Structural Foundation For The Conduct Of Research Education Essay

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Introduction

The preceding chapters have laid a structural foundation for the conduct of the research which this study sets out to do. This chapter therefore proceeds to present the research methodology which will be employed for the actual research and analysis of findings. It begins by laying forth the research philosopher that will guide the research process - bearing in mind that such philosophy has to be compatible with the subject matter and analytical style of the research process. Furthermore, the chapter establishes the approach, strategy and methods utilised for the research, as well as the relative strengths and limitations of the adopted methods. With these steps, an effective basis would have been laid for the conduct of the research proper and the presentation of findings in the subsequent chapter.

Research Philosophy

The importance of establishing a philosophical basis for any study, particularly qualitative studies, cannot be overemphasized. In adopting a given research philosophy, it is important to understand how such philosophy aligns with the research method to be employed. Indeed, the philosophical scope of a research method should relate to its assumptions based on the most common characteristics of the world, encompassing various aspects including the mind, matter, reason, reality, nature of knowledge, truth and evidences for knowledge (Hughes 1994). This research work is essentially qualitative in method and style, and as such the philosophical basis for the study should be one that facilitates and enhances the qualitative method.

There are several possible research philosophies that one may adopt for a social science study of this nature - depending on the means and ends of the study in question. A popular and often employed research philosophy is that of positivism which is largely empirical and quantitative in nature (Hussey and Hussey, 1997). Newman (1997: 63) asserts that Positivism recognises only one logic of science, to which all intellectual activity must conform in order to be qualified as 'science'. He further explains that positivism sees social science as an organised method for combining logic with empirical observations of individual behaviour in order to discover and confirm a set of probabilistic causal laws that can be used to predict general pattern of human behaviour. Newman (1997: 64) goes on to state that, for positivists, social reality is not random but is patterned and ordered, and the regularity in social reality is unchanging, i.e. laws that apply at present will also hold in the future.

Another common research philosophy is the post-positivist philosophy which philosophical approach focuses on evidence that is valid and sufficient proof for the existence of phenomena (Philips, 1990). In elucidating the nature of post-positivist philosophy, Forbes et al (1999) suggested that post-positivism has to do with investigating and establishing a 'warranted assertibility'. For a post-positivist researcher, reality is not necessarily rigid; instead it is a conception of the individuals involved in the research. In other words, reality does not exist within a vacuum; its composition is influenced by particular contexts, and many constructions of what may be deemed 'reality' is therefore possible (Hughes 1994).

The present research however adopts the interpretivist philosophy which, in the view of Borg and Gall (1989:8), is an approach to qualitative data analysis which is underpinned by the theory and principles that human discourse and action cannot be appropriately analysed with the methods of natural and physical science; Interpretivism holds that social interactions can best be interpreted by an understanding of group actions and interaction.

The interpretivist research philosophy is essentially qualitative, descriptive and holistic in nature. According to Newman (1997: 68), an interpretive approach is the systematic analysis of socially meaningful action through direct detailed observation of people in a naturally environment in order to arrive a comprehension and interpretation of the means via which people create and sustain their social interactions. The difference between interpretivism and positivism for instance, lies essentially in the fact that they are respectively suited for quantitative and qualitative research. The key features of interpretivism are presented in contrast to those of positivism in the table below.

Table 3: Contrast between Interpretivism and Positivism

Positivism

Interpretivism

Tends to produce quantitative data

Tends to produce qualitative data

Uses large samples

Uses small samples

Concerned with hypothesis testing

Concerned with generalisation theories

Data is highly specific and precise

Data is rich and subjective

The location is artificial

The location is natural

Generalises from sample to population

Generalises from one setting to another

Adapted from Hussey and Hussey (1997: 54)

Gultig et al (1999: 80) explain that the interpretivist research philosophy is chiefly concerned with the nature-bound frameworks of specific orientations, and how people comprehend and act in particular social contexts. Accordingly, the interpretivist philosophy will help this researcher develop a context-specific understanding of the relative impacts of transformational and transactional leadership styles on the Siam Cement Group.

Research Approach

Research approach as used in this section, describes the means and methods by which the researcher collects and analyses data with which answers will be provided for the research questions. In other words, the research approach provides order and focus to the process of obtaining, interpreting, presenting and analysing research information.

Generally speaking, there are two broad approaches to the conduct of any research: qualitative (or inductive) and quantitative (or deductive) approach (see for instance Collis and Hussey 2003; Saunders et al 2007). According to Saunders et al (2007) the inductive approach essentially entails the interpretative attempts to comprehend meanings attached to phenomena and particular research contexts; the deductive approach on the other hand has to do with pure empiricism and 'scientific' research in general.

