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This chapter presents an overview of the methodological perspective of the research. It provides an overview of the different types of research designs that can be applied to research, each paradigms strengths and weaknesses followed by an outline of the approach taken. The research methodology section provides a detailed look at the chosen methodologies.
Research design can be considered as a “blueprint” for research. It deals with problems such as: which questions to study, which data are relevant, what data to collect, and how to analyse the results (Adèr et al. 2008). Hence it can be said its role is to connect the research questions to data, showing how they will be connected and the tools and procedures which will be adopted to achieve this objective. The design is the structure of any piece of empirical research which gives direction and systematizes the research. Different types of research designs have different advantages and disadvantages and the methods you select will influence your results and conclusions. Reliable observations that can assist the understanding of a phenomenon are of key interest.
There are three main approaches to a research problem:
Quantitative research approach
Qualitative research approach
Mixed research approach
Quantitative research approach
Quantitative methods can be found in all social sciences where a measurement is involved. They measure the before and the after states of a research entity and record the difference between them or capture a “snapshot” (in example a survey questionnaire) of the present state. The analysis of these measures typically involves statistics and results are generally presented using statistics also.
Table :Common Quantitative Research Methods (Source:(Porcino and Verhoef 2010))
Qualitative research approach
Unlike quantitative methods, which generate numerical measures, qualitative research is primarily concerned with analysis of language and text to develop an appropriate understanding of the research subject from multiple view points. The most frequent form is recorded interviews which are transcribed for analysis. Depending on the aim and the approach taken, the analysis can produce results that vary from simple descriptions and basic interpretations to theory or abstraction of contextual data. These findings are shared in the form of written descriptions and summaries supported by examples sourced from the data (Porcino and Verhoef 2010). There are four main types of qualitative research:
Table : Qualitative research methods (sourced in part from: B. Johnson and Christensen (2004)& Creswell (2002))
Mixed research approach
Tashakkori and Teddlie (2002) describe mixed methods research as focusing on combining quantitative and qualitative research within one study. Researchers who employ this methodology apply philosophical assumptions along with methods of inquiry. It focuses on collecting, analysing, and mixing both quantitative and qualitative data in a single study or series of studies (Creswell 2002).
Paradigm Strengths and Weaknesses
According to Experiment-Resources (2012) a scientific paradigm can be defined as:
“A framework containing all of the commonly accepted views about a subject, a structure of what direction research should take and how it should be performed.”
For the majority of the 20th century quantitative has been the dominant paradigm with qualitative only coming of age as a real alternative during the 1980s. Mixed research while being conducted by practicing researchers as far as the 1950s has only gained real validity as a paradigm in more recent times with the release of such books as the “Handbook of Mixed Methods in Social and Behavioural Research” by Tashakkori and Teddlie (2002). R. B. Johnson and Onwuegbuzie (2004) emphasize that quantitative research calls for researchers to:
“Eliminate their biases, remain emotionally detached and uninvolved with the objects of study and test or empirically justify their stated hypotheses”
Qualitative researcher on the other hand supports a constructive or interpretive paradigm and Creswell (1994) describes it as:
“an inquiry process of understanding based on distinct methodological traditions of inquiry that explore a social or human problem. To builds a complex, holistic picture, analyzes words, reports detailed views of informants, and conducts the study in a natural setting”
Both qualitative and quantitative methodologies have their strengths and weaknesses. Qualitative research permits in depth and detailed analyses of selected issues, without the constraint of predetermined categories enabling depth, openness, and detail. Quantitative research on the other hand, requires the utilization of standardized instruments so the varying perspectives and experiences of people can fit a limited number of predetermined response categories, to which numbers are assigned (Patton 2001). The main differences between these are portrayed in Table : Characteristics of Qualitative and Quantitative Research (source: wordpress) below.
