A Critical Discussion of Research Methods and Approaches
Progressing further from the literature review, a research methodology is proposed and formulated concentrating on the design, implementation and careful analysis of the data to achieve the main research objective which is to analyse what staff at Asda think of the electronic training and induction which takes place within the company. This would be carefully analysed in further details.
Saunders et al (2007) defines research philosophy as the manner in which knowledge is being developed and interpreted.
Literature by Saunders et al (2007) indicates that there are three important variables that must be considered when looking at a research philosophy. These are Ontology, Epistemology and Axiology respectively.
Ontology is mainly concerned with the nature of reality; it raises questions on how the world functions and various views that people hold within. Whereas, Epistemology is the way knowledge is demonstrated and how it can be justified. Axiology is a branch of philosophy which studies judgements about value and it stresses upon that what role the researcher’s value play in the research. (Saunders et al 2007).
This research is taking place in Asda store in Edinburgh and the philosophical approach it will adopt is Epistemology. Epistemology as defined by Baker and Foy (2008) is the branch of philosophy which is concerned with the nature of knowledge and mainly concerns at what does and what does not constitute as warranted knowledge.
According to Easter-by-Smith et al (2004), adopting a research position is vital in research because of the following reasons. First, it helps to clarify the research design. Second, it identifies which design will work and which will not. Third, it allows the researcher to stay within the research objectives and also indicate some limitations of a particular research approach and last it can help the researcher to introduce his or her personal experiences in the research process. However, there are two philosophical positions that have emerged from within the rank of Epistemology. These are Objectivism and Constructivism. (Saunders et al 2007)
Further, Johnson and Clark (2006) argues that the most important issue is not which philosophical space the research occupies but on how well the research is reflected and defence against the alternatives the researcher could have adopted. More so, the theoretical perspective history presents a graphical illustration of the philosophical positions below:
Objectivism as an epistemological stance holds the view that social entity exists in reality and is independent of people’s perceptions. However constructivism is opposite to objectivism. Truth and meaning do not exist in some external world and people construct their own meaning in different ways, even in relation to the same phenomenon. (Remeyi et al 2005)
This research will mainly adopt a constructivist approach because it is about looking at people’s views and beliefs. However, there is a very little element of objectivism in the research as to look at past figures and study the previous trends of young and older workers beliefs and views. Therefore, focusing mainly on constructivism thus, making it fairly justifiable for using this constructivist approach. This correlate with the theoretical perspective of interpretivism. Saunders et al (2007) defines interpretivism as an epistemological approach which is necessary for the researcher to understand the difference between the humans in the role as a social actor. This approach is adopted by those who regard the business world as too complex to permit the discovery of definite laws. According to Saunders et al (2007), interpretivism refers to way people make sense of the world around them, which bears different perceptions of the way people judge, think and feel about organisational operations. However, proponents of interpretivism are criticised for undermining the general ability of research findings. Reasons for adopting this philosophical approach is that the staff at Asda is going to base and construct their own understanding and knowledge on electronic training and induction which is offered to them therefore they will have their opinions and feelings about it and whether they like it or not.
Remeyi et al (2005:104) nicely summarised the underpinning features of objectivism and constructivism in the table below:-
Basic beliefs:World is externally and objectiveObserver is independentWorld is socially constructed and subjectiveObserver is part of what is been observed
Focus on meaning
Researchers should:Focus on factsLook for causality and fundamental lawsReduce phenomena to simplest elements
Formulate and test hypothesisTry to understand what is happening
Look at totality of each situation
Preferred methods:Operationalise concepts so they can be measuredTake large samples
Use multiple methods to establish different views of phenomenaSmall samples investigated in depth or over time
Source:Remeyi et al (2005:104)
Research Approach: Inductive and Deductive Research
There are two major approaches to a research development namely induction and deduction. Deductive approach is similarly to that of the scientific research. It involves the development of a theory which is subjected to a rigorous test. (Collis and Hussey2003)
Deductive approach in a research works from a more general to more specific and conclusions can be drawn from an available theory. (Saunders et al 2007). For instance: Herzberg’s Two Factor theory can be used to identify job satisfaction within a workplace.