Denzin and Lincoln (1994) point out that a researcher's experience, perception of philosophy, and personal values can significantly influence the adoption of a particular method. It is therefore not out of line if this researcher adopts subjective thought processes in other to determine the mot suitable method to be adopted. Shih (1998) further expands this idea by listing four key areas for consideration when deciding on a research method: the research philosophy and objectives of the research, the nature of the phenomenon and subject-matter, the level and nature of the research questions, practical considerations related to the research setting, and the efficient use of resources. In this light, Proctor (1998) suggested that consistency between the objectives of a research, the research questions, the preferred methods, and the personal philosophy and subjective values of the researcher underpins and provides basis for the conduct of the research.

Accordingly, this researcher deemed it appropriate to employ the qualitative approach for the purpose of the present research work. The choice of the qualitative approach is predicated on the fact that the approach acknowledges that the 'human element' has increasingly become an important and determining factor in the characterization of what is - within subjective contexts in which studied phenomena takes place (Collis and Hussey 2003; Saunders et al 2007). The qualitative approach will therefore allow the researcher to effectively analyse, make useful inductions, and arrive at well-considered conclusions about the ways in which particular leadership style can impact upon employee motivation and productivity vis-à-vis the process of driving and managing change - using the Siam Cement Group as a case in point.

Research Strategy: Case Study

When a researcher expresses interest in studying a given phenomena or subject-matter, it is generally accepted that there is need to operationalise and apply the theory arising from such study by means of a practical paradigm. Ideally it will be most reliable for a study of, for instance, leadership theories and impact on business growth, to examine all major corporations worldwide in order to empirically determine the most effective form(s) of leadership in this regard. However, the ineluctable limitations in resources and time would make such a universal scope of study impossible. The case study approach is therefore a pragmatic way to operationalise and apply principles in practical and empirical contexts during a research by choosing a si.

According to Robson (2002), a case study is a research strategy which involves an empirical investigation of a specific contemporary phenomenon within its natural context with the aid of multiple sources of evidence. Bryman (2001) also posited that the case-study facilitates keen understanding of a given subject-matter or phenomena by the researcher. Furthermore, Collis and Hussey (2003) explained that a case study is an extensive investigation of a single example of a phenomenon of interest and is indicative of phenomenological methodology. They proceeded to identify four key varieties of case study, viz. explanatory, descriptive, experimental and illustrative. For the specific purpose of the present study, it was determined that the explanatory case study would be most appropriate because it uses extant theory to comprehend and explain specific circumstances and situational contexts. Therefore, an exploratory case study of the Siam Cement Group would facilitate a thorough understanding of the relative implication of transactional and transformational leadership styles in an organisational setting. This research strategy, as noted by Collis and Hussey (2003), would help a researcher generate relevant answers to investigative questions bordering on what, why, and how; in this instance - in relation to the subject of leadership styles and their implications.

There are documented arguments as to the limitations of the case study strategy which this researcher will not attempt to dispute. For instance, Bryman (2001) points out that it may be difficult to be objective in the process of choosing research evidence to support or refute, or in proffering particular explanations for collected data and evidence. Furthermore, Collis and Hussey (2003) suggest that case studies often yield a great volume of data which may be unfeasible to adequately analyze - thereby heightening the proclivity of the researcher to employ selectivity and bias; this may reduce the reliability of the results. The stated shortcoming of the case study method notwithstanding, it is the considered view of this researcher that it is most appropriate for the present study, and lends itself to facilitating practical understanding of the implications of particular leadership theories in a real life situation - as represented by the Siam Cement Group.

Research Instruments

This section presents the means through which the researcher collected data for the research. It is needless to reiterate the criticality of data collection to the research process as this fact has been well documented (see for instance, Bryman, 2001; Saunders et al, 2007). There are essentially two broad types of data that can be collected for research purposes: primary data and secondary data. As explained by Saunders et al (2007), primary data encompasses those collected for the specific purpose of a given research and that are unique to the research in question. Secondary data on the other hand describes information acquired for other purposes like published summaries and through such means as the internet, scholarly articles, books, newspapers, journals, and other publications and electronic sources. The means of data collection employed for the present research are presented below.

Interview

The research instrument of interview allows a researcher to collect useful qualitative data which can be of great value in interpreting evidence and determining results. The interview for this research was basically semi-structured and centred around the Chief Executive Officer of Siam Cement Group, Thailand - Mr. Khan Trakulhoon. The interview involves face-to-face, semi-formal discussions designed to extract relevant information for the purposes of the research. The main participant, Mr. Trakulhoon, communicated his attitudes and experiences, depending on the research questions which relate to the aim of study. The interview questions were broad and wide-ranging. Apart from providing general information about his background, the participant also revealed information pertaining to the Siam Cement Group's business mission and vision, strategies, management structure and general setup. Specifically however, the interview was structured in such a way as to extract answers bordering on the following themes.