Table : Characteristics of Qualitative and Quantitative Research (source: wordpress)
The advantage of a quantitative research method is it enables the reaction of a large quantity of persons to be measured and analysed to a limited set of questions, facilitating comparison and statistical aggregation of the data. This gives a broad generalizable, set of findings presented succinctly and parsimoniously (Patton 1990). By contrast, a qualitative research method can produce an array of detailed information about a limited number of persons or cases. This improves the understanding but reduces generalization (Patton 1990). One method to minimise the disadvantages of each retrospective method and strengthen the research design is to utilize both qualitative and quantitative methods in the research program.
Mixed method research is a broad type of research in which both quantitative and qualitative methods, techniques, and characteristics are combined in one overall study. One of the major goals for a researcher who carry out mixed research is making sure the mix of quantitative and qualitative research methods, paradigm characteristics, and procedures; complement strengths and lessen weaknesses in the study. When different approaches provide the same result, you obtain “corroboration” which results in improved evidence to support findings. Other important aspects which can result from carrying out mixed research include the ability to expand results, or discover something which otherwise would have been missed by a single approach. Based on the research objectives proposed in this investigation, the research approach of a literature review, a questionnaire survey, and a case study incorporating structured interviews, was adopted. It was envisaged by the author that the combination of these approaches would provide the highest probability of successfully meeting the objectives of the research. Figure provides an overview of the research methods.
The Research Methods
The section outlines the procedural framework used for the research. It provides an overview of the research methods which will be employed to gathered evidence to support or reject the stated hypothesis.
The first objective of this thesis is “To critically analyse the existing body of literature relating to Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)”. A literature review is a process of achieving this objective as it enables a critical and in depth evaluation of the previous research in this area. The synopsis should enable anybody reading the thesis to understand why this particular research program was pursued.
The search for ‘Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)’ within the W.I.T. library database returned over 8000 hits. This was further refined to be limited to articles from scholarly publications, including peer-review, the subject term “life cycle assessment” and year of publication (between 2002 and 2012). This reduced the number to 1,248 papers, which were further broken down into areas of relevance such as history, methodological aspects, marketing etc. The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment was the other primary source considered because of its singular devotion to Life Cycle Assessment. Again similar criteria were applied. The highest cited papers were then selected and reviewed, along with recent additions to the body of knowledge which were deemed to be of merit. These formed the main body of the literature review, with papers of particular relevance prior to 2002 making up the balance.
The literature review helped to provide a detailed understanding of the various aspects of LCA at present and how it fits within industries. It helped identified the concepts behind LCA and the main issues it faces to establish itself as a tool of worth. It also provided insight into the marketing aspects of LCA and the potential rewards which can be accrued from a business perspective.
What is case study research? Eisenhardt (1989) argues that the understanding of phenomena can be attained via a case study approach and Yin (2002) describes it as being:
“an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context”.
The decisive factor in defining a study as a case study is the choice of the individual unit of study and the setting of its boundaries (Flyvbjerg 2005). By choosing to do a case study, it becomes more about what is being studied rather than the methodology chosen. Qualitative or quantitative, analytical or hermeneutical, or a combination of these can be used to study the individual unit. Mintzberg’s (1979) argues in favour of ‘direct’ research in an organisational setting and Yin (2002) highlights that a case study is particularly good for examining “why” as well as “how” and “what” questions being asked about a contemporary set of events over which the investigator has little or no control. Thus it can be said that case studies are a valuable method to observe the world around us. It is important to understand case study research can be based on any mix of quantitative and qualitative approaches and is not strictly for qualitative research paradigms. Typically, it entails multiple data sources which can include: direct observations, interviews, and documents (J. Rowley 2002). The most testing aspect of the use of case study research is raising the investigation from a descriptive account of ‘what happens’ to a worthwhile piece of research that can be an addition to the existing body of knowledge.
The second objective of this thesis “To assess the difficult in implanting an LCA, To examine what benefits can be gained via implementing a streamline LCA and to gathered participant views with regards awareness, attitudes, obstacles, incentives and the role LCA can play” can be resolved via the case study method.
