or Singhapakdi who developed the scale.

2.5 Alternative Method

The authors mentioned that more in-depth examination using qualitative design of investigation such as interviews would perhaps be more revealing. It is agreed that qualitative measure would allow insights into the importance of ethics to managers, and the various ethical issues that managers prioritise. The researchers are more likely to obtain a richer data of the decision-making process of managers, at the same time; they would be able to achieve the research objectives. The researchers can make use of semi-structured type interview which will allow better control of what questions need to be asked, and to ensure that the objectives of the interview are achieved as well (Bryman and Bell, 2007:474), if time and costs are constraints.

There are also other alternatives methods to obtain qualitative data that would have fit this research, such as the use of focus groups. Focus group interviews allow researchers to observe the behaviour of the American and Chinese managers as they interact with each other. It would be possible to see the differences in reaction to ethical issues much more clearly, when these managers are given, for example, the same ethical dilemma, and they are required to rationalise the problem and come up with solutions. This method might be more useful than questionnaire surveys, particularly in that the values of the American and Chinese managers could be brought out through the way they respond and react to ethical problems, the problem-rationalisation process, and the degree of attention paid on a particular problem. Similar to the interview method, this would be considerably more costly to conduct, and it might even be more costly than doing interviews, however, the researchers would gain not only in achieving the research objectives but they would also attain a better understanding of the effects of personal values in ethical decision-making.

However, if the goal was only to establish that perception of CSR differs between diverse cultures, the research design would have fit the purpose. This is because the data collection strategy used (questionnaire survey), allowed the authors to obtain considerably response for generalisation. A questionnaire survey would also have been more cost-efficient and less time consuming, especially for cross-cultural studies.

Chapter 3 Review of Qualitative Research paper

3.1 Research Objectives

In this second paper, this qualitative study aims to make apparent the perceptions and views of the future scenarios from stakeholders within the garment industry in Hong Kong and Mainland China. The underlying intention was to seek consensus and common ground, on a local and regional level to help companies develop an appropriate CSR strategy, to improve the state of corporate social responsibility and in the long run, to achieve sustainability in the region.

The main objective was stated as “by engaging with major stakeholders, to identify the local and regional supply chain stakeholders’ perceptions and expectations” (Tsoi, 2007:1). Typical of a qualitative study, generalisation is often not the objective of the study (Bryman and Bell, 2007:410). This is apparent from this study as the author had mentioned that the sample may not be sufficient for generalisation for the entire garment industry, however, it is “relevant to garment businesses involved in export-orientated activities” (Tsoi, 2007:1). Tsoi (2007) used an inductive approach to identify the perceptions of stakeholders by conducting interviews.

3.2 Epistemological and Ontological Assumptions

Although the author did not indicate the philosophical assumptions behind this study, the author implied that by identifying the stakeholders’ perception, “the findings would help in building consensus, strengthening the implementation, and establishing future CSR framework”. This suggests that the author has an ontological position of constructionism, which asserts that social phenomena and their meanings are continually being accomplished by social actors, implying that there exists social interaction and that there is a constant state of revision of the social phenomena (Bryman and Bell, 2007:23). In this case study, the social reality of what is happening in the garment industry, in terms of its corporate social responsibility, is a social reality that was formed by the stakeholders. It suggests that the social phenomena (condition of CSR) can undergo changes, and that it is dependent on the activities of the social actors. The views of the social actors are thought to be indicative of the important issues in corporate social responsibility, within the garment industry.

This form of research is consistent with the research paradigm of the interpretivist position, as the basis of the research is that the study of the phenomena requires an understanding of the social world that social actors have constructed and which they reproduced through their continuing activities (Blaikie, 2007:124). In this instance, the stakeholders are the social actors who will continually interpret and reinterpreting their social world which can be the garment industry. The social phenomenon that the author is investigating is the current state and the future of the corporate social responsibility in Hong Kong and Mainland China. The future conception of CSR in these two places is related to phenomenology, whereby, it concerns with the question of how individuals make sense of the world around them (Bryman and Bell, 2007:18). In this case, it can be viewed as the way stakeholders make sense of the state of corporate responsibility in the region.

3.3 Research Design

The author relied on a qualitative method, specifically, the face-to-face semi-structured interview, which indicates the leanings of the author in “conducting a naturalistic inquiry in real-world rather than experimental or manipulated settings” (Ritchie and Lewis, 2003:4). For qualitative studies, semi-structured and unstructured interviews are commonly used as they provide rich, detailed answers and taps into the interviewee’s point of view (Bryman and Bell, 2007:474). As the focal source of data was the stakeholders themselves in this study, this seems to infer that the research design is based on the interpretivist view that the “social phenomena can only be understood and be investigated from the inside” (Blaikie, 2007:125). The author identified major stakeholders possibly with stakeholder theory, stating the assumption “that multinationals see stakeholder consultation and management as an important communication tool in identifying and interpreting the needs of salient stakeholders” and as such would enable “the development of a common language for CSR and subsequently the development of proactive CSR strategies”. This correlates with the stakeholder approach of Wheeler et al. (2003:19) who stated that “value creation at the highest level requires an ability to build value-based networks where all stakeholders see merit in their association with and support for a business”. In this instance, it is likely that the stakeholders were deemed to be important in the future direction of CSR in the region, and this was the reason that stakeholders were chosen as source of data.

