Exploratory approach and qualitative study
The exploratory research is conducted when a phenomenon has not been clearly defined (Stebbins, 2001). The exploratory approach, therefore, was chosen due to the fact that the phenomenon about human resource management within Thai micro businesses has not been clearly explained. The exploratory research often relies on secondary research such as reviewing available literature and/or data, or qualitative approaches such as informal dis-cussions with consumers, employees, management or competitors, and more formal ap-proaches through in-depth interviews, focus groups or projective methods. The author of an exploratory thesis begins writing without having a definite position or attitude to the subject but the author will learn more during thesis writing and the reader can trace the formation of the author’s subjective opinion (Stebbins, 2001).
We also chose a qualitative research as our method of investigation and empirical data col-lection. A qualitative method studies subjects in their natural settings, trying to understand a phenomenon in terms of meaning that people bring to these settings. It aims to secure an in-depth understanding of an issue (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994). Creswell (2009) also men-tioned the characteristics of qualitative research as:
Natural setting: The data is collected by actually talking directly to the people in the field at the site where participants experience the issue or problem under study, not in the laboratory. In this thesis, this requirement could not be respected since the authors conducted the interviews over the telephone since it was impossible for them to be in Thailand, the natural setting. This aspect will be discussed in the limi-tations section.
Researcher as key instrument: Researchers collect data themselves through ex-amining documents, observing behavior or interviewing with the participants. Qua-litative researchers mostly create data collection method by themselves. They do not rely on questionnaires or instruments developed by other researchers. Follow-ing this instruction, the questions asked to the owners were created by the authors and, moreover, we interviewed them to collect the data on our own as well.
Multiple sources of data: such as interviews, observations and documents rather than rely on single source. Then the researchers review all of data, make sense of it, and organize it into categories. In this study, the two main sources of data for this thesis are literatures and researches, and interviews with Thai micro business own-ers.
Inductive data analysis: Qualitative researchers build the patterns, themes and categories from the bottom up, organizing the data into increasingly more abstract units of information. The inductive process illustrates working back and forth be-tween the themes and the database until the researchers have established a compre-hensive set of themes. In this thesis, nine interviewees is not enough to give the in-formation capable to generalize the theory in HRM in Thai micro businesses. In-ductive analysis then takes a major part in our analysis process. Generalization will be possible in future researches, as we will suggest at the end of the thesis.
Participants’ meaning: In the entire qualitative research process, the researcher keeps a focus on learning the meaning that the participants hold about the problem or issue, not the meaning that the researchers bring to the research or writers ex-press in the literature. This characteristic also appears in this master thesis as well, when the researchers utilize the literatures and researches only as a lens to analyze the situation happening in some micro businesses in Thailand. The main learning is to bring more knowledge about HRM in Thai micro businesses via the owners’ perspective while the literatures are used to find similarities and differences be-tween the two contexts.
Emergent design: The initial plan of the research cannot be tightly prescribed and all phases of the process may change or shift after the researchers begins to collect the data. During the empirical data collection process, we adapted and changed our questions in order to look for the suitable questions which would lead to answer re-lated to this thesis study.
Theoretical lens: Researchers use theories as their lens to analyze the data that they can collect. Apparently, in this thesis, we used the theories present in our theo-retical framework as our lens to explain the HRM in the Thai micro businesses from our study.
Interpretive: Qualitative researchers make an interpretation of what they see, hear and understand which cannot be separated from their own background. After the research is issued, the readers and participants make their own interpretations as well and this characteristic is utilized in the thesis. The different contexts cannot be suitably compared perfectly. The interpretation is required both from theories and from empirical data to link them together.
We used the characteristics of qualitative research from Creswell (2009) as our model and create the study and data collection process mainly based on these characteristics. The simi-larities between explorative method and qualitative research are also noticed. In a qualita-tive research, the initial plan cannot be prescribed and researchers, participants and readers will learn and interpret what the research discovered together in the different ways. These characteristics are similar to exploratory method which proves that the two methods can be utilized together in this thesis.
Interview as empirical data collection method
Interview is one of the qualitative data collection types. It is useful when participants can-not be directly observed. Participants can provide historical information and interview also allows researcher to control over the line of questioning (Creswell, 2009). There are many ways to hold and structure interviews, face-to-face personally or through the use of mail, e-mail or telephone for example (Richards & Morse, 2007). Moreover, interviews involve at least two individuals, a participant and a researcher or can take the form of a group inter-view when involving several participants and/or researchers (Blaxter et al., 2006).
Interviews by telephone were the method used in this thesis to collect the empirical data due to the fact that the authors could not make a field observation in the real natural set-ting in Thailand. Nine entrepreneurs were interviewed individually by one of the authors of this thesis since the interviews were conducted in Thai, and that one of the authors cannot speak the language.
As we mentioned above, the structure of an interview can differ. These can take the form of unstructured, interactive interviews, semi structured questionnaires or conversations (Ri-chards & Morse, 2007). Unstructured, interactive interviews are considered the most com-mon type of qualitative interview. The goal of this type of interview is to allow the partici-pant to tell as much as possible about his or her story and the researcher should therefore minimize his or her interruptions. The researcher choosing this type of interview usually only prepares a small number of open-ended questions which are only asked after the par-ticipant told his or her story if there is information missing in that story. Unplanned ques-tions can be also be asked to bring more information during the interview. In semi-structured questionnaires the researcher has some knowledge about the phenomenon and prepares open-ended questions which will be asked to make sure the interview covers the ground required. Conversations are a type of interview during which no questions are pre-pared and whose dialogue is analyzed by the researcher has it occurs. One example is the dialogue between a patient and a doctor (Richards & Morse, 2007). In this thesis, the me-thod used was semi-structured questionnaires since the authors wanted to compare the knowledge present in the theoretical framework with the story of the owner managers in-terviewed.
