This chapter deals with the methodology of this study and discusses the philosophical assumptions on which the research is based. Furthermore, the implications of the philosophical standpoint of this study are addressed.
Organization of the Research
To cover the relevant literature in the field of sustainable procurement in SMEs, the authors followed a systematic approach throughout the literature review. Thereby, a more objective and transparent view of the research topic was achieved, which is in line with the reasoning of Easterby-Smith, Thorpe, and Jackson (2015). Overall, the literature review consisted of 22 articles at its core, which were then complemented by four more articles identified through tracing citations. These four articles were thereby chosen due to repetitive citations within the core articles. An extensive overview of the search history on Web of Science as well as considered academic journals and peer-reviewed articles can be found in Appendix 1. Moreover, explanations were given in case an article was not taken into further consideration in the study. In order to ensure that no peer-reviewed articles meeting the search terms and refinements were overlooked, the literature search was conducted several times throughout the process of this study.
Referring to Saunders, Lewis, and Thornhill (2009), both the ontological and epistemological standpoint of the researchers do have a significant influence on their way of thinking about the research process and, therefore, also on direction and result of the research study. Hence, it is crucial for the researchers to be clear on respective standpoints. In the following, the different forms of ontology and epistemology are juxtaposed, and it is explained why it was decided to take particular ontological and epistemological standpoints in the course of this study.
According to Easterby-Smith et al. (2015), ontology is described as different views about the nature of reality. The most common forms of ontology are thereby realism, internal realism, relativism as well as nominalism. Those differentiate themselves mainly within their perception of the truth and facts.
Within this study, the authors decided to take the ontological approach of relativism, assuming that multiple truths exist, and experiences can be perceived differently depending on the viewpoint of the observer. This ontology connotes that the way how data is collected can significantly influence the study’s results.
Beyond that, epistemology is described as different “views about the most appropriate ways of enquiring into the nature of the world” (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015, p. 334). In this context, the most common forms of epistemology are positivism and social constructionism. On the one hand, referring to Easterby-Smith et al. (2015, p. 51), “the key idea of positivism is that the social world exists externally and that its properties can be measured through objective methods rather than being inferred subjectively through sensation, reflection or intuition.” Social constructionism, on the other hand, “stems from the view that ‘reality’ is not objective and exterior but is socially constructed and is given meaning by people in their daily interactions with others” (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015, p. 52). Based on the previous definitions, the authors decided to follow the epistemological approach of social constructionism within this study.
According to Saunders et al. (2009), the research approach is divided into two types, namely deduction and induction. On the one hand, deductive approaches are developing theory and hypothesis and afterward form a research design to test the theory or hypothesis. Most people associate scientific research with deductive approaches since it is tested rigorously and is often used in natural sciences, where laws are the mean of explanation. An inductive approach, on the other hand, aims at collecting data, analyzing it, and building theory afterward. It is deemed to be a useful approach to pay attention to different perspectives and people from the social world one lives in.
Another approach is somewhere in between the former two, the abductive approach. Dubois and Gadde (2002) described the abductive approach as something more than just a mixture of a deductive and inductive approach; it is much more rewarding when the researchers want to discover new things, relationships or variables. The emphasis 20 is put on theory development rather than theory generation. With the use of systematic combining, a theory is refined and not invented. Other than in deductive and inductive approaches, the framework may very well be modified over time, depending on the empirical findings.
For this research study, the abductive approach has been used since although some drivers and barriers to the adoption of sustainable procurement in SMEs have been known, the subject has not been thoroughly researched yet and therefore, unknown drivers and barriers and influences were expected. Due to this ambiguity, the framework for this study changed in the course of the research. Finally, the authors do not aim to generate theory or hypothesis and test these but complement the existing literature on sustainable procurement from SME insights.
After setting up the foundation of this research study by stating the standpoint of the research philosophy and the research approach, the next step was to set forth the research design of this study. Hence, as the next step, the research purpose needs to be defined. Saunders et al. (2009) distinguished between three types, namely descriptive, explanatory, and exploratory studies. Descriptive research aims to “portray an accurate profile of persons, events or situations” (Robson, 2002, p. 59), and the phenomenon has to be entirely clear to the researcher. Explanatory studies, moreover, investigate causal relationships between variables and thus, are mostly subject of quantitative studies. Lastly, exploratory studies go a step further than descriptive research and try to find out about “what is happening; to seek new insights; to ask questions and to assess phenomena in a new light” (Robson, 2002, p. 59). These studies can deepen the understanding of a particular problem but may also show that the research is not worth pursuing. Furthermore, exploratory studies are flexible, the aim of the study may very well change over time, and the focus can change from a broad perspective to a narrow one.
Based on the characteristics of the different research designs mentioned above, the authors decided to follow an exploratory approach.
According to Easterby-Smith et al. (2015), the essence of research design is about making choices on what will be observed, and how. In this connection, they distinguished between positivist and constructionist research designs.
Since it was decided to follow the ontological approach of relativism as well as the epistemological approach of social constructionism, the authors opted for a constructionist research design likewise. This decision corresponds to Easterby-Smith et al. (2015), who stated that constructionist research designs are linked to both relativist and nominalist ontologies. Therefore, the authors conducted an interpretive study in which they aimed at the further exploration of drivers and barriers as well as influences on the adoption of sustainable procurement in SMEs.
1.2 Problem Discussion
1.4 Scope and Delimitations
2 Frame of Reference
2.1 Sustainability in SMEs
2.2 Sustainable Procurement in SMEs
2.3 Drivers to the Adoption of Sustainable Procurement in SMEs
2.4 Barriers to the Adoption of Sustainable Procurement in SMEs
3.1 Organization of the Research
3.2 Research Philosophy
3.3 Research Approach
3.4 Research Purpose
3.5 Research Design
3.6 Data Collection
3.7 Data Analysis
3.8 Research Quality
4 Empirical Findings
4.1 Sustainability in SMEs
4.2 Sustainable Procurement in SMEs
4.3 Drivers to the Adoption of Sustainable Procurement in SMEs
4.4 Barriers to the Adoption of Sustainable Procurement in SMEs
4.5 Additional Drivers and Barriers
5 Analysis and Discussion
5.1 Sustainability in SMEs
5.2 Sustainable Procurement in SMEs
5.3 Drivers to the Adoption of Sustainable Procurement in SMEs
5.4 Barriers to the Adoption of Sustainable Procurement in SMEs
5.5 Additional Drivers and Barriers
5.6 Framework for the Adoption of Sustainable Procurement
6.1 Theoretical Implications
6.2 Practical Implications
6.4 Propositions for Further Research
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Drivers and Barriers to the Adoption of Sustainable Procurement in SMEs