SUSTAINABILITY-ORIENTED INNOVATION

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Chapter 3. Research Design and Execution

This chapter discusses the research design for this study, including the data sources used, data collection methods, analysis procedures, and limitations of the research.

Research Design

SOI is a complex, dynamic and context-dependent phenomenon. Therefore, a single case study was chosen for this research facilitating a holistic, yet richly detailed and descriptive investigative approach (Yin, 2013). This was necessary as deep insights into the industry were required to map the SOI process in the context of an agri-food system, and to determine how SOI can be implanted into such systems.
The chosen case for this study is the New Zealand aquaculture industry, which has been operating at a commercial scale since the 1970s (Ministry for Primary Industries, 2017c). Compared with other agri-food sectors in New Zealand, the aquaculture industry is young and does not exhibit a robust historical record. Therefore, aquaculture is unconstrained by legacy issues enabling the industry to navigate its development largely through contemporary knowledge. The New Zealand aquaculture industry is comprised of six major stakeholder groups including, but not limited to: government, government-industry liaisons, seafood suppliers, research institutes, industry consultants, and technology innovators. In order to gain comprehensive insights into the industry, interviews were conducted with individuals belonging to each stakeholder group (Table 6).
This study was conducted in two sequential stages over a period of seven months. The first stage consisted of a pre-understanding phase, which commenced in April 2017 and ceased in July 2017. During this phase, the researcher utilised secondary data sources to gain a broad understanding of the New Zealand aquaculture industry. The second stage consisted of primary data collection supplemented by secondary data analysis.

Data Collection

This study used both secondary and primary data sources collected in a two-stage process. Secondary data was collected from industry reports and industry press releases for two purposes: first was to provide an understanding of existing farming practices, industry regulations, key issues, and trends pertaining to innovative technologies in the New Zealand aquaculture industry; second was to inform the collection of primary data by helping structure interview schedules for all participant groups.
Primary data was collected in the second stage of research and consisted of semi-structured interviews with key members of the New Zealand aquaculture industry. Semi-structured interviews allowed the researcher to uncover external forces impinging on the adoption of more environmentally and socially sustainable innovation practices from various standpoints in the industry. Interviews also provided a means of unearthing attitudes and perceptions toward current and future technological innovations within the sector, and relationship dynamics with other network members. Field notes were obtained throughout the study and were facilitated by the researcher’s seven-month internship at ConsultingCO. These notes consisted of observations and insights gleaned from day to day activities, conversations, and meetings held at ConsultingCO.
Sampling for primary data collection was purposive and potential participants were identified through industry networks and existing contacts. A total of 11 individuals participated in this study. Their roles in the industry and respective code names used for referencing purposes are shown in Table 6.
The second stage of data collection consisted of semi-structured interviews, which took place between August 2017 and October 2017. Prospective participants were invited to participate in the research via email, in which information pertaining to the scope of the study was included. Upon acceptance of this invitation, participants were emailed a participant information sheet alongside a consent form.
Interviews were 21-60 minutes in length and conducted either face-to-face or over the telephone depending on the geographic location of the interviewee. All interviews were digitally recorded using an audio device. Interview schedules were composed of 8-10 core questions alongside supplementary questions that were designed to probe participants for additional information (Appendix A). Interview schedules provided flexibility to accommodate for unanticipated topics of discussion. In light of this situation, interview schedules were updated so as to incorporate and further investigate key issues arising from previous interviews.

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Data Analysis

Audio recordings of participant interviews were transcribed using intelligent verbatim, which provided more readable transcripts through the omission of irrelevant or meaningless words (Powers, 2005). Transcripts were emailed to respective participants who were given the opportunity to add, expunge, or clarify any content prior to analysis. All participants were referred to by code names on transcripts to maintain confidentiality.
Revised interview transcripts were subject to thematic coding and categorising in a process outlined by Gibbs (2008), using NVivo computer software. In this approach, descriptive, categorical, and analytic codes were developed and further refined in a hierarchal manner (Appendix B). Coding was an iterative process with higher level themes derived using the ‘touch test’ strategy developed by Saldaña (2015). The ‘touch test’ involves categorising the data by topic and then gradually organising the topics into more abstract concepts (Saldaña, 2015).

Reliability and Validity

This study employed three techniques to enhance the trustworthiness of data collected throughout each stage of the research. Firstly, member checking was used as a means of verifying data interpretation (Bryman & Bell, 2015), which involved sending participants their respective interview transcripts to review over a one-week period. In this time, participants had the opportunity to add comments or further information, and correct any misinformation. Milestone presentations held in July, September, and December also acted as a means of member checking, as they were an opportunity for the researcher to challenge her understanding of SOI by progressively sharing her insights and findings with an expert audience composed of science and business faculty, and industry insiders. Both informant review processes were able to highlight where further information was required, thereby increasing data reliability and validity (Yin, 2013). The external validity of interview data was further enhanced through the use of core questions, which aided in standardising the interview process (Bryman & Bell, 2015). Probing questions and requests for examples also added to the internal validity of interview data.
Triangulation is achieved in this study through the collection of data from three different sources:

  1. Semi-structured interviews
  2. Observations and insights gleaned from internal industry operations (field notes)
  3. Secondary data obtained from industry reports and press releases

Secondary data was used to inform the design of interview schedules employed for primary data collection. The establishment and justification of themes was aided by all three data sources, which enhances the validity of the findings for this study (Gibbs, 2008).

