The notion of “familiness”

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Having (re)conceptualised and operationalised “familiness” and entrepreneurial processes in the last chapter, we now turn to the design of the research by outlining the research methods used with relation to the data collection and analysis. Also included in this chapter are the explanation and justification of the selection of the specific research methods.
Here, the term “methods” generally refers to the techniques employed in the research process to assist acquisition, recording, and interpretation of data, which are relevant and insightful as to yielding usefulness to answer the research questions (Yin, 2003). As Bryman (2008, p. 160) notes, in social sciences in particular, research methods typically include “instruments of data collection like questionnaires, interviews or observations; … tools used for analysing data, [like] statistical techniques or extracting themes from unstructured data; [and] aspects of the research process like sampling”. In essence, it is the purpose of research that determines what methods are used. On the other hand, the specific circumstances in relation with the researcher and the subjects under investigation, may have an impact on the availability or suitability of certain methods, especially when the research engages with human cognition and behaviours (Bryman & Cassell, 2006). Therefore, in social scientific inquiries the selection of research methods needs to pay reasonable attention to the settings in which the research is conducted, and refinements and adjustments to the methods are necessary at times as the research progresses (Yin, 1989, 1993).
Methodology, in turn, is broadly defined as the way in which research questions are approached and answers sought, or simply “how research is conducted” (Taylor & Bogdan, 1998, p. 3). In a more specific sense, methodology refers to “the study of the research methods” (Bryman, 2008, p. 160). In other words, methodology itself is a work of analytical nature, justifying the necessity and rationality of the methods employed in the research. Two major theoretical perspectives have long dominated the social sciences methodology – the positivist perspective (Durkheim, 1938, 1951) and the interpretive perspective (Ferguson, Ferguson & Taylor, 1992). The former adopts a natural science model of research, seeking the objective facts or causes of certain social phenomena, regardless of the subjective states of individuals. Methods like questionnaires and demography are often employed by positivist researchers, who often produce their data in numerical or mathematical forms, for statistical analysis. The latter, also known as the phenomenological perspective (Taylor & Bogdan, 1998), examines the social phenomena through the actor’s lens. In other words, from this perspective, the objective world is understood through people’s subjective perceptions. The most frequently used methods include interviews and participant observation, which typically yield descriptive data for interpretive analysis.
To determine which methodological perspective is more suitable, and what combination of research methods is most effective, this chapter starts with a discussion on the nature of this research, which sets the overall methodological approach, followed by the second section, which focuses on the data collection methods and issues associated with the use of these methods. The third section, in turn, will outline the techniques employed for data analysis. Issues arising from these processes are also addressed, such as transcription, translation, and presentation, before the chapter is concluded and summarised.

