This chapter begins with the description of the qualitative research approach and the instrumental case study as our research design. Afterwards we present our data collection strategy, which covers the choice of the interviewees and the design of the interviews. We further argue for our data analysis strategy before we conclude the chapter with considerations regarding quality of the research and ethics.
Qualitative research approach
There are two main views about how to conduct research in social science: positivism and social constructionism (Easterby-Smith, Thorpe, & Jackson, 2015). The idea of positivism is that reality is objective and causalities can be explained through measurements and numbers. Moreover, human interest is irrelevant and the researcher has to be independent from the research objective (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015). In contrast, we decided on using a construc-tionist view, since this gives us according to Easterby-Smith et al. (2015) the chance as researchers to be part of the observation and increase the general understanding of a specific phenomenon. Constructionism declares that the reality is a social construct of people (Searle, 1995). Constructionism offered us the deep insight we intended to investigate in this re-search. Our findings are based on different experiences people develop in various situations as Easterby-Smith et al. (2015) suggest. Accordingly, we wanted to find out what people are thinking and feeling.
To answer our research question with the above-mentioned view we used a qualitative re-search approach. Stake (2010) lists four main characteristics of qualitative research: interpretive, experiential, situational and personalistic (emphasizes individual personality). Related to that, we interpreted the meaning of gathered data in the field from multiple per-spectives. This approach is often called triangulation (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015). Baxter, P. and Jack, S. (2008) explain that triangulation “ensures that the issue is not explored through one lens, but rather a variety of lenses which allows for multiple facets of the phenomenon to be revealed and understood” (Baxter, P. and Jack, S., 2008, p. 544). Additionally, it is important to be able to describe situations in a unique context. Therefore, to be involved in the research personally through a close collaboration between the researcher and the inter-view participant is of relevance (Crabtree & Miller, 1999). In quantitative research it is common to define concepts and collect data from a large number of samples to explain hypotheses (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015). In contrast, we were interested in primarily con-ducting qualitative face-to-face interviews with representatives of different institutions or companies that were of interest. Consequently, instead of finding causes or correlations in the data, we compared findings and increased the understanding of Science Park Jönköping’s role in their SME network through triangulation. To fulfil that purpose, we conducted a case study.
Choice of the research design: Instrumental case study
There are many definitions and purposes of case studies, whereas the essence is that qualita-tive case study “looks in depth at one, or a small number of, organizations, events or individuals, generally over time” (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015, p. 89). It offers the researchers to explore a phenomenon within its context (Baxter & Jack, 2008). We chose this method because we wanted to investigate the SME network facilitated by Science Park Jönköping. This could not be done ignoring the context of the SME network, which was in our case the connection to Science Park Jönköping. What makes the facilities of Science Park Jönköping unique, is that they include beside the offices for Science Park Jönköping’s employees, rent-able offices for SMEs and differentiate themselves from other science parks through their work with SMEs. Thus, without having the connection to Science Park Jönköping as the context it would not have been possible for us to understand the network, which consists of in-house SMEs and external SMEs. The case, which is “in effect [the] … unit of [our] anal-ysis” (Miles, Huberman, & Saldaña, 2014, p. 28), was therefore Science Park Jönköping’s network of SMEs.
The possibility of gathering from a variety of data sources with the qualitative case study method ensures that the topic of interest gets understood in all its facets (Baxter, P. and Jack, S., 2008). We collected primary data from different perspectives as conducted interviews with employees of Science Park Jönköping, individual participants of networking projects as well as representatives from firms of Science Park Jönköping’s network (Chapter 3.3).
