Methodology & Method
“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here? The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to. Alice: I don’t much care where. The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.”
This chapter is focused on our research philosophy and methodological approach. Furthermore, we describe methods used when defining, collecting and analyzing data. We argue why the chosen method is suitable given our research purpose and we end with a section on possible biases and ethical considerations.
Research means the search for knowledge. Research methodology is defined as the process of how the whole study is conducted. Silverman (2013) claims the essence of methodology lies in how the researchers conduct the research that is custom-made to the research paradigm. The research paradigm is defined as how the researchers see and think and study reality. By making a detailed description of methodology, researchers are able to successfully convey their aim and vision to the reader.
According to authors research philosophy is an over-arching term regarding the development of knowledge (Easterby-Smith et al. (2015; Seale, 1999). It is based on assumptions done by the researcher of the reality and existing theory. Furthermore, it serves as the base for research strategy and deals with the function of drawing new connections to existing theory and also new dimensions. Important part of it is regarding collection of data and methodology.
The first step of conducting a study is to choose a way of reasoning. Fundamentally, we can differentiate between two types of research: qualitative and quantitative (O´Leary, 2004). Based on the fact that we wish to focus more on theoretical implications and have low data-intensity in this thesis, we chose to conduct a qualitative research. Gibbons, Limoges, Nowotny, Schwartman, Scott and Trow (1994) define this approach as Mode 1 research: it concentrates on the production of knowledge with academics working from the perspective on their own discipline and focusing on theoretical questions and problems. Therefore, the philosophical foundation of this research is based on interpretivist point of view (Saunders, Lewis & Thornhill, 2007). The main aim for interpretivist view is to comprehend to the chosen subject of research. Interpretivist differs from positivism, as the goal of a positivist research is to look for universal explanations that mostly are designed from quantitative research with numeric data and different hypothesis. This helps understanding those individuals’ different perceptions who are involved in social and organizational processes (Anderson, 2004).
When it comes to the epistemology of this thesis, we take a social constructionist standpoint. We see the world as a construction and human actions as major part for our research that needs to be understood (Guba & Lincoln, 1994). This goes in alliance with the interpretivist research philosophy, hence it is built on the assertion that no “context-free” theory exists, as humans themselves are part of how they define reality (Jacobsen, 2002; Seale, 1999). We aim to provide theoretically abstract conclusions that are highly generalizable within the limitations of the research in order to derive practical implications (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015). Therefore, we argue that interpretivist research could reflect the aim of our research in the most appropriate way, which is to understand the research gap in depth and contribute to filling it with theory.
According to the constructionist paradigm, the nature of knowledge is relative, as it is based on a consensus among individuals’ beliefs (Guba & Lincoln, 1994). Based on this relativist ontology, we use qualitative research for its explanatory nature, compared to quantitative research that has numerical measurements. Within the framework of this thesis that focuses on human actions when it comes to strategic decision making, we argue that a qualitative research has more advantages over quantitative research (Patton, 1999). We do not have a research hypothesis but research questions that we wish to answer in a textual manner rather than using numeric argumentation. One of the advantages is that qualitative research has a low degree of abstraction which most likely leads to certain proximity, which often in quantitative research can be lost. Furthermore, we argue that qualitative approach is more accurate when exploring an unknown subject, hence it’s not requiring a construction of a preliminary hypothesis for the research (Suddaby, 2006).
As interpretivist research is looking to find evidence through dialectical data, qualitative methodology is the most suitable (Guba & Lincoln, 1994). Furthermore, when it comes to HR research, qualitative data is the most suitable to collect accurate evidence on individuals’ thoughts and their own definitions (Anderson, 2004). The main advantage of qualitative compared to the quantitative research is the ability to comprehend the interview respondent’s different answers (Anderson 2004). In our case, this helps to understand how the evaluation and work with intangible assets can differ and also the similarities even with a low number of participants (Suddaby, 2006). Qualitative study also allows researcher to discover often-subconscious thoughts that are generated with close interaction with the respondents. Finally, Andersson (2004) argue that a qualitative study also provides a more holistic view, which is an essential aim for this thesis.
Different approaches can be chosen for a researcher when it comes to the relationship between the secondary and primary data. The different approaches are mainly; (1) deduction (2) induction (3) abduction (Jacobsen, 2002; Console, Dupre & Torasso, 1991).
