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Appropriate selection of research methods leads to the success of any research (Steele, 2000). This chapter discusses the research design and methodology including their strengths and weaknesses and highlights the general approach to the PhD research. The choice of research methodology and the reasons for its selection are also provided and mapped out against research objectives and associated tasks along with anticipated research output in Table 3.6.
Nature of the Research
One should examine various alternatives when choosing research strategy. Yin (1994) explains three different types of purposes for research namely exploratory, descriptive and explanatory. Exploratory research aims at generating basic knowledge and demonstrates the character of a problem by collecting information through exploration. Descriptive research involves examining a phenomenon to define it more or to differentiate it from other phenomena (Dane, 1990; Martella et al., 1999). Explanatory research aims to explain why a phenomenon occurs. To achieve this, researchers develop theories.
The purpose of this thesis is to explore and describe the understanding of sustainability issues and organizational experiences with stakeholders, in order to generate knowledge about the contribution of sustainability management system implementation. To fulfil the purpose with this thesis, both exploratory and descriptive approaches have been chosen. Hussey and Hussey (1997) argue that research constructs in a descriptive study must be supported by established theory. Since the study used the detailed literature to derive the item statements and identified the various key issues, it can be argued that the study started as a descriptive study. However, after addressing the research problems assisted by the quantitative results, the study moved further to explain in explorative manner how steel companies can develop and implement sustainability management framework with a monitoring and review mechanism using composite sustainability performance index while evaluating the needs and expectations of the stakeholders. Therefore, the study can also be described as an exploratory study.
Review of Research Methods
There are different research methods and all research methods can be used to understand specific type of information or combined to support and complement one another (Kane, 1977; Frankfort-Nachmias, 1996). There are two types of data collection mechanisms namely qualitative and quantitative research methods. The combination of the two approaches is termed triangulation. This section provides a brief description of these research methods.
Quantitative research is objective in nature (Naoum, 1998). It is defined as 'an inquiry into a social or human problem, based on testing a hypothesis or theory composed of variables, measured with numbers, and analysed with statistical procedure to determine whether the hypothesis or theory hold true' (Creswell, 1994). According to Brannen (1992), quantitative research is concerned with attitudes and large-scale surveys rather than simply with behaviour and small-scale surveys.
The three types of quantitative research are experiments, quasi-experiments and surveys (SJI, 1999). The effectiveness of the selected types depends mainly on the nature of the research. The survey technique is the most widely used method in social science and also the most relevant to this study. It typically involves cross-sectional and longitudinal studies using questionnaires or interviews to collect large amount of data. Table 3.1 collates the advantages and disadvantages of these three survey methods.
Table 3.1 Advantages and Disadvantages of Survey Methods (Source: OWBC, 2001)
Type of Survey
Cost is low compared to other methods
High degree of respondents anonymity
Wide geographical reach
Relatively low cost of processing
Low rates of response
Require easily understood questions and instructions
Lack of chance to probe for further or clarity of answers
Greater respondents bias
High uncompleted questions
Allows high flexibility in the questioning process
Interviewers have control of the interviewing situation
High response rate
Possibility of collecting supplementary information
Higher cost than mail questionnaire
Potential interviewers bias due to high flexibility
Lack of anonymity; hesitant to disclose personal data
Increase speed and time of data collection
High response rate
Increase quality of data
Hesitancy to discuss sensitive data on phone
High chance of respondents terminating interview earlier
Less chance for supplement information
Qualitative research consists of detailed descriptions of events, people, interactions and observed behaviours (Patton, 1992) and general opinion. It seeks to describe and explain both perspectives and behaviour of the people studied (Brannen, 1992). According to Hancock (1998), the main examples of methods of collecting qualitative data are individual interviews, focus groups, direct observation and case studies. There are several advantages as well as disadvantages involved in using a qualitative research method. Among various advantages, it facilitates in-depth study; produces overwhelming detailed information with a smaller number of people; and provides a great understanding of the topic under study.
The comparison of both qualitative and quantitative research epistemology has been tabulated in Table 3.2.