Limitations

Purposive sampling was used to recruit participants in this study, which relies on the personal judgement of the researcher (Tongco, 2007). Consequently, there is a risk that the sample chosen may not entirely represent the views held by the New Zealand aquaculture industry. Efforts were made by the researcher to select participants recognised as key opinion leaders in the industry, and interviews were held with individuals from most stakeholder groups comprising the aquaculture network in order to minimise the effects associated with purposive sampling. Nevertheless, the researcher was unable to contact an Iwi representative despite several attempts being made. According to the Māori Commercial Aquaculture Claims Settlement Act 2004, Iwi are entitled to receive 20 percent of all new marine farming space (Ministry for Primary Industries, 2015). Therefore, Māori are important perspective holders in the New Zealand aquaculture industry and their absence represents a key limitation of this study.
Case study research allows for the in-depth investigation of complex phenomena within their real-life contexts (Baxter & Jack, 2008; Yin, 2013). Thus, the findings of this study may not be generalisable to SOI research in the context of other agri-food systems (Yin, 2013).
However, SOI is highly complex and their investigation in the New Zealand aquaculture industry required in-depth, yet system-wide insights. The research generated rich insight, commensurate with the complexity of the focal phenomenon.
The researcher made a conscious effort to employ reflexivity throughout the research process in order to provide more credible and plausible explanations for the data, and avoid assumptions (Clancy, 2013). This involved the researcher continuously questioning her preconceived notions and understanding of SOI and the New Zealand aquaculture industry. Although the researcher did not have previous experience in the aquaculture industry, a seven-month internship with ConsultingCO throughout the duration of the research project provided insight into the challenges facing the industry and the effects these might have on the sector. Additionally, the researcher is well-informed and highly knowledgeable about environmental sustainability as a result of her passion for the planet. Furthermore, the researcher comes from a scientific background holding a Bachelor of Science in Physiology, which provided her with the analytical skills to comprehend the complexities associated with SOI.

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Ethical Considerations

Ethics application 019623 was granted full approval on the 18th of July 2017 for three years by the University of Auckland Human Ethics Committee (UAHPEC).

Informed Consent and Freedom to Withdraw

Participants gave their informed consent to participate in the research prior to the collection of primary data. Informed consent was obtained by providing participants with a participant information sheet outlining the objectives and aims of the research alongside a consent form, which was signed and returned to the researcher upon acceptance to partake in the study.
Participants had the right to withdraw from the research at any time and were notified of this right prior to all interviews.

Confidentiality

Efforts were made to keep information pertaining to informants confidential including the use of code names and pseudonyms for firms, organisations, and participants on all reportage. All electronic data will be stored on the University of Auckland server for six years, after which time they will be destroyed alongside any physical documents or notes.
Participants were reminded of their rights to privacy prior to data collection, including the right to have the audio device turned off at any point during the interview and without explanation. Participants were given the opportunity to review their respective interview transcripts and make edits where necessary. Only the researcher had access to interview transcripts.

Conflicts of Interest

The researcher maintained an intern position at ConsultingCO throughout the duration of the study. However, the research project was developed solely by the researcher and an academic supervisor from the University of Auckland. Therefore, ConsultingCO did not influence the data or findings by any means, thereby removing any conflicts of interest.
The thesis proceeds by presenting the main findings of this research in Chapter 4, followed by Chapter 5 which discusses the findings in the context of the literature. Finally, Chapter 6 offers conclusions and potential implications for the industry, as well as future research opportunities.

ABSTRACT 
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 
GLOSSARY
CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION 
1.1 RESEARCH SETTING
1.2 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
1.3 RESEARCH APPROACH
1.4 CONTRIBUTION
1.5 THESIS STRUCTURE
CHAPTER 2. LITERATURE REVIEW
2.1 SUSTAINABILITY – OVERVIEW
2.2 INNOVATION
2.3 SUSTAINABILITY-ORIENTED INNOVATION
2.4 SOI IN SYSTEMS
2.5 GAPS AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR RESEARCH
CHAPTER 3. RESEARCH DESIGN AND EXECUTION 
3.1 RESEARCH DESIGN
3.2 DATA COLLECTION
3.3 DATA ANALYSIS
3.4 RELIABILITY AND VALIDITY
3.5 LIMITATIONS
3.6 ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS
CHAPTER 4. RESULTS 
4.1 THE GLOBAL AQUACULTURE INDUSTRY – OVERVIEW
4.2 THEME 1: BORN GREEN
4.3 THEME 2: SOCIAL LICENCE TO OPERATE
4.4 THEME 3: UNCERTAINTY & RISK
4.5 CHAPTER SUMMARY
CHAPTER 5. DISCUSSION
5.1 THE AQUACULTURE INDUSTRY THROUGH A MLP LENS
5.2 IMPLANTING SOI IN THE AQUACULTURE INDUSTRY
5.3 DYNAMICS TO UNLOCKING PATH DEPENDENCIES
CHAPTER 6. CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS 
6.1 CONCLUSIONS
6.2 IMPLICATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
6.3 LIMITATIONS
6.4 FUTURE RESEARCH
6.5 REFLECTION
APPENDIX
REFERENCES
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Sustainability-oriented innovation in agri-food systems: A case study of the New Zealand aquaculture industry

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