Inductive approach on the other hand works the other way round moving from much specific to broader generalisation and conclusions are based on the facts identified in the research findings.The purpose of this is to get a feel of what is going on so as to understand something in a much better way. (Saunders et al 2007)
Inductive approach will be suitable for this research because the research objectives are context specific, gathering general ideas and views of people and the research will be carried out to get a better understanding of the workplace systems and finally conclusions will be arrived from the research findings.
Research Methodology/ Strategy: Case Study
According to Remeyi et al (2005) research strategy provides the overall direction of the research and has identified several research strategies namely action research, case studies, forecasting, survey, ethnography, grounded theory and archival research.
Robson (2002) defines case study as a strategy for doing research which involves an investigation of a particular existing fact within its real life context using multiple sources of evidence. Morris and Wood (1991) states that the case study strategy is of a greater interest if the researcher wishes to gain a rich understanding of the context of the research and the process being enacted. Case study strategy also generates answers to the questions, for this reason the case study strategy is often used in explanatory and exploratory research.
For the purpose of this research, the researcher will focus on case study strategy. The use of this strategy will comfortably accommodate better understanding and provide rich picture of the current situation and training systems in place within Asda.
Purpose of the Research: Descriptive, Exploratory or Explanatory:
The classification of the research purpose most often used in the research methods is among one of the following: exploratory, descriptive or explanatory. However, the research project may have more than one purpose. (Saunders et al 2007)
Robson (2002) points out, that the purpose of enquiry within the research can also change over time.
Robson (2002) states that, the aim of descriptive research is to portray an accurate and exact profile of people, events or situations.
An exploratory study is very valuable way of finding out what is happening or to seek new insights, to ask questions and to assess phenomena in a new light. It is a very useful if the research is about clarifying and understanding of any problems and there is also a willingness to change direction in exploratory study. (Robson 2002)
This involves a research which focuses on studying a situation or a problem in order to explain the relationships between variables. (Saunders et al 2007)
This research is going to use exploratory study because it involves getting a general understanding of electronic training given to staff in Asda and exploring any problems within the workplace faced by the employees finally willing to make any adjustments according to the needs and requirements of the employees.
Qualitative and Quantitative Data:
Saunders et al (2007) describe qualitative data as non-numerical data and which has not been quantified. Carter and Litter (2007) hold the view that qualitative research enables the researcher to rely on words rather than using numerical data when carrying out the investigation. The researcher can pose open the questions about the nature of things as they happen in real life rather than putting out to test already established hypothesis.
However, on the other hand quantitative data as described by Saunders et al (2007) as numerical data that have been quantified and it is the data that can be measured.
Carter and Little (2007) describe quantitative data as data which is based on facts and figures.
This research is mainly focused on Qualitative method because it involves describing things for instance getting feelings of staff over induction and training method used in Asda which is the main objective of this research. The qualitative data will be collected from interviews to get a general feeling of things. However, there is also little Quantitative analysis involved within the research because the researcher will gather some numerical data by giving out the questionnaires in order to access the effectiveness of electronic induction and training. Previous figures can also be collected from management for accessing the effectiveness of e-training but the main focus still relies on the qualitative analysis. Quantitative data can be represented by using pie charts, bar charts or reports. Easterby-Smith et al (2004) states that the combination of both methods of research enhances and maximises the quality of the research.
Data Collection Methods:
This research is based on a realistic philosophical stance based on inductive approach, the research strategy being a case study, the purpose of the research being exploratory using both qualitative and quantitative analysis but mainly emphasising on qualitative analysis. Data collection methods are simply how the information is gathered. There is a wide range of data collection methods available namely: surveys, sampling, questionnaire, observation, interview, focus groups. (Easterby-Smith et al 2004)
However for the purpose of this research the researcher is going to use three methods to collect data (questionnaire, semi-structured interview and focus group discussions) for the purpose of triangulation.
A questionnaire is a set of carefully prepared questions designed with the aim of collecting reliable data from selected participants. (Remeyi et al 2005)
Oppenheim (1992) defines a questionnaire as a tool for collecting and recording information about a particular issue of interest. It is made up of a list of questions and it should always have a definite purpose which is related to the objectives of the research. Questionnaires are commonly used to gather straightforward information relating to people’s behaviour or to look at basic attitudes and opinions of people relating to a particular issue. The questionnaire can be designed using both open and closed ended questions to get both qualitative and quantitative data.