Combining both quantitative and qualitative research methods has proven to be more powerful than a single approach (Sherif, 2002) and very effective (Lee, 1991). Triangulation is a process of using more than one form of research method to test a hypothesis (Brannen et al., 1992). This approach offers researchers a great deal of flexibility, whereby theories can be developed qualitatively and tested quantitatively or vice versa. The main aim of using triangulation method is to improve the reliability and validity of the research outcomes.
Table 3.2 Comparison Between Qualitative and Quantitative Research (Source:Yin,1994 )
Point of comparisons
Inductive in nature
To gain understanding of underlying reasons and motivations
To provide insight into the settings of a problem, generating ideas and/or hypothesis for later quantitative research
To uncover prevalent trends in thought and opinion
To quantify data and generalize results from a sample to the population of interest.
To measure the incidence of various views and options in a chosen sample
Usually a small number of non-representative cases
Respondents selected to fulfill a given quota or requirement
Usually a large number of cases representing the population of interest
Randomly selected respondents
Data collection strategy
Participant observation, semi and unstructured interview, focus groups, conversation and discourse analysis
Structured interview, self administered questionnaires, experiments, structured observation, content analysis/statistical analysis
Statistical usually in the form of tabulations
Findings are conclusive and usually descriptive in nature
Exploratory and investigative.
Findings are not conclusive and cannot be used to make generalizations
Used to recommend a final course of action
Data Collection Strategy
There is neither a fast rule to selecting research methods nor best research method, as the use of each research method depends on the form of research question, the research objectives and contextual situation (Yin, 1994). The selection of the most suitable research method depends largely on the intention of the research objectives and the type of data needed for the research. Because of the broad scope of the study and the industrial context of the research, a wide range of research techniques was adopted to achieve the research aim and objectives. To aid the selection process, Yin (1994) mapped out several research strategies against various possible situations as collated Table 3.3 below.
Table 3.3 Different Situations for Data Collection Strategies (Source : Yin, 1994)
Form of research question
Required control over behaviour events
Focus on contemporary events
Who, what, why, how many, how much ?
How, why ?
Who, what, where, how many, how much ?
Who, what, where, how many, how much ?
Who, what, where, how many, how much ?
The various methods used in this research are described in following sections.
Case study is an empirical (Blimas, 2001), in-depth and multifaceted inquiry (Orum et al., 1991) that seeks to elucidate the dynamics (Eisenhart, 1989; Stoecker, 1991) of a single contemporary social phenomenon (Orum et al., 1991; Yin, 1994). It is a detailed investigation to analyse the variables relevant to the subject under study (Key, 1997). A case study may combine a variety of data collection methods and research strategies (Fellow and Liu, 2003). It differs to other qualitative research studies in the sense that the focus of attention is on individual cases as opposed to the whole population of cases (Ruiker, 2004). The individual case is chosen on the basis that they are representative of a sample group that can be used to demonstrate particular facets of topic of research (Beatham, 2003). Akin to most qualitative methods, case study is time consuming. As a result, data is collected from a smaller number of samples than would normally have been the case using a quantitative approach such as questionnaire survey (Ruiker, 2004). The main advantages of a case study include richness of data and deeper insight into the phenomena under study (Hancock, 1998).
According to Yin (1994), there are four types of research designs for case studies; i.e., single-case (holistic) designs, single-case (embedded) designs, multiple-case (holistic) designs and multiple-case (embedded designs). An embedded case means that there are multiple units of analysis and a holistic case involves a single unit of analysis. A single case holistic was chosen, since the considered Steel Plant was thought to represent a significant contribution to the knowledge and theory of sustainability management. To collect data within case study, Yin (1994) suggests six sources of evidence viz. Documentation, archival records, interviews, direct observations, participant's observations and physical artefacts. In the case study four sources of evidence were used : documentation, archival records, interview and direct observations.
Survey is one of the most widely used methods in social sciences to provide a representative sample of the area of study and serves as an efficient and effective means of looking at a far greater number of variables than is possible with experimental approaches (Galiers 1992). It involves eliciting information from respondents which can be achieved through postal questionnaires, telephone interviews and personal interviews. Survey research normally deals with studies on how people perceive and behave and its purpose is to determine how these variables are related. Several survey methods used during the course of the PhD study are detailed below.
