Thursday, 3 May 2012

Social Innovation: A critical review of existing literature on research methods and methodology

Vera Ndrecaj BA(Hons). MBA.

1. Introduction

The aim of this study is to identify, describe and justify the methods and methodology used to address the research question. The study also explains and evaluates appropriate philosophical methodology, including epistemology and ontology. This evaluation will show which particular position is relevant or appropriate to this research and how it will inform the nature and quality of the conclusion. In addition, this study will focus on data collection and analytical techniques, and explain how appropriate are for the research topic. Quantitative and qualitative research methods will be the heart of the study, both are important and the differences between qualitative and quantitative methods will be explored in depth. It also will address ethical issues. 

This study will critically evaluate an existing literature on methods and methodology. Specially, focusing in knowledge development and nature of the knowledge on the concept of  ‘Social innovation’ despite the fact that It is complex and wide broad topic, involves various elements but the most important are people and resources (Mulgan et al., 2006). The purpose of the research is to understand how social innovation concept is understood? Is it desirable or feasible idea? Inherent in this exploration is an understanding of the questions shown in Table 1 (Appendix). This requires a very good strategy, clear approach, right techniques and methods, right procedures and ethicality.  The major concern will be validity (Sapsford and Jupp, 1998) this means that, the design of the research will provide credible conclusion.

The research framework known as “onion” (Saunders et al, 2006) will allowed the researcher to have a full view of different ways of carrying out the research, in order to distinguish the varied types of philosophises, strategy, tactic, approach, techniques, procedure, and methods. However, Guba and Lincoln, (1994) argued that, questions of research methods are of secondary important to questions of which paradigm is applicable to the research. Qualitative and quantitative methods may be used appropriate with the research paradigm (Burrell and Morgan, 1979). However, this research will view the guides of the investigation, not only in choices of methods but also in ontological and epistemological fundamental way. Saunders et al., (2010) suggested that, clear understanding of theories and philosophies at beginning of the research process raises the important questions concerning the research design. 

Although, Social Innovation concept is straightforward component of the social science, especially sociology (Howaldt and Schwarz, 2010) it cannot be only investigated and indicated from the level of comprehension, but also be engendered and shaped in term of its social and societal preconditions, and repercussion. The role of social science in shaping and examine social innovation is an important issue in the international scientific discussion on social innovation. In this context it is complex and wide broad topic, therefore understanding research philosophy position is crucial (Easterby-Smith, 2008) because it can help to clarify research design (Blaikie, 1993; Hassard and Parker 1993; Easterby-Smith 2008; Saunders et al., 2009), indicate the limitations of particular approach and suggest how to adapt research design according to the constrains of different subject or knowledge structure (Easterby-Smith et al., (2008). However, Saunders et al., (2007) highlight the importance of understanding research philosophies in context of knowledge development, the way that individuals view the world has an impact on research quality and outcome. Ackroyd and Hughes (1992) argued that, philosophical guidance can never resolve the problems of social research.  But on the other hand, Crotty (1998) explained that, philosophy has its own way of being interested in the world, its own problems to solve by its lights, and these are not those of empirical sociology.