 Nature of this research

Different kinds of research require different kinds of methods and methodology. In research design, the types of research question asked and answers sought are important indicators of the nature of the research, and hence determinants for the selection of a set of suitable research methods. According to Eisenhardt and Graebner (2007), when the question under investigation has not been addressed by existing studies, or what has been done is inadequate with partial or even potentially unsound conclusions, it will be convincing for the researcher to choose a qualitative research approach. This research examines entrepreneurship in family business by investigating family influences on entrepreneurial processes in the second-generation Chinese family businesses, which involves cognitive and behavioural phenomena not well known or understood. To explore and understand social phenomena of this nature, and to start an inquiry into a field that is relatively unfamiliar and under-researched, a qualitative, case study approach is deemed as appropriate and justifiable (Yin, 1989, 1993).
As noted in the last chapters, there is a lack of understanding on how entrepreneurial processes in family businesses are influenced by “familiness”. On the one hand, according to Heck, Hoy, Poutziouris and Steier (2008, p. 318), “the bulk of research conducted within business schools has ignored the family dimension of enterprises.” The authors therefore call on researchers to conduct more exploratory work and develop entrepreneurship theories by taking into account the family role in entrepreneurial processes, which is challenging but potentially rewarding. On the other hand, it has been observed by Rutherford, Kuratko and Holt (2008) that existing research has not found out what family businesses are actually doing with their “familiness” in relation to entrepreneurship, and that a dominant theory or conclusive evidence on the interaction of family business with entrepreneurship is yet to be produced. Existing research that looks into the way in which “familiness” influences entrepreneurial processes in family businesses is still nascent. Relevant empirical work in the second-generation Chinese family business settings is, in fact, non-existent.
To find out how “familiness” influences entrepreneurial processes in second-generation Chinese family businesses, this research examines the components and extent of “familiness” in given businesses and the way in which this influences entrepreneurial activities in these businesses with regard to opportunity creation and exploitation, which lead to innovation outcomes. As discussed previously, an underpinning theory for research on interaction of family businesses with entrepreneurship has yet to emerge, and promising data for research of this nature have not been systematically obtained. As a result, profound understanding of entrepreneurship in family businesses is lacking. Therefore, a qualitative research approach is deemed appropriate. Employing a qualitative research approach provides methods to support understanding of what is likely to be found when current information tends to be inadequate (Morse & Richards, 2002). Marshal and Rossman (1999, p. 16) submit that a qualitative study provides “quality, depth and richness in the findings” and “a thick description” which is critical to ensure the gathering of appropriate data for the research in progress. One objective of this research is to provide empirical evidence for theorisation on entrepreneurship in family business, which reinforces the rationale of employing qualitative research methods, because descriptive and subjective data are required for the generation of systematic insights, with which conceptualisation and theorisation on social relations become possible (Collis & Hussey, 2003).
There are a number of methods for conducting a qualitative investigation. To decide what methods best serve this research, it is helpful to employ the three criteria proposed by Yin (1989, 2003), namely, the form of research question, the researcher’s control over the behaviours under investigation, and the focus on contemporary events (cf., Robson, 1993; Patton, 1980, 2002). In his influential work, Yin (1989, 2003) clarifies that research questions asking “what” normally leads to an exploratory study, so that pertinent hypotheses and propositions are developed for future inquiry. In this case, the researcher has a relatively wide choice of research methods, and all the five common research methods can be used, including exploratory experiment, survey, archival analysis, history, and case study.
In the meantime, research questions starting with “who”, “where”, and “how many” or “how much” are typically committed to describing incidence or prevalence, or predicting certain outcomes, of a social event, in which case survey and archival analysis tend to be more effective than others. Questions starting with “how” and “why” are more likely to be associated with operational links, and require the researcher to trace phenomena over time, rather than focusing on individual incidences. Therefore, the use of histories and case studies are often preferred.
This research, as posed previously, asks a “how” question of the relationship between “familiness” and entrepreneurial processes in second-generation Chinese family businesses. This “how” question requires investigation of the interplay between the two constructs over a period of time, as opposed to an individual incidence about the family attributes or the entrepreneurial behaviours in the business at a certain point of time. In other words, it is a range of processes and behaviours that this research deals with. Thus, rather than certain individual incidences, it is the range of critical incidences, in both the family and the business, throughout the entire entrepreneurial processes, that yield the most insights for answering the particular research question. In this sense, surveys and archival analysis appear to be less effective methods for this research (cf., Yin, 1989, 2003).
Moreover, after an inspection against Yin’s (1989, 2003) two other criteria on the researcher’s control over behaviours and the focus on contemporary events, experiments and histories are apparently not ideal for this research. Although experiments method can generate relatively reliable data by repeating the same practice, or grouping the same subjects in different ways to minimise possible participant bias (Taylor & Bogdan, 1998), they have relatively high requirements on the researcher’s ability to control the behaviours under investigation, so that the researcher is able to maneuver the experimental settings to investigate each variable in depth (Boruch & Foley, 2000). This research focuses on the family attributes and entrepreneurial processes in family businesses, and does not provide social experimental conditions. Neither of the constructs is approachable by experiments, because without in-depth understanding of the range of critical incidences in the owner-manager’s family and the actual paths to, and practices in, entrepreneurship, social experiments are unlikely to be designed in a logical and realistic sense.
On the other hand, histories have typically been proven most effective in research dealing with the far past, which the researcher is virtually unable to access or control (Yin, 2003). In other words, the events have little to do with contemporary behaviours, and often with no relevant person alive to provide information about what actually happened. In this case, the researcher will have to rely on primary and secondary documents, in addition to cultural and physical artifacts, for valuable evidence and information. Obviously, these conditions are not part of the nature of this research, which focuses on contemporary behaviours, although they do have a historical dimension – such as the family business succession and its influence on the second-generation “familiness”, and the development and accumulation of intention and skills in relation to entrepreneurial activities. As the research focus is on contemporary and ongoing phenomena, there are a number of approachable sources of information, including people in and around the actors and the entrepreneurial second-generation Chinese family businesses of this research. Therefore, the method of histories does not ideally serve the nature of this research.
In light of the above discussions, case study stands out as appropriate and effective for this research. According to Robson (1993), case study is a comprehensive research strategy that allows researchers to use multiple methods and sources of evidence or data collection so that a wealth of description can be achieved when investigating a contemporary phenomenon (Somekh & Lewin, 2005). Similarly, Yin (2003, p. 13) notes that case study enables the researcher to investigate “a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context” by using multiple methods and sources of data collection, such as interviews and participant observations. Considering the phenomena under investigation in this research, both constructs of “familiness” and entrepreneurial processes, as well as the influences of the former on the latter, are embedded in organisational and social settings. Case studies are therefore appropriate as they enable a better understanding of the culture and values, in which the phenomena exist (Yin, 2003). Being able to yield richness in the descriptive and subjective data, the case study method is effective in providing empirical evidence for theorisation endeavours (Eisenhardt, 1989; Wilson, 2005), which comprises an aim of this research.
Last but not least, this research employs a multiple case study approach by selecting a number of second-generation Chinese family businesses, which are active in entrepreneurship. Each business is referred to as a single case (Yin, 2003). According to Miles and Huberman (1994), a multiple case study design contains an in-depth analysis within each case, together with a cross-case analysis, so that differences and similarities between cases can be identified, which in turn enables more insights to help the researcher to develop a deeper understanding of the phenomenon under investigation. Jankowicz (1992) and Miles and Huberman (1994) agree that a multiple case study method facilitates, comparative study in which differences and similarities across cases can be systematically examined. This provides a foundation for the generation of insights into the phenomenon when findings are analysed and interpreted. In line with this thinking, Yin (2003) comments that a multiple case study is able to provides more rigorous and robust results than a single case study. Given the nature of this research as exploratory and phenomenological, such rigour and robustness will be helpful for the emergence of insights and implications, and add value to the outcomes of this research.