Case study methodology
It should be noted before I proceed, that while extensive LCAs have been made, a complete quantitative LCA has not yet been achieve nor is it ever likely to be. Gathering a complete data set for such is near impossible. To conducting a extensive LCA is a feat in itself and only practical with no limitations to time, expense, data availability etcâ€¦. As all these commodities are in very short supply for this research a much quicker and cheaper alternative approach was going to have to be adopted. A Streamlined LCA was chosen; this rapid but still rigorous alternative to the ISO LCA approach, minimising data collection and uses generic data where feasible. Such approaches are being increasingly adopted for items such as eco-labels. It has been reported that up to 80% of a company environmental issues can be identified in a fraction of the time utilising this approach.
To perform this streamlined approach in the most efficient complete manner possible, SimaPro software was adopted due to its extensive databases and conformity to the ISO 14040/44 procedures.
Case study selection
It was envisaged that the case study to be considered should be one that the reader could relate to; a product that impacts many individuals on a day to day basis. As a result it was determined that a medical device would be an interesting item to assess, due to its growing relevance within society and its far reaching impact on everyday life. A list of suitable products was drawn up and numerous companies were contacted with the project scope. While interest was shown, it became apparent relatively quickly that it would be very difficult to get a member from this sector to agree to such a study due to informational requirements set out within the scope. A secondary area of interest which had equally if not more wide reaching significances was reviewed, the toy sector. Every household, and its occupants are stakeholders within this sector, and environmentally friendly, toxic free toys are fast becoming
customer requirements as greater knowledge of potential ills from unsavoury elements become known. A project scope was sent to a local manufacturer Hasbro’s and agreement was reached to carry out a streamline LCA on one of their popular products Monopoly J1 with the view to highlighting environmental hotspots and improving the design from an environmental perspective.
Figure : Monopoly
The toy sector overview
The variety of products in the toy sector is vast: cars, lego, dolls, puzzles, board games etc. As a result the success of the toy sector depends heavily on its capacity to innovate and adapt to consumer preferences. The main players to be found within the toy sector are importers, assemblers (combine parts manufactured by suppliers) and manufacturers (produce their own) with the leading toy producer at present being China, controlling a massive 70% of the market
Figure : Toys (Source: www.ukas.com)
share (Herranz 2006). The main regions for toy production in Europe include France, Germany, Italy and Spain with other regions where toys are economically important including Waterford in Ireland; Billund in Denmark; Malta; and Silesia in Poland among others. The overall retail market for traditional toys (video games are not included) in the European Union (EU) totalled â‚¬15.5 billion in 2010, 2% down on 2009 (T.I.E. 2010). Infant/preschool toys were the leading toy category in 2010 with almost 20% market share, with games/puzzles (11.9%), dolls (11.1%) and outdoor and sports toys (10.9%) being the other main players (T.I.E. 2010). Toys in general are incorporating more electronic components as they become more accessible from a cost perspective. This has resulted in more complex toys which are difficult to maintain, repair and recycle. As a result replacement often becoming the preferred option. Toy companies are not very active when it comes to protecting of the environment, while some have taken the first steps such as the addition of an environmental manager and ISO 14001 certification; very few have incorporated environmental criteria in the design of their products.
Environmental analysis of toys
Priorities for environmental improvement of toys will include:
Minimise the amount and range of materials used: Less consumption means reduced environmental impacts throughout the toys lifecycle and a reduced variation in materials used simplifies processing and recycling of the toy.
Utilise materials which have a low environmental impact: Through the use of an environmental analysis tool materials with a lower environmental impact can be selected.
Minimise the quantity of primary packaging used: In many cases toy packaging is over-sized. From an environmental perspective reducing the amount of materials used to a minimum or manufacturing packaging for dual purpose or reuse can extend it useful life.
After the eco design has been completed a revised impact analysis is to be completed to review improvements from an environmental perspective.
Semi Structured interview
The final element of the case study will involve a semi structured interview to gather participant views with regards the process; did they find it beneficial, has it increased their awareness, has their attitude to LCA changed, and has their knowledge of obstacles, incentives and the role
Figure : Interview (Source: WordPress)
LCA can play being enhanced. It is hoped these findings will develop and strengthen findings from the questionnaire element. The interview schedule was dived into three phases. 1: warm up 2: focus and 3: closing (Chan and Hawkins 2010):
In the “warm up” phase an overview of the purpose, intended uses for the interview data and the measures taken to protect confidentiality and anonymity were provided. Also permission for note-taking and to record the interview was sought. A few easy to answer background questions are asked first, such as the interviewee’s job title and responsibilities, time with the organisation, etc. to build trust and allow the interviewee to get in the interviewing mindset.