Leadership style

The importance of Leadership towards an organisation

Environmental factors which affect leadership in the organisation such as global competition, HR policy, company's vision and strategy.

The impact of leadership on staffs' job satisfaction, motivation and productivity, as well as managing workplace tension and change.

Although the interview was useful to the extent that it generated useful information for the research, it must be pointed out that it was rather restrictive. Indeed, the group's CEO was the only participant in the interview and did not permit the researcher to interview other members of staff to find out their detailed perspective on the subject-matter of the research as applied to their company.

Questionnaire

Questionnaires, as a research technique, comprise all such data collection techniques in which respondents are required to provide answers to the same set of questions in a structured, predetermined pattern (Saunders et al 2007). The questionnaire designed for this research was semi-structured and distributed to a select number of SGC staff in order to measure job satisfaction, motivation, related tension and satisfaction towards the leader. The questionnaire is divided into two types of questions, open-ended questions and fixed choice questions, which are related to the research aim and objectives. A total of 50 questionnaires will be distributed and the participants are supposed to answer the questions by selecting multiple choices and writing their opinions in the open-ended sections of the questionnaire. This means of data collection aids the researcher in collecting and evaluating data from the company's staff in order to create a more balanced basis for analysis of findings.

Secondary Research

Conducting secondary research is an inevitable necessity for this kind of research because secondary data provides the theoretical bas upon which a practical understanding of particular phenomena is founded. Secondary information imbues a researcher with valuable insight into the different dimensions of the subject matter which is to be investigated. Indeed, it is often necessary to consult a wide range of sources in order to acquire suitable knowledge from extant literature about the different theoretical aspects of the subject matter in question in order to be fully prepared for the actual research.

As such, the sources of secondary data for this research are extensive and diverse, especially those bordering on leadership and its ancillary dimensions. They include: relevant journals and books, academic documents, articles from Thailand, journals, related studies, lecture documents, company statistics, previous research, and websites. These sources were selected in order to provide deeper insights into the main ideas and themes in this research. The key elements which underpin the use of the selected sources for finding information included:  Leadership theories, approaches, styles, and variables; Transactional and Transformational leadership; and background, Structure, Vision and Performance of the Siam Cement Group.

Strengths of the Research Method

The qualitative method of enquiry presents many advantages. Essentially, it permits a researcher to explore diverse aspects of the phenomena of interest and perceive nuanced details that may otherwise be left out. In addition to this, the method allows the researcher to see broader dimensions, facts and implications of phenomena and also gain an insider's view of the matter being researched (Bryman and Burgess 2004). In the case of this research, the qualitative approach offered the researcher the opportunity to comprehend what the participants say and do as a consequence of how they interpret the complexity of their world. In other words, perceptions about the implications of the Siam Cement Group CEO's leadership style, as well as the implications of his leadership style on the staffs' motivation and the company in general would depend on the subjective values and worldview of particular participants. The qualitative method is advantageous to the extent that it allows the researcher to interpret these subjective responses and analyse the collected data in their proper contexts.

Limitations of the Research Method

The most cited shortcoming of the qualitative method of research is the perceived problem of validity and reliability, as well as difficulties in generalising research outcomes. Following this reasoning, Saunders et al (2007) stressed the difficulty in replicating conditions, situations, interactions, events and contexts used in qualitative studies. He argues that this constraint diminishes the possibility of generalising or applying the results of such research in contexts different from the one so studied, given that conditions may be different elsewhere and so the results may also be different. This erodes universal validity and applicability.

Furthermore, the subjective quality of the interaction with participants may serve to diminish objective balance in evidence gathered. In the case of this research, it was observed that the main participant for the interview did not present alternate perspectives as to the adverse implications of his leadership on the running of the company. Similarly, the researcher was not permitted to randomly select respondents among the workforce to distribute questionnaires to; the respondents were recommended by the CEO. These factors may lessen the objectivity of the research outcome in respect of assessing the broad practical implications of the company's leadership.

Chapter Summary

This chapter presented and discussed the methodical underpinnings of the present research work. It laid forth the guiding philosophical basis for the research, and also discussed the approach, strategy and instruments that are employed for the research. It was clearly stated that the study would be essentially qualitative and that semi-structured interviews and questionnaires, as well as secondary sources would be used to collect relevant data for the study. The relative strengths and limitations of the adopted research method were also discussed. In the next chapter, data collected from the research would be analysed and the findings presented and discussed.

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