However, Saunders et al (2009) stated that,
” The research philosophy ...contains important assumption about the way in which you view the world” (2009:101).
This assumption will underpin the research strategy and methods chosen as part of the strategy (ibid). Nevertheless, epistemology and ontology philosophies will be summarised because are relevant to this study and each contains important differences between each other that will influence the way in which the researcher thinks about the research process (Saunders, et al., 2009). Epistemology generates set of assumptions about the best ways of inquiring in to the nature of the world (Crotty 1998; Easterby-Smith et al., 2008; Saunders et al., 2009).  Whereas, ontology define that, the fundamental category of reality,  (Schwandt,   : Crotty, 1998). However, this view is criticised by Easterby-Smith et al., (2008), they think that, ordering of terms leads to the confusion because ontological concerns are more fundamental, and epistemological decisions follow from determination of ontology. Epistemology of social science is focus with ‘facts’ or ‘resources’ (Remenyi et al., 1998) it defines how we can know the reasons of that reality (Schwandt,    ) and what it means to know (Crotty, 2003). However, Saunders et al., (2009) defined epistemology as a
“... branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge and what constitutes acceptable knowledge in a field of study” (2010:102) 
The philosophy of Epistemology will be considered in this study in order to discover and have a better understanding of the concept (gain knowledge), and also, to enable the researcher for further investigation on existence of social innovation reality. Positivism, realism, and interpretivism are three epistemological philosophies (Saunders et al., 2006) laboured by Easterby-Smith et al (2008) as positivism, relativism, and social constractivism, all have views about the way in which knowledge is developed and judged as being acceptable (Collis and Hussey, 2003).  This research will analyse all these epistemological philosophies in order to have a better understanding of methodological implication of different epistemologies within social innovation concept, and make e clear picture what is going to the outcome of the research is it causality (positivism), is it correlation (relativism) or is it understanding of the ‘world’ (social constractivism).     
The research ‘resource’ is embracing what is called the positivist position to the development of the knowledge (Remenyi et al., (1998). For the epistemological position the social world exists externally and that all data should be measured through objective methods (Comte, 1853: cited by Easterby-Smith et al., 2008).However, Remenyi et al., (1998) explained that, this philosophical position works with an observable social reality. Although, Gill and Johnson, (2002) argued that, positivist research is highly structured methodology, it is inflexible (Easterby-Smith et al., 2008),  emphasis are on quantifiable observation (Saunders et al., 2009).  Perlesz and Lindsay (2003) explained that, through positivist approach the research develops a relative ontology and a subjective epistemology. It also assumes the role of an objective analysis and progressively making separate interpretation concerning data generated in an value-free manner and the assumption is that “...the researcher is independent of and neither affected nor is affected by the subject of the research” (Remenyi et al., 2000, p. 33). Positivism claim to be value free, rather stronger than of the ‘feeling’. However, the research approach will not only be from positivist perspective because there is not truth or absolute reality to discover, this suggests a likely approach of interpretivism, social constractivism, and interactivism (Mertens, 1998; Denzin, 2001; Aram and Salipanter, 2003). However, positivism is potentially fast economic, can provide wide coverage, and also, easy to provide justification of policies (Easterby-Smith et al., 2008).
Another branch of epistemology is realism that is similar to positivism; it assumes a scientific approach to the development of the knowledge (Saunders et al ., 2009) Realism is the “epistemological position that objects exist independently of our knowledge of their existence” (Saunders et al., 2010: 105).  However, Bhaskar (1989) argued that, we would only be able to understand what is going on in the real world if we understand the social structures that have given rise to the phenomena we are trying to understand. The critical realist’s position is that the knowledge of realty is a result of social condition and cannot be understood independently in social actors involved in social derivation process (Dobson, 2002). However, from the relativist position is difficult to gain direct access to ‘reality’, this mean that the multiply perspective will be adapted thought both triangulation of methods and the surveying of views and experiences to large sampling  (Easterby-Smith et al.,2008). However, Teagarden (1995) has criticized relativist position because it is uncomfortable for academic researcher, it gives primacy to positivistic methods. This epistemological approach required large samples and also cannot accommodate institutional and cultural differences, which mean that it may not be suitable for this research because culture is one of the key elements of investigation. However, it could be adapted with other epistemological philosophies in order to get as best result as possible. For instance; this approach generate efficiency including outsourcing potential which might be necessary for this study, for the reason that, it is focus in different groups of society and required different tools and techniques of data collection such as survey, interview, and observation. 