There is a wealth of literature on the concept of sustainable development and sustainable construction but to a varying degree of quality. The review of literature was extensively and critically undertaken throughout the study to build up a solid theoretical base for the research area and a foundation for addressing the problems and achieving the research objectives. Archival analysis is the most efficient, effective and cheapest method for gathering the existing wealth of literature on the subject matter to form a thorough understanding of the concept of sustainable development and sustainable construction. The review helped to identify gaps in knowledge and formed the basis for developing the framework to aid the implementation of sustainability issues at the strategic level. Information was sought from various sources including industrial and academic publications, institutions and university databases, the Internet, seminars, workshops and conference notes attended. Moreover, information and knowledge was also gained by attending relevant courses.
Data Collection Strategy Adopted in the Present Study
The research questions are described in Chapters 4, 5, 6 and 7. Research questions start with what questions, which according to Table 3.3 suggest research strategies such as survey and archival analysis. These questions will be answered through an archival analysis of existing evaluations made on sustainability in order to get a background of the subject itself. Further, the archival analysis does not require control over the behavioural events, but on the other hand, it focuses on non-contemporary events. Clearly, an archival analysis seems to be a possible research strategy under these conditions. Some research questions which start with what require survey method to focus on contemporary events.
Other questions which are how question, and possible research strategies are experiment, survey, archival analysis, history, or a case study. Since it was not possible to control behavioural events, the strategy experiment was not of interest. The remaining research strategies were survey, archival analysis, history and case study, but while the intention was to investigate contemporary events, a case study together with a survey seems to be the most appropriate research strategies to use. The case study was performed at a typical Steel Plant in India. Table 3.4 provides the road map utilised to implement the present research work.
Table 3.4 Research Road Map
1. Investigate the concept of sustainable development in steel industry.
1. A review of related research in the field
2. Review of historical context of sustainable development, how it is understood and defined by various groups and the sustainability trend in steel industry.
3. Investigate the benefits , motivations, barriers and driving force of the sustainability in steel companies
4. Assess the impacts of implemented sustainability in steel industries
5. Identify the instruments, practices, procedures, policies and standards implemented to facilitate sustainability and level of integration of environmental and social issues in overall business strategies.
6. Identify areas and application to the steel industry for demonstrating progress in the sustainability performance. Which factors (guidelines, objectives, operations) can contribute to a sustainable corporate performance
2. Assessment of stakeholders and organizational relationship
7. Identify internal and external stakeholders and Who are the steel companies key stakeholders
8. Assess the key sustainability issues for each stakeholder and their most important expectations to your company.
9. Evaluate, how significant are the stakeholders' powers to influence the steel companies sustainability issues and company's influence on stakeholders?
10. Evaluate, How significant are the stakeholders' legitimacy to influence and urgency to influence the steel companies sustainability issues?
11. Assessment of threat and a potential for cooperation from the stakeholders to the steel companies on sustainability issues
12. Assessment of level of engagement with the stakeholders
13. Assessment of manager's and stakeholders perceptions on sustainability issues
3a. Examine and development of framework of sustainability management system
3b.Development of Sustainability Assessment methodology based on composite sustainability performance index.
14. Review of management framework for promoting and implementing corporate sustainability.
15. Develop a simplified framework for designing, implementing, monitoring and reviewing the sustainability management system
16. Identification of key environmental, social and economic indicators for aggregation
17. Develop the methodology for assessment of sustainability performance of steel industry and aggregation of indicators
AA: Archival Analysis S: Survey CS : Case Study
Most questions were designed to collect quantitative data. The survey questionnaire was employed in this study to collect the data because it enabled a systematic collection of predominantly quantitative data (Borg and Gall 1989). The Cronbach's Î± (alpha) for reliability of internal consistency (Pedhazur and Schmelkin 1991; Tabachnick and Fidell 2001) was obtained for the scales used in the surveys in the present study. Nunanally (1978) as well as Caplan, Naidu and Tripathi (1984) recommend a minimum Cronbach's Î± of value 0.5.