The author mentioned that these interviews conducted in 2004 and 2005 may no longer be relevant, since there were major developments in 2008. This might have made the interviews slightly outdated however; there should not be many changes to the overall aims of the stakeholders and thus the outcomes of this research would remain valid. However, as an alternative, the author could have applied longitudinal design which “represents a distinct form of research design than is typically used to map change in business and management research” (Bryman and Bell, 2007:60). The longitudinal design would not only serve the purpose of this study, but it would also allow insights into the factors that cause change to the perception. With this sample, it is possible to use cohort study, whereby “the cohort is made up of people who share a certain characteristics” (Bryman and Bell, 2007:61), since the stakeholders have a stake in the garment industry. However, longitudinal research may require a lot more preparation, could be time-consuming and thus it could be more costly.

3.4 Data Collection

With regards to the methodology, the interview questions that were used for this research was not provided. As this was a semi-structured interview, it would have been useful if the author had provided general information on how the questions were formed, and the structure of the interview questions as this would provide an indication of the depth of the interviews, and hence the validity of the research design.

For the sample, 25 representatives from academia, the business organisations, the non-government organisations, trade association, and government officials were identified. The response rate was 84%, in which 21 out of a total of 25 representatives of these organisations agreed to be interviewed. It was mentioned that the reason for such a high response rate, was that the author had contacted the interviewees on a one-to-one basis. Furthermore, the interviewees were also guaranteed anonymity. The sample, thus, appears to be extensive and is representative of the various stakeholders that are vital in the garment industry.

3.5 Alternative Method

The intention was that the “findings would help in building consensus, strengthening the implementation and establishing the future CSR framework” (Tsoi, 2007:1). The author might have meant that having collected all the different views from these stakeholders, the author would be able to determine the consensus of how CSR should be developed and how CSR should be like in the future. However, it is doubtful that a consensus could have been obtained using this method of analysis. The interviewees, although were representative of the garment industry, each one a vital stakeholder, there was no real interaction between these stakeholders, and thus, the consensus that is meant is only based on the researchers’ understanding from the interviewee’s responses. Stakeholders are thought to be able to reach a better compromise through discourse, with different sides arguing for the validity of their point as well as ensuring that the interests of the group or association that they represent are taken account of (Bryman and Bell, 2007:511). While it is understandable, that there is a strong possibility that it could be costly to get all the interviewees to sit together through a discourse, nevertheless there are alternatives which might be more useful for the purpose of this investigation, given that the objective is to reach a consensus amongst the stakeholders. With this reasoning, the research design could improve by firstly conveying the findings of the interviews to all of the stakeholders interviewed, and follow up with another interview to see if there were changes to their views.

Alternatively, the author could use the method of focus group interviews. With this method, Merton et al. (1956) (in Bryman and Bell, 2007:511) stated that the “accent is upon interaction within the group and the joint construction of meaning”. Focus group interviews could provide a platform for the interviewees to interact and to establish a joint construction of what it means to strengthen CSR and also determine what future scenarios should and could be like. With regards to selecting a suitable size for the focus group, it is recommended by Bryman and Bell (2007:517) that the typical group size should be six to ten members, whilst Sekaran (2003:220) recommends a size of eight to twelve members. The reason that the focus group interview method was recommended was that the interviewees would be encouraged to express their opinions argumentatively, which would then allow the researcher to gauge the degree of importance of certain issues and how much flexibility the interviewees might have to reach a compromise with others. There are of course possible pitfalls using the focus group method, in that some interviewees might be dominant over others, and thus the opinions of those less dominant might not be heard, but these effects can be reduced to a minimum level by having a good moderator (in Bryman and Bell, 2007:511). The one-to-one interview method could still be more advantageous compared with the focus group interview, as the time and monetary costs of conducting a one-to-one interview would probably be considerably less and thus be more manageable especially if there was only one researcher, as was with this case study.

In this case study, it seemed that a quantitative design would actually be difficult to apply, and it would also be inappropriate for an investigation on the perception of CSR as a business concern. Taking the example of using a questionnaire survey with closed-ended questions, it is very likely that the respondents would answer that they are very concerned about CSR, as that might be perceived as the correct response, thus creating social desirability bias to the results. Furthermore, with a questionnaire survey, the researcher would not be able to pin-point all the various future scenarios for CSR in Hong Kong and Mainland China, even if it was possible, the list of future scenarios might be too long to be practically manageable. Another issue would be that in making assumptions of the future scenarios that are deemed significant to the stakeholders, it would be problematic as the researcher might risk missing out relevant information. Therefore, it would be difficult, from these reasons, that a quantitative design would not be suitable for such a case study.

Chapter 4 Conclusions

In summary, the two papers reflect significant differences in their research approach. This was seen through the objectives of the research, the underlying assumptions of the research philosophy and the conceptualisation of research design and the data collection. There is certainly much to learn from these two research papers, both had given valuable information on the differences between quantitative and qualitative methods, as well as offer guidance on the selection of research method and how to go about utilising these methods. The research designs, as shown in these papers, are dependent of the research objectives and the designs are also influenced by the epistemological and ontological assumptions made. Even though the philosophical positions of the researchers were not made explicit, however, the likely positions can be assumed. These papers have also shown that the advantages and the disadvantages of the different methods of investigation, and they need to be considered to ensure that the best method is chosen for the purpose of the research.

In these two papers, the method of investigation is distinct, one was a qualitative study and the other was a quantitative study, however, this does not necessarily mean that a mixed method of investigation can not be used. In fact, (Bryman and Bell, 2007:646) suggested that triangulation can be applied, in which “the results of an investigation employing a method associated with one research strategy are cross-checked against the results of using a method associated with the other research strategy”.