The types of questions in an interview can be divided into two different forms, open or closed. In an open question, no answer categories are given to the participants while in a closed question the answer categories are given. When using open questions it is likely that the answers differ from each other. When researchers use an open question the participants have to think on their own and can answer individually, while for a closed question the re-searchers provides possible solutions and therefore influence the participants’ answers (Berkeley, 2005). This thesis used both open and closed questions in the semi-structured questionnaire. However the majority of those questions were open so that the owner man-agers could tell as much as possible about their story, and closed questions were only used during the interview when more elaborated thoughts were needed.
The capturing of information is another important part of interviews. This task can have two different forms, audio-taping or written notes (Blaxter et al., 2006). Audio-taping al-lows the researcher to concentrate on the interview and at the same time show interest in what the participants are saying. However this method can disturb the participants and those will not be willing to answer openly or even participate in the interview. Taking writ-ten notes allows capturing key points of an interview easily and there is no need to worry about initial sorting and categorizing of the collected data. A disadvantage about taking notes is that it is difficult to do while having to listen and ask questions at the same time. Due to the fact that the interviews were conducted over the telephone, audio-taping was not an option available and therefore taking written notes was the form of capturing of in-formation chosen for this thesis. The notes taken during the interviews are summarized in appendices (see Appendix 2).
Data Analysis involves making sense out of text and image data. It also involves preparing the data for analysis, conducting different analyses, moving deeper and deeper into under-standing the data, representing the data, and making an interpretation of the larger meaning of the data (Creswell, 2009).
According to the author, it is an ongoing process involving continual reflection about the data. Data analysis involves collecting open-ended data, based on asking general questions and developing an analysis from the information supplied by participants. Despite analyti-cal differences depending on the type of strategy used, qualitative inquirers often used a general procedure and convey in the proposal the steps in the data analysis. Creswell (2009) suggested a series of steps to follow during data analysis in qualitative research. The follow-ing ones, from the list provided by Creswell (2009) were followed during the writing process of this thesis.
Organize and prepare the data for analysis by for example transcribing interviews or sort-ing the data into different types depending on the source of information. This step was fol-lowed during the writing process of this thesis when the authors transcribed the interviews of the owner managers and while looking for suitable literature to be included in the theo-retical framework.
Read through all the data in order to obtain a general sense of the information and reflect on it. During this step, the authors selected some of the literature collected for this thesis in order to create the theoretical framework they will be using to analyze the transcript of the interviews.
Advance how the description and themes will be represented in the qualitative narrative by conveying the findings of the analysis through a discussion or using visuals such as fig-ures or tables. In this thesis the authors followed this step by including visuals in order to explain the reasoning they used in some chapters of the thesis as well as to explain some of the theories present in the theoretical framework.
Make an interpretation or meaning of the data by capturing the essence of it. This is done by a personal interpretation of the researcher. It could also be a meaning derived from a comparison of the findings with information taken from the literature in theories. The rec-ommendations from this step were used in the formulation of the analysis present in this thesis.
Maxwell (2005) defines validity in a fairly straightforward, common-sense way to refer to the correctness of credibility of a description, conclusion, explanation, interpretation, or other sort of account. This definition is generally used by the qualitative researchers and does not pose any serious philosophical problem (Maxwell, 2005). The main emphasis of this part is providing a clear argument that the approaches described will adequately deal with the particular threats in the context of study being proposed. The threats are impossi-ble to be completely removed but it is very important to understand how it works and how this affects the validity of the information (Maxwell, 2005).
To discuss about validity of this thesis methodology, two broad types of threats are raised, according to Regan-Smith’s proposition (1991).
Researcher “Bias”: The selection of data that fits the researchers’ existing theory or pre-conceptions and the selection of data that stands out to the research originated researcher’s bias in qualitative research. It is apparent that the authors have a preconception about the characteristics of HRM in Thai micro businesses because one of the authors is Thai and knows some of the interviewees quite well. For this reason, there is a possibility that the theoretical framework he used will be selected according to his preconceptions. The re-searchers noticed this bias and decided to let the non Thai researcher select the theoretical framework, to reduce this bias and increase validity.
Reactivity: The influence of the researcher on the setting or individual studied, generally known as reactivity which is often raised in qualitative studies’ problem in validity. For in-terviews, reactivity has a powerful influence unavoidably. The interviewees are always influ-enced by interviewer and interview situation. Avoiding leading questions is one of the solu-tions to resolve this problem. Therefore, the questions included in this thesis are a mixture between close and open-ended questions. The interviewees then have a chance to express their own opinion independently. This can decrease reactivity from the interviewer’s influ-ence.
Table of Contents
2 Theoretical framework
2.1 Micro businesses
2.2 The characteristics of micro businesses
2.3 Micro business owner: the influence on human resource management in micro businesses
2.4 The concepts of human resource management
2.5 Human resource management under the perspective of micro businesses
2.6 Summary of the theoretical framework
3.1 Exploratory approach and qualitative study
3.2 Interview as empirical data collection method
3.3 Data analysis
4 Empirical data
4.1 Overview of the empirical data
4.2 Summary of the empirical data
5 Analysis of the empirical data
5.1 The Characteristics of Thai micro businesses
5.2 The role of owner managers in Thai micro businesses
5.3 Human resource management in Thai micro business: analyzed by micro business world model
5.4 Informality of human resource management in Thai micro businesses
5.5 Similarities and differences
6.2 Suggestions for future studies
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