For the purpose of this research, the researcher will distribute the questionnaires to the permanent staff specially focusing on staff that has been to both electronically and classroom based training sessions. Reason for using a questionnaire is that it will enable the researcher to get a clear picture about the effectiveness of e-training. A sample size of about 30 staff will then be chosen. This will include 25 shop floor workers, 2 team leaders, 2 line managers and 1 personal training buddy. The questionnaire will be in the form of both open and closed ended questions to get a mixture of quantitative and qualitative data. The questionnaire is focused to those employees and managers who can share and express their views in interviews and focus group discussions.
Further, Cohen et al (2000) states that advantages of a questionnaire is that the feedback is anonymous which encourages openness and honesty and it gives the opportunity to each employee to participate. The use of questionnaires gives the following advantages: it is cost and time efficient in collecting and analysing data. However, questionnaires also possess some sort of difficulty for example open ended questions may require the respondent to give detailed answers which may be a challenge to some respondents whereas, closed ended questions may limit the in-depth enquiry of relevant information. (Easterby-Smith et al 2004) The researcher will carry out a pilot test using five questionnaires to check that the questions are easily understood and that there are no particular problems relating to the length, sensitivity and sequence of questions.
One to one Interviews:
According to Easterby-Smith et al (2004) one to one interviews can take various forms: structured, semi-structured and unstructured. This requires a face-to-face conversation between the interviewee and the interviewer and the sequence of questions are open ended.
This research will adopt a semi-structured interview. Remeyi et al (2005) states that semi-structured interview provides an opportunity to probe complex issues in a relaxed atmosphere.
The reason for carrying out the research in a semi-structured interview technique is because it provides quick and rich evidence because the respondent can provide detailed insights of facts. Participants for the semi-structured interview will be selected on the basis that they have gone through both electronic and classroom trainings programmes. The sample for the interview would be five members mainly: 1 personnel manager, 1 departmental manager, 1 line manager and 2 shop floor workers. The interview questions will be drawn out from the literature review however; the researcher may add any relevant questions or drop any issues which may seem inappropriate while conducting the interview.
Focus Group Discussions:
A focus group discussion is a group of people who have been brought together to discuss a specific topic in depth. According to Saunders et al (2007) focus group discussions involves the use of comprehensively group interaction whereby participants are chosen because they have something to contribute on the topic. A focus group can precede both quantitative and qualitative data.
The researcher will use focus group discussions as third method to gather data. Reasons for doing a focus group discussion is because one session of a group discussion produces a large amount of information in a relatively short period of time. The research will involve five participants in the focus group discussion; 1 line manager, 1 team leader, 1 training buddy and 2 shop floor workers and the sessions will last for 25 minutes.
According to Wolf (2010:145) ‘’triangulation refers to the combination of different research modes or looking at the same topic from different angles.’’
As stated above, three methods have been adopted for this research. They will better explore the outcome of the e-training process thus enhancing validity. The reason is to provide broader breadth and depth of the research objectives and also offer greater clarity about the gaps in philosophical commitment during data collection and analysis levels. (Cox and Hassard 2005)
Validity and Reliability of Research Design:
Validity and reliability are very important criteria in evaluating a research. According to Joppe (2000), validity determines whether the research truly measures that which was intended to measure or how truthful the research results are. Remeyi et al (2005) refers to validity as representing a good fit between theory and reality, in the same sense that when a description of a process is evaluated; best fit between theory and reality can be traced. The primary reason for considering this is to indicate how the research will be accepted as a piece of academic writing.
Since the research will include little bit of quantitative data, statistical validity will be very paramount to ensure consistency and integrity. Also validity of qualitative data will be prompted whether the researcher has gained full access to knowledge and information about the case study. (Remeyi et al 2005)
Reliability is that similar observations should be made by researchers on different occasions and the concern is that how replicable the study is. (Remeyi et al 2005)This is achieved by keeping the data which is been collected safely and to enable others to investigate if any doubts arise in the research results. This provides transparency and trust in the philosophy, approach and methods used in collecting and analysing data since they are open for scrutiny. (Remeyi et al 2005).