Within the literature about case studies, there are two main concepts in discussion. To iden-tify the type of study we wanted to conduct, we familiarized ourselves with the two approaches. Both authors, Stake (1995) and Yin (2013) agree on Baxter, P. and Jack, S. (2008) that the phenomenon should be explored in depth within its real-life context to reveal the essence. In contrary, the two authors’ opinions differ from each other when it comes to the methods they apply. Yin (2013) is concerned with the validity of the case study from a posi-tivist point of view. In contrast, Stake (2008) is concerned “with providing a rich picture of life and behaviour in organizations or groups” (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015, p. 90). The author further states that a “case study is defined by interest in an individual case, not by the methods of inquiry used” (Stake, 2008, p. 443), which goes hand in hand with the constructionist epistemology. Yin (2013) suggests propositions as a guideline for the research process, whereas Stake (1995) states that “issues are not simple and clean, but intricately wired to political, social, historical, and especially personal contexts. All these meanings are important in studying cases” (Stake, 1995, p. 17).
Stake (1995) differentiates between collective, intrinsic and instrumental approaches. While presenting the choice of our case study type, we introduce the three types. The collective case study of Stake (1995) is similar to the multiple case study of Yin (2013). For our research, we wanted to conduct a single-case study instead, because a better understanding is gained when studying one single-case in depth. The intrinsic case is used when the uniqueness of the case is of intrinsic interest. Subsequently, if the aim of the case study is to build a deeper understanding of a complex phenomenon without the purpose of theory building, this is the type to choose (Stake, 1995). As we see the network of Science Park Jönköping as typical of other cases and not of very high complexity, we chose the instrumental type as the most suitable for our study, because our aim is to gain understanding. In the instrumental case study researchers examine the case in depth and the case plays a supportive role in under-standing a specific phenomenon. The outcome is either a deeper insight in an issue, to refine theory or provide a generalisation (Stake, 1995). We think that the outcome of this study is informative about the average modalities of an institution like Science Park Jönköping and therefore generalizable in a specific context. This gave us the opportunity to generate knowledge which enhances the understanding for the researchers and gives a base for further research.
Data collection strategy
We collected non-numeric qualitative data in form of interviews. This was to obtain the pri-mary and original data, that provided information related to our research question. We agree on Stake (2010, p. 95), who states the purpose for qualitative interviews include, “obtaining unique information or interpretation held by the person interviewed” and “finding out about ‘a thing’ that the researchers were unable to observe themselves”. This approach underlined our aim to explore in-depth a specific topic or experience (Charmaz, 2014). We also planned to collect secondary data, for our case through textual material about Science Park Jönköping in general and about specific events, programmes and projects that currently exist. Unfortu-nately, Science Park Jönköping’s employees were not able to provide such material. Consequently, we investigated general information about Science Park Jönköping through our interviews and summarised our finding within Chapter 4.1.
Choice of the interview participants
The next step was to choose the interview participants. To be in line with the above-men-tioned triangulation approach, we divided our participants into three groups: (1) employees of Science Park Jönköping, (2) individual participants in events or programmes organised by Science Park Jönköping and (3) companies that are part of the SME network mediated by Science Park Jönköping.
The main challenge for the sampling process was the accessibility to the network. Creswell (2007) suggests approaching a “gatekeeper”, who is an individual that has special insights or is a member of a group. We contacted an employee from Science Park Jönköping who acted as such a “gatekeeper” for the SME network we wanted to study. Through this person, we received contact details for additional Science Park employees, as well as the contact infor-mation for individual participants or companies that participated in events or programmes. We also received contact details for companies that have offices in Science Park Jönköping’s building. We got in touch with these companies via phone or email to outline the purpose of our study and asked for suitable potential interviewees. Each participant had to fulfil at least one of the following requirements: (1) being the founder or owner of the company, being the responsible person for networking projects connected with Science Park Jön-köping, (3) being the responsible person for networking or innovation or (4) being a former participant in a SME networking project of Science Park Jönköping.
In this way, we ensured that the interviewee can contribute relevant information to our re-search. During the first interviews, we used a “snowball sampling” strategy. This means that the “selected participants recruit or recommend other participants from among their ac-quaintances” (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015, p. 138). This approach allowed us to enter the network of Science Park Jönköping and provided a diverse sample of companies. Table 3.1 shows an overview of all conducted interviews. Furthermore, prior to every interview each participant received an informed consent (Appendix B) via email or in person. The document included information about data protection and confidentiality to guarantee the necessary safety protection for all interviewees (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015).