Deduction is defined by Jacobsen (2002) as a process, where the starting point for the research is based on the already existing theory. Furthermore, deduction defines that the relationship between existing theory and the empirical data are tested from formulated hypotheses where the collected secondary data from the existing data are tested against the empirical data. The deductive approach entails a certain risk when it comes to the direct impact the secondary data can have on the researcher, as it can shape or limit new perspectives of the subject of research (Jacobsen, 2002). The inductive approach works in the opposite direction, where the starting point of the process is the researcher’s empirical findings not the collected secondary data. The empirical data are then tested on the existing theory. Just as deduction, inductive approach has some risks. Most notable of them is that if the study is to be repeated, the outcomes would most certainly differ (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015; Patton, 1999). Abduction is a combination of the two approaches: deduction and induction. It is primarily based on the induction approach by formulating a hypothetical statement that is tested first through existing theory and then against the empirical data just as the deductive approach works in the relationship between secondary and primary data (Jacobsen, 2002).
We argue that there is no satisfying amount of research within our specific chosen topics for this thesis that can provide enough data for inductive or deductive approach. Therefore, we chose the abductive approach that will result in a fairly limited research within our research topic. It is difficult for us to generalize theory that can explain the different empirical findings in a correct way, on the other hand Easterby-Smith et al (2015) argue that a single-case study can be powerful if conducted with quality data. Furthermore, since this study has a limited of respondents the thesis will not be able to provide enough primary data of observations in order to generate a generalizable theory (Rothchild, 2006). The abductive approach aims to find the most likely explanation, which we argue is the most suitable approach for this thesis. Lastly, since semi-structured interviews will be used, the abduction is the most appropriate according to researchers in methodology (Rothchild, 2006; Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2008; Console et al., 1991). The abduction approach provides a more in depth analysis of our research topic by the combination of theory and empirical data.
Primarily, there are three different ways to design a research, namely (1) descriptive, (2) casual, exploratory (Bryman & Bell, 2011; Creswell, Plano, Gutmann & Hanson, 2003). Descriptive research, as derived from its name, is about describing and measuring certain variables that are identified within the chosen research topic (Jacobsen, 2002). Most importantly, the descriptive research is working from a systematic structure where hypotheses are being formulated and tested later on. However, researchers argue that the descriptive design is not the most suitable when it comes to exploring certain relationships between variables. In case of identifying correlation between two values or phenomena the casual design is most suitable (Gravetter & Forzano, 2012). Alvesson & Sköldberg (2008) argue that the exploratory design is different from the other two designs by its flexibility and its qualitative measurement tools. Just as mentioned in the section of research approach, there is a limited amount studies within the research topic, primarily in Sweden. Therefore, a hypothesis cannot be formulated and tested solely based on previous literature. This excludes both the descriptive and casual design, leaving us with the exploratory design as the most suitable approach for this thesis. Particularly, since this thesis aims to explore certain behaviors and work actions when it comes to working with intangible assets in Swedish Holding companies. Thus, we argue that this exploratory design will be the most suitable design in order to achieve a deeper insight to our chosen research topic and to fulfill the research purpose.
The method section focuses on to explaining how the collected data, in-depth interviews and furthermore the analysis were managed. Kruuse and Torhell (1998) describe research method as a way to systematically collect and analyze data.
Anderson (2004) defines primary data as the data collected by the researcher for the purpose of the research topic. Opposite to the secondary data, primary data lets the researcher collect the information that is directly addressed for the specific purpose for the study (Saunders et al., 2007). Furthermore, primary data can be considered as more reliable than secondary data, as it is not based on previous researchers’ certain purpose and identified research gap. When it comes to collecting primary data there are several possibilities. Primarily used is through interviews and observations (Hox & Boeije, 2005). For this thesis qualitative semi-structured interviews are used with key decision makers within the two holding companies in scope in order to investigate their work with intangible assets within their business structure. Yin (2013) points out that the most appropriate data collection method when it comes to explaining certain human actions and behaviors are interviews. As this thesis aims to identify certain behaviors, ideas and actions, we chose to use the semi-structured interviews instead of observations and interpretations of company documents. Collection of primary data can be time consuming and expensive (Bryman & Bell, 2011; Silverman, 2000). Therefore, there will be only a small number of holding companies that we approach with one interview within each. This saves time and provides us the possibility to go more in depth in a small number of cases rather than focusing on more companies and access a broader view of the topic. Morrow (2005) states that when it comes to quality in qualitative research, the number of interviews has little to do with data adequacy. We argue that this will give the study more quality and most importantly a more in – depth semi-structured interview is more suitable for this study purpose. However, when collecting primary data, researchers faces certain challenges when it comes to obtain adequate quality and truth in the primary data, in the next section the trustworthiness for the qualitative research will be presented.