The researcher will bear in mind the ethical issues; these will be in accordance with research ethics framework presented by the University of Bolton Institutional Repository and also the Economic and Social Research Council: to ensure the design and the research itself will respect honesty and quality standard. Its been guaranteed that the intended used methods shall be clearly understood by the participants and privacy will be respected in terms of when gathering data and anonymity of respondent. Finally, the author will observe the widely cited suggestions given by Remeyi et al (2005) relative to the theft of ideas, choice of sampling, obtaining assistance from others, misrepresentation of work done and lastly to avoid illegal and unlawful conducts with the entities of the organisation being studied.
Evaluation of Overall Research Design:
The research philosophy, approach, strategy and methods adopted for the research are judged by the researcher as the most suitably fit for the research objectives. However, the researcher is aware of the lapses in the research design and these might cause hindrance in convincing conclusions. The researcher has envisaged the following possible limitations and has outlined backup plans.
Firstly, the issues could rise in the inclusion and exclusion of sampling criteria may rise constraints in the research design. For example: age discrimination and ethnicity might be a problem and overall logistic costs and general feasibility of the research design can hinder the collection of sufficient data. Also selected participants maybe unavailable due to being absence, some participants being on sick leave, workers taking pre-booked holidays and most importantly the busy schedule of management may cause disruptions in the research. In addition, the current management within the department might be altered through transfers hence; this might slow down the research process completely.
Secondly, the sample of 30 participants may not provide a broader picture of the electronically based training and induction in Asda.
Thirdly, errors and non-responsive attitude of the participants might cause problems in the sample representation.
Furthermore, by using a case study strategy it makes it difficult to generalise the outcomes of the research since it may not present a wider view of the store or Asda organisation. This can raise questions about the validity and reliability of the research. Also, the time available to carry out the research is limited. This limits the collection of vital information through semi-structured interviews and focus groups discussions which might cause some loop holes in the research process.
Accurate and appropriate data collection analysis tools maybe difficult to find sometimes. Again, since the purpose of the research objective seems to be limited and focuses on a more tangible issue such as technology; this might limit participants interest in the research thus can cause setbacks in the research process. Equally important is that access to vital information about the personnel department might cause constraints in the research itself; as stated by Wolf (2010) it is common for researcher to encounter accessibility difficulties during the data collection stages of their research.
Finally, the research project is the first independent project carried out by the researcher of such magnitude, although the author has written essays for up to three thousand words but this may cause inaccuracies in the overall research design.
The use of questionnaires will target wide sample size, this will ensure appropriate response. Interviews and focus group discussions will enable the researcher to obtain valuable information for limited time since management will be involved.
As data analysis and interpretation of data is concerned, the researcher will apply simple co-efficient method by comparing between samples, the higher co-efficient reflecting higher score and vice versa. (Cavusgil and Das 1997)
With regards to internal and external validity of the research, the author will ensure causality between the research objectives, literature review and the research design and also ensure that the research design matches with other research patterns.
In addition, triangulation has been adopted to provide richness in the data collected. Similarly, the author will follow the recommendations provided by Gilbbert and Ruigrok (2010) to ensure external validity; generality in external setting does not mean that case study should give up generalisability but the key is to distinguish between statistical and analytical generality.
With respect to ethical concerns, the research will guarantee transparency through careful documentation and organisation of the research process with relevant materials to be kept secured to facilitate retrieval for any further investigation.
Furthermore, the author will ensure for the sample criteria all cultures are respected. Inclusion criteria will follow the provisions of Equality and Discrimination Act 2010. The author will use random sample in order to avoid any representation errors.
Also with regards to accessibility, the author will keep closed contact with the management. More so, the author works within the company as a seasonal staff during the holidays and has been working there for three years so this makes it easy for the management and employees with regards to communication flow so the communication gap has been eliminated. The issue of cost especially travelling and other logistics from Bolton to Edinburgh will be handled since Edinburgh is the author’s main UK residency place.
In short, the research design coupled with the research objectives and the literature review are fundamental in critically evaluating the process of electronic training and induction in Asda Edinburgh.
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