The “focus” stage is the longest stage and includes questions about the participant views on life cycle assessment, motivations to adopt, applications and benefits, technical and commercial feasibility, marketing potential and finally role of regulatory, economic and informational instruments in decisions to adopt.
The final stage “closing” ends the interview by asking the participant if they would like to add anything relating to what role they perceive LCA will have within their organisation in the future.
In instances where any matter of confusion arose, a summary of the interview was sent back to the interviewee for validation. When the interview synopsis had been completed, a careful analysis was conducted to ascertain data to compare and contrast with the conclusions of the questionnaire survey. The semi structured interview transcript can be reviewed in Annex 6
According to Bourque and Fielder (1995):
“A questionnaire survey can be used only when the objective of the study is clear and not complex”
In the area of LCA implementation, much research has been conducted using questionnaire surveys to collect information ((Cooper and Fava 2006; Lloyd and R. Ries 2007; Reap et al. 2008; National Geographic and GlobeScan 2010). These researchers tested the effects of LCA within the business environment and opinions, attitudes and beliefs. The questionnaires format was used to obtain a large database of LCA information with a low level of details. The third to seventh objective of this thesis included evaluating if environmental awareness has grown, exploring existing attitudes towards LCA, evaluating obstacles to LCA adoption, assess the role green image and branding can play and examine the influence of policies, laws and
incentives within Irish Industry. As a large database of information would be required from a wide range of Irish firms to meet these objectives, a online questionnaire survey was seen as the most appropriate strategy to tackle them. The greatest advantage of an online questionnaire survey is its lower cost compared to other methods. Online questionnaires also have sample-related advantages including: geographic coverage, larger samples, and wider coverage within a sample population.
Figure : Survey (source:www.surveytool.com)
Questionnaires have been used by researchers to gather data for quiet some time. A well designed questionnaire is seen as the key to success with regards to surveys. When researchers develop questionnaires for data collection, they do so based on their own research criteria; hence, their questionnaires can differ vastly. With regard to the research in hand, several questionnaires were examines but none fully met the research requirements. As a result, it was necessary to develop a new questionnaire. Good insight into questionnaire development was gained from reviewing other practitioner’s attempts, but as no guiding theoretical base exists to develop flawless questionnaires; one must guide oneself by attempting to learn from the do’s and don’t born from others experiences. In essence one can perceive questionnaire design as more of an art form than an exact science. In the European commission (2009) online resource for evaluation of socio-economic development; “Sourcebook”, six main steps involved in carrying out an effective survey are outlined:
Designing the questionnaire
Pre-test or pilot
Administration of the questionnaire
Codifying the data
Interpreting and disseminating the results
The primary step ‘designing the questionnaire’ is the most crucial and there is a need to rigorously define the survey objectives. Construction of the questions along with their appropriate measurement scales needs time and consideration to ensure they match these objectives. Segments of existing questionnaires which had been rigorously tested (in example governmental) were utilized where feasible to ensure integrity of the survey. The questionnaire was designed primarily of closed questions (choice between a limited number of answers), along with a number of semi open questions (a list of options with the answer “other” included to allow respondent opinion be collected). For any normative or casual questions triangulation was used.
The secondary step ‘sampling’ involves defining the survey population. The population in the context of this study was defined as including all Irish businesses with the characteristics I wished to understand. From this perspective it was decided to focus on businesses that had already shown at least some level of environmental initiative as these would most likely have at least some basic understanding of LCA. Businesses which had already being certified to ISO 14001 were selected to form the main body of the population with R&D and educational bodies making up the balance. In all three hundred and fifty seven ISO 14001 certified companies were sourced from the National Standards Association of Ireland (NSAI) and a further 20 composed of R&D and educational entities. All were contacted to acquire authorisation to forward the survey, assess their suitability and to ensure the survey was sent to recognised environmental officers. This resulted in a final population of one hundred and ten organisations (including R&D and educational facilities) who consented to receiving and reviewing the survey with the possibility of participation.