Secondary data is defined as already published existing academic literature (Anderson, 2004). Unlike primary data, secondary data are not produced for the specific research, which is the major disadvantage of it (Hox & Boeije, 2005). It can have other purposes as well. Secondary data can be collected in order to reach a certain understanding of a phenomenon that does not have a direct link to the study. It is essential for a researcher in order to create a theoretical framework in order to achieve a better understanding of the research topic (Silverman, 1993). For this thesis the existing theory has been used in order to establish a framework for the research topic and to interpret the findings in the primary data. Hox & Boeije (2005) points out that collection of primary data is time consuming and expensive, which is another reason to use secondary data. Although it is easy to access and is economical, there is a strong need for criticism regarding reliability. Therefore, we must use an adequate amount of secondary data from various resources that support the thesis in order to achieve the trust and reliability. For this thesis, secondary data was used and presented in the theoretical framework section.
Researchers argue that a study must be open to critique and evaluation, no matter if the nature of the study is qualitative or quantitative. In qualitative research the quality is most commonly measured through reliability and validity (Silverman, 2000). Reliability is the degree to which the empirical findings in the study can be repeated yet still would lead to the same outcome, when the same method and measurement techniques are used (Malholtra & Birks, 2007). Validity is a criterion to assess to what extent the addressed research questions combined with the chosen method actually measures what it titles to. The earliest developer of such quality criteria combining validity and reliability, Guba (1981), describes the so-called naturalistic terms a trustworthy research has to fulfill: credibility, transferability, dependability and confirmability.
Credibility refers to how the presented collected data represents reality and can also be named “internal-validity” (Patton, 1999). When it comes to ensuring the credibility the following actions were made for this thesis. Firstly, the secondary data as of the previous academic literature that was used for the theoretical framework was utilized to develop an interview guide for semi-structured interviews. Secondly, secondary data and primary data was systematically analyzed. Thirdly, the technique of equivalence was used, meaning that the interview questions are using alternative wording with the same meaning in order to achieve that the respondents are accurate and honest (Patton, 1999). Fourthly, peer scrutiny was used during the whole process of the thesis writing. Which means that we have had four seminars with colleagues and supervisor to receive feedback. The seminar sessions are highly interactive and provides us as constructive feedback on approaches and methods used (Long & Johnson, 2000). Lastly, we asked each of the interview respondents to read through the transcribed material and validate their statements which ensured the credibility of the collected primary data (Silverman, 2000; Seale, 1999).
Transferability is the second criteria to ensure trust in qualitative research and can also be named as the “external validity” (Patton, 1990). When it comes to transferability it can to some extent be difficult, hence it represents the external face of the study and in other words its possibility to be generalized. In case of a qualitative research this is one of the disadvantages because the study cannot be generalized to different contexts. However, for this study we claim to create transferability through certain actions; deep, thorough description of the methodology and method when it comes to how the study was performed (Long & Johnson, 2000).
The third criteria, dependability, focuses on the regularity of the study’s results. To some extent its similar to reliability because the goal is to be able to repeat the study and still get the same outcomes. Furthermore, this is something that is more difficult for a qualitative research compared to a quantitative research. However, the accurate and detailed description of the research design, data collection process and how the transcribed material was validated increases the study’s dependability (Patton, 1990).
The final criteria, confirmability, is by definition a criteria regarding how to make the study trustworthy. Several researchers argue that this is one of the most important criteria in qualitative studies as the researcher’s interest, motivation and personal interaction with respondents can cause bias (Long & Johnson. 2000; Guba, 1981). In order to prevent the potential of biases and make the study as confirmed as possible; effort and a thorough analysis in the chosen method part of the study’s strength and weaknesses is given (Long & Johnson, 2000).
According to Easterby-Smith et al. (2015) grounded theory is a building theory about a process that is already known in empirical data. Throughout the process, all data is compared to gain a general overview. Grounded theory is best used to describe phenomena in social sciences that has no explanation (Suddaby, 2006). Researchers must do the analysis in parallel to data gathering and repeat the process of comparison until no new themes emerge, therefore entering a so-called hermeneutic circle (Figure 6.), where they oscillate between theory, practice and data to derive knowledge (Jacobsen, 2002). Here, we did a deep investigation on what our interviewees described about their actions, what they are actually doing based on theory. It helps us to understand the gaps between theory and reality as well as intentions and actions.
Grounded theory compares interviews, observations and develops theory about a process or context. It is an open and inductive approach to analysis where there are no priori definitional codes but where the structure is derived from the data and the constructs and categories derived emerge from the respondents (Glaser & Strauss, 2009). Grounded analysis is the linking of key variables (theoretical codes) into a more holistic theory that makes a contribution to knowledge in a particular field or domain. According to Suddaby (2006:636), the essence of grounded theory is to “elicit fresh understandings about patterned relationships between social actors and how these relationships and interactions actively construct reality”.