A sampling frame is a list of the population from which sampling units are drawn (Hussey and Hussey 1997). A more pragmatic approach is suggested by sampling theory. It suggests reducing the number of companies to a manageable size by selecting a representative sample (Hussey and Hussey 1997). Hussey and Hussey (1997) suggest that a representative sample must be chosen at random, it should be large enough to satisfy the needs of the investigation being undertaken and should be unbiased. A larger sample size lowers the likely error in generalizing the results from the sample to the population (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill 2000). However, more pragmatic view needs to be taken about how large the sample size should be, considering limited time and resources available in the present study. The following guidelines have been suggested by Saunders, Lewis and Thronhill (2000):
The confidence on the sample data as to what extent it represents the characteristics of the population;
The accuracy with which the sample data estimates various population parameters; and
(iii) The nature of statistical analyses undertaken.
According to Huber and Power (1985), the 'key informant' approach for obtaining quantitative data on organizational properties is widespread in organizational and strategic management research, but they warn that its use requires careful consideration of certain issues to reduce potential measurement error. Table 3.5 summarizes the extent to which these guidelines are followed in this study to demonstrate that as far as possible the data was free from informant-specific measurement error.
Table 3.5 Key Informant Approach to the Measurement of Organizational Properties
How was Reflected in This Study
If only one informant, then attempt to identify the most informative person
Most of the informants were the head of the CSR, environment and other related departments or the senior level managers
Recognize the role of person's emotional involvement with the subject
Informants were involved with strategic issues related to research constructs and therefore have a keen interest with the subject.
Attempt to motivate informants to cooperate with the study seriously
All participants have been informed that the summary of the findings will be circulated
Minimize elapsed time
Informants were requested to provide inputs in designated time frame
Assess the impact of alternate framing of questions
Discussion organized at the initial stage to resolve the questionnaire format
Use pre tested and structured questions
Followed in the questionnaire development; most were selected questions with valid measurement properties
Based on Huber and Power (1985)
Validity & Reliability
According to Yin (1994), four tests are commonly used to establish the quality of any empirical social research such as construct validity, internal validity, external validity and reliability. Validity generally focuses on the question as to whether the measurement device indicates what it aims to measure.
Reliability focuses on the question of whether the measurement device produces consistent results across observations, providing the researcher with a way of assessing the trustworthiness of the findings (Martella et al., 1999). The empirical assessment for capturing the perceptions and views of managers on the understanding of sustainability issues in steel industries was conducted in Chapter 4 based on the samples taken from the various countries. The population of this study was made up of large sized steel companies world-wide. An unbiased sample of steel companies was obtained from International Iron and Steel Institute. The reason for exclusion of small steel companies was that the issues related to sustainable practices might not be much relevant to very small steel companies. Questionnaires were distributed to 120 managers of 48 steel companies' world wide. The target was to collect at least 40 completed questionnaires. Initially, only about 28 questionnaires were returned. Reminder letters were mailed to the individuals that had not participated. Finally, the number of returned questionnaire approached the figure of 50.
However, it was heartening to find that one in three managers did show requisite enthusiasm in the study by spending an average executive time of one hour. Some managers discussed the various points on the telephone. Many executives wrote additional comments that were insightful.
Specific research outlined in Chapter 5 was carried out as a case study on stakeholder-organisational relationship at a typical steel plant in India. The sample size of 300 for distribution of questionnaire to managers of steel plant and 120 for stakeholders, respectively, was chosen. The target was to collect at least 100 questionnaires from managers and 40 questionnaires from stakeholders.
In Chapter 6, Sustainability Management System was developed for a typical steel plant. Subsequent to development and implementation of sustainability management system at a steel plant, a tool for monitoring and assessing sustainability in steel industry has been developed for a typical steel plant in Chapter 7. The research work develops methodological foundations for the construction of sector-specific composite indicator. A survey has been carried out involving 15 experts from different functional areas of the steel plant under the study to identify the key sustainability performance indicators. Further, Analytic Hierarchy Process was also used by experts to assess the respective weights of dimensions of sustainability and their indicators.