The third step ‘pre-test or pilot’ involved the survey being sent to a limited number of respondents who provided a critical review of the form and content of the questionnaire. This enabled filtering of the questions to avoid badly worded sections or the requirement of complex answers. The final version of the questionnaire was drawn up following this step.
The fourth step concerned ‘Administration of the questionnaire’. Cost is always a significant factor in any decision with regards which method is adopted, and this was
also the case for this study. A self-administered questionnaire developed in SurveyMonkeyTM software and distributed by e-mail was selected due to being
Figure : Survey monkey logo
relatively cheap to administer across a large sample, the down side is this selection is they tend to have a low rate of response (sometimes as low as 20%). It has been demonstrated that through increased contact improvements in response rates can be achieved, with pre-notice contact appearing to be a primary factor in strengthening the response rate impact (Dillman 2007). As such; it was deemed pertinent to attempt a pre notice contact with each proposed recipient outlining the survey motives and objectives. The rate of response has also been seen to improve through the use of reminders, so it was decided that two reminder emails would also be sent. The survey questionnaire was sent out on Monday the 30th of July and remained open till Wednesday the 15th of August, with a reminder sent on Tuesday the 7th of August and again on the Monday the 13th of August.
The fifth step ‘Codifying the data’ entails recording the data for subsequent analysis. This is achieved via survey software. Any adjustments required to account for imperfections and to avoid bias in non answers will be dealt with here.
The final step ‘Interpreting and disseminating the results’ which involves conducting an analysis of the results to uncover any meanings of significance in the findings is conducted in chapter 4.
The questionnaire transcript can be viewed in Annex 7
As with any research one has to be aware of the limitations of ones study and such is the case here also. As Patton (1990) affirmed:
‘There is no perfect research design, there are always tradeoffs’
Time and resource constraints have significantly limited this research and in turn the accuracy of the findings will be somewhat diminished.
The following limitations from the case study element were observed:
When it comes to conducting LCAs, tradeoffs are part of the process. LCAs are built around assumptions, and in this case the author’s assumptions. The validity of these can always be called into question. All one can do is provide as much detail as possible on all these assumptions so readers can make judgement
As the author has conducted both the LCA and interview, there is an acknowledgment that there may be considerations of interviewer bias with regard certain questions. However, the author remained objective and was mindful not to introduce this position into the semi structure interviews.
The following limitations from the questionnaire element were observed:
According to Yin (2002) a limitation of the survey method is that they do not allow the researcher answer the ‘why’ and are in general used to just find the ‘how’ and ‘what’. This is also the case in this element of the research as respondents are limited by the questions.
Response rates vary considerably and many respondents quit online surveys with out completing rendering their response ineligible.
This research only represents a snapshot of Irish industry and should therefore only be considered as a first step in the study of LCA within this context. Where possible limitations were reduced or eliminated via rigorous design and via the adoption of a mixed research approach.
Ethical issues are ever present in all forms of research. The research process must maintain integrity and protect the rights of participants to privacy. According to (Cohen et al. 2007):
“A code of ethical practice makes researchers aware of their obligation”
The principle of voluntary participation and informed consent were applied to this research. People were not coerced into participating and prospective participants were fully informed about the procedure and risks involved in research before consenting to participate. All respondents to the online questionnaire were guaranteed confidentiality.
Value, Validity and reliability
The finding of the study will be of value to consultant engineers, any firms considering LCA adoption, and others with an interest in environmental practices. The findings will also help expand the existing body of knowledge with regards LCA.
Validity and reliability have been strengthened through adoption of the chosen research methodology. Careful structuring, preparation, and data analysis have contributed to the internal validity; while a strong representative sample, extensive literature review and mixed method research have strengthened the external validity. Reliability is obtained via the acknowledgement of limitations, recognition and mitigation of bias, piloting to reduce errors and any ambiguity, and via rigorous scoping.
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