It is necessarily for the researcher to understand differences between human in our role as social actors (Saunders et al., 2010) this suggest interpretivism approach. This means that, the interpreter objectifies that which is to be interpreted, in the sense the interpreter remains unaffected by and external to the interpretative process (Schwandt,   ). However, Guban and Lincoln (1994) explained that, the role of interpetivism is to look for subjective reality of the focus groups in order to make sense of and identify their motives, actions and intentions in a meaningful way.  However the challenging here is to enter the social world of the research subjects and understand the world from interpretivism point of view. The epistemological philosophy is employed in this study to enable the researcher for deep and broader understanding of the topic.
Another research philosophy related to this study is ontology.  (Crotty, 2003) suggested that, epistemological issues and ontological issues tend to emerge together.  Ontology is study of ‘being’ it is concerted with ‘what is’ (Blaikie, 1993; Crotty, 2003) with the nature of reality (Saunders et al., 2010). For domain ontology each research fields has its own epistemology (Schwandt,   ) For instance: The map applied by biologist is different from maps applied by the sociology. This study will have explicit and implicit hypothesis about categories of reality that are fundamental and related in the human and social system studies (ibid). It enables the researcher to raise questions regarding to way the world operates and have specific view   (Adrianse and Voodjik, 2005). However, Schwandt, (   ) clarified that, formal ontology is to say something general about reality but domain ontology say something specific about different areas of the reality.
The first aspect of ontology is objectivism, which holds that social entitles exists in reality external to social actors, whereas subjectivist view is that social phenomena are created from the perceptions and consequent actions to social actors (Saunders et al 2010). But on the other hand, Bourdieu (1987) treated social facts as things, which mean that, objectivism, uncover the objective system of relations that determine the conduct and representation of individuals. Ontological philosophy of subjectivism takes these individuals representations as its basis (Stone, 2003).  However, Bourdieu (1987; 1994) has identified the dialectical relationship between objectivism and subjectivism.   However, in the subjectivist viewpoint Remenyi, (1998) highlighted the importance of study of “…the details of the situation to understand the reality…” (1998:35), both ontological philosophies will be consider in this research because objectivist tends to view the ‘culture’ of the organisation (Smircich, 1983). Subjectivism will be employed because it is associated with the term of social constructivism (Easterby-Smith et al., 2008; Saunders et al., 2010), which will enable the researcher to view the reality as being socially constructed. Social constructivism or ‘social reality’ (Searle, 1995), which is ontologically subjective (Remenyi et al., 1998) and epistemologically objective (Searle, 1995), this philosophical approach has ability to look at how change processes over the time, to understand peoples’ meanings, to implement new idea, is flexible and good for theory generation, and also data collection are less artificial (Easterby-Smith et al, (2008). But on the other hand it is time consuming and expensive, is difficult to analyse data analysis because this philosophy generate qualitative data which is hard to control their pace, progress and end points (ibid).
It is difficult for the researcher at the earliest stages to predict which research approach is suitable for the research questions. According to Tsoukas (1994) change will occur in all systems, groups or individuals because of the inherent nature of changes in all human activities. However, this research is likely to be conducted from mixed methods because it will provide more perspectives on the phenomena being investigated (Fielding and Fielding, 1986) both qualitative and quantitative data collection techniques are used, and also mixed method enable triangulation to take place (Tashakkori and Teddlie (2003). Although, Smith (1975) clarified that, qualitative and quantitative data collection techniques and analyses procedures each have their strength and weakness.  But, Burrell and Morgan, (1979); Punch, (1986); and Bulmer, (1988) argued that, where it comes to the choice of specific methods, and to the issues of the specific design the distinction break down (Eaterby-Smith et al., 2008).
Identifying and understanding the relationship between multiply realities of the concept of social innovation will start to revel the “…underlying patterns and order of the social world…” (Morgan, 1980:609). The nature of the research is exploratory and descriptive (Robson, 2002). Exploratory research is flexible and adaptable (Saunders et al., 2010).  The flexibility inherent in exploratory research does not mean absence of direction to enquiry (Adam and Schvaneveldt, 1991). Descriptive research in this case will be extension of exploratory research suggested by (Saunders et al., 2010). This will be useful to portrait an accurate profile of particular event or situation (Robson, 2002) that might be related to the research. 
Social innovation is complex topic that involved various groups of society; therefore, the first step in sampling is to define the population interest clearly and accurately (Sapsford and Jupp 1998).  “A sample is a set of element selected in some way from population” (Sapsford and Jupp, 1998: 25), it is element of statistical process concerned with selection of individuals or