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The nature of this research has not just determined the methodological approach, but also required a fieldwork component as the main means to observe the phenomena and gather insightful data. As Taylor and Bogdan (1998, p. 3) note, the qualitative researcher is encouraged to go in the field and “go to the people”, because truly interesting qualitative data are always from the field, where phenomena develop into what they are. This section outlines the main methods used in the fieldwork, including case interviews and researcher’s observations. Activities before, during, and after the fieldwork in relation to data collection and collation will be introduced and explained in the following paragraphs. Emphasis is placed on significant aspects in the data collection process, including the sampling strategy, access to cases, and techniques employed to ensure the reliability and trustworthiness of the data from fieldwork.

Sampling and accessibility

Cases for this research were not predetermined, instead, they were selected by using purposive sampling methods, which provide “information-rich cases for study in depth” (Patton, 1980, p. 169). As Merriam (1988, p. 48) notes, “purposive sampling is based on the assumption that one wants to discover, understand and gain insight, therefore one needs to select a sample from which one can learn more.” The case selection in this research was purposive on the basis of three criteria: 1) the family businesses had already completed their intergenerational succession and were currently, ostensibly at least, under the leadership of a son or daughter of the founder as the second-generation owner-manager; 2) the businesses were demonstrably entrepreneurial, having implemented certain types of innovation to products or operations, and had been successful in sustaining and improving their overall performance since the business succession; and 3) the businesses were reasonably different in order to provide potential contrasts and fuller findings.
On the other hand, as Sandelowski (1995) contends that qualitative research should value the quality of data obtained per sampling unit, rather than the number of sampling units, because it is case-oriented and not variable-oriented (Ragin & Becker, 1989). According to Sandelowski (1995, p. 183), the fundamental principle for achieving an adequate sample size in qualitative research is that the sample size should permit “the deep, case-oriented analysis that is a hallmark of all qualitative inquiry” and result in “a new and richly textured understanding of experience”. In line with such thinking, the sample size, or number of cases, in this research should neither be too large, which may interfere with the case orientation, nor too small, which may undermine the adequacy, richness, and depth of information, on which qualitative data are collated and analysed for theoretical and practical insights (Patton, 2002).
Unlike quantitative research, which values the generalisation of samples to a larger population, this research seeks to develop empirical and theoretical insights and a “deep understanding permitted by information-rich cases” (Sandelowski, 1995, p. 180). Therefore, it is not purely a matter about the number of cases involved, but also the number and quality of data sources in each case that is critical as to achieving the informational redundancy (Yin, 2003) or information saturation (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Until there is no new information or themes emerging from the source, the sampling should continue. In order to achieve informational redundancy, the processes of data collection and collation should be carried out simultaneously with interim analysis. The interim analysis, in turn, will help to determine subsequent data collection decisions (Miles & Huberman, 1994). In this regard, a flexible research design is likely to yield better results.
As mentioned above, each case involves a family business that was in its second generation, which means the founder parent had to be either deceased or retired and not engaged in the business on a daily or routine basis. The second-generation owner-manager should be the key decision-maker in the business, even though the retired founder may still be consulted at times in the decision-making processes. The basic selection criterion was that the second-generation owner-manager had authority over the business management and operations. As this research looks into both entrepreneurship and the entrepreneur, small to medium-sized family businesses were focused on, where key decisions were normally made by an individual or a very small team of individuals.

1.1 Background to this research
1.2 China as a living laboratory
1.3 Research question
2.1 The notion of “familiness”
2.2 Entrepreneurial processes
2.3 Conceptual operationalisation
2.4 Research framework and chapter summary
3.1 Nature of this research
3.2 Fieldwork
3.3 Data analysis
3.4 Chapter summary
4.1 The focus region
4.2 An overview of Jiangsu
4.3 Changzhou, Wuxi, and Yancheng
4.4 The eight family businesses
4.5 Chapter summary
5.1 Business objectives
5.2 Resources
5.3 Decision-making
5.4 The FO-MO continuum
6.1 Opportunity creation and exploitation
6.2 Innovation as an outcome
6.3 Chapter summary
7.1 “Familiness”-effectiveness and ineffectiveness
7.2 An individual-level discussion
7.3 Chapter summary
8.1 Review and discussion
8.2 Contributions and limitations
8.3 Concluding remarks

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