In- depth Interviews
Just as described earlier, qualitative in-depth semi structured interviews were selected in order to gather empirical data for this study and eventually, fulfill the research purpose. Malhotra & Birks (2007) point out that the benefit with in-depth interviews is that it brings the researcher a personal and direct connection to the respondents where only one person at the time is interviewed. It also allows high quality data collection in a personal atmosphere with a small sample of respondents (Brannick & Roche, 1997). In HR research it is a common form of data collection (Anderson, 2004), therefore highly suitable for our research topic, that is mostly covering financial and human resource management topics. In order to answer the research questions, it is necessary to approach the respondents in-depth to reach the experiences and certain actions from the respondents that can only be collected by close interaction. The in-depth interviews for this study are conducted with a semi structured interview guide and followed by an encoded question guide (see Appendix 4 and 3.2.8). Easterby-Smith et al. (2015) argue that less structured interviews give a higher level of confidentiality and enables the interviewer to develop secondary questions, leading to the possibility of exploring key topics more in depth.
The interview questions followed a laddering up theory in order to create a more general picture of the respondent and its interpretation of the research topic (Reynolds & Gutman, 1988). After the more general questions the interview was followed by more specific questions to get more insightful answers. The interview was also ended with a question that allowed the respondent to reflect on the topic from their own perspectives and add more thoughts and interpretations. This allowed us to receive useful insights that could compare the respondents work role and industry (Reynolds & Gutman, 1988; Runkel & McGrath, 1972). The interview questions have been constructed based on the theoretical framework in order to ask the correct and related questions to the research purpose and its RQs. The questions have been framed without theoretical concepts and strong emphasis has been put to avoid non-scholarly talk and jargons. Tracy (2012) argue that the importance to avoid jargon and scholarly talk is helping the respondents understand the questions.
Conditions for Data Collection
The goal of this thesis was to collect empirical data via face to face interviews with key stakeholders in Swedish holding companies. Starting from a broader perspective, we argue that the population for our sampling is very small (selection conditions described in 3.2.7), therefore finding a means to reach out for potential respondents was very difficult. After successfully contacting a couple of dozen companies, we have experienced difficulties in getting a response from them in general, not to mention to get respondents to provide us with face to face interviews. We argue that this is due to the sensitive topic that we are exploring and the fact that we could not target the CEO or CFO of companies right away, but use informational email addresses or phone numbers provided on company websites, or getting in touch with people via LinkedIn that is not used on a daily basis by users. Furthermore, we faced challenges when it comes to geographical location and mobility, as we are based in different countries. The problem related to the interviews is that the original plan was that half of interviews are done face to face by one of us in Sweden, and the rest in Hungary via Skype and phone by the other. This was agreed with the tutor in order to achieve the level of fairness when it comes to empirical data collection. Due to the previously mentioned issues, combined with economic considerations, work related problems and mainly the issue of possibility to access respondents, we could not comply with the setup.
After exploiting our extended personal networks as a chance to find the right respondents, we had difficulties in scheduling face-to-face interviews. Primarily, this was due to the fact that the respondents in their higher work positions have been out of the country due to dynamic work and has therefore preferred to do the interview on phone or Skype. When it comes to this thesis’ unexplored and sensitive topic, we strongly valued the possibility to get any chance for semi-structured interviews, regardless the lack of possibility to conduct them face to face. The result of it was that the ratio of participation on the interviews among the two of us has been unbalanced. One of us with an extensive network of holding company representatives took the advantage to approach respondents for the research topic in person and do majority of the data collection. In conclusion, the need for personal network to approach respondents proved to be essential in reaching out for respondents and successfully involve them in the study.
Table of Contents
1.2 Problem Discussion
1.3 Research Purpose
1.4 Research Questions
1.5 Research Perspective
1.7 Outline of the Thesis
2 Frame of Reference
2.1 Intangible Resources
2.2 Knowledge Within the Organizational Context
2.3 Knowledge Creation
2.4 Knowledge Management
2.5 Integrated Reporting
3 Methodology & Method
3.3 Criticism of the Chosen Method
3.4 Risk of Bias
4 Presentation of the Empirical Findings
4.1 Findings on the Integrative Model
4.2 Factors Affecting the Integrative Model
4.3 Model Optimization
5 Analysis and Discussion
5.1 Analysis of Positioning
5.2 Analysis of Knowledge Management
5.3 Analysis of Knowledge Valuation
5.4 Analysis of Practices
5.5 Summary of Analysis
6 Conclusion and Implications
6.1 Answering Research Questions
6.2 Research Contribution
6.4 Research Implications
6.5 Research Limitations
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