In the following Table 3.1, we present our interview participants. It includes the type of participant, a brief description on the interviewees’ background, the interview duration as well as the alias name. The latter one is used in our thesis for the sake of clarity and simplicity.
Design of the interviews
Although it is more convenient, less time-consuming and more flexible to have interviews via phone or internet, we agree with Easterby-Smith et al. (2015), who argue for face-to-face interviews. They see an advantage, because “mediated interviews lack the immediate contex-tualization, depth and non-verbal communication” (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015, p. 135). Therefore, we always met our interviewees in person, even if that required some time is spent on travelling. This gave us the possibility to create a good atmosphere and a trustful relation-ship between the interviewees and ourselves, which we experienced to be beneficial for the depth of the interview.
In some studies, it might be beneficial to conduct interviews in writing (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015). However, to let the interviewees write their own answers would probably have led to short responses, which would have affected the data collection adversely in our study. Instead, we recorded (after obtaining consent) and transcribed each of our 12 interviews. In total, we conducted 13,5 hours of interviews, which led to 120 pages of transcripts. The interviews were complimented with field notes, that were taken when we observed consid-erable behavioural change in the interviewee.
Prior to conducting the interviews, we developed an interview guide. This is an informal list of topics and questions the researchers want to cover (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015). The in-terview guide, that includes opening questions, questions around key topics relating to our research question and closing questions can be found in Appendix C. It further shows, that it differed between the two parties, namely representatives from both Science Park Jönkö-ping and the network members. Before starting with the opening questions, we provided an introduction to our master thesis topic, how we developed the topic and why we are inter-ested in conducting the research. We took a conscious decision to avoid using terminology such as “open innovation” or we clarified the meaning at the beginning and gave examples to reach a common understanding with the interviewees. As an example, the term “interme-diary”, could not be assumed to be familiar for all interviewees, so we provided a clarification and definition prior to the interview questions. As the icebreaker question we mostly asked the interviewees to introduce themselves and their connection to Science Park Jönköping.
Based on the topic guide and in line with our research design, we asked open questions and chose a semi-structured way of conducting interviews. Thus, we did not follow a specific order and we added questions related to the interviewee’s responses, where appropriate. Semi-structured interviews are appropriate according to Savin-Baden and Major (2012) when the researchers have only the chance to have one interview with each person, the researchers want to get the most out of the limited time with the interviewees and the researchers are interested in different perspectives on one topic. Additionally, we followed the approach of Stake (2010) which says that it is often easier for the interviewees to tell stories. Therefore, we asked open questions that where structured around the interview participant’s own expe-riences. In line with our snowball-sampling strategy, the closing remarks included a question regarding recommendation for follow-up-contacts. We also focused on letting the interview participants feel that they were appreciated after the interview, for example in the way that we thanked them once again via e-mail.
1.1 The concept of open innovation
1.2 Research problem
1.3 Research purpose and question
1.4 Thesis structure
2 Literature review
2.1 Open innovation in SMEs
2.2 The nature of networks
2.3 Science parks: The regional intermediaries for SMEs
3.1 Qualitative research approach
3.2 Choice of the research design: Instrumental case study
3.3 Data collection strategy
3.4 Data analysis strategy: Grounded analysis
3.5 Quality of the research
3.6 Ethical considerations
4 Empirical results
4.1 Case description: Science Park Jönköping
4.2 Science Park Jönköping’s support for the SME challenges
5 Analysis and Discussion
5.1 Open innovation facilitation through the in-house environment
5.2 Open innovation facilitation through networking projects
6.2 Future research
6.3 Practical implications
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT
Intermediaries as Facilitators of Open Innovation A case study on Science Park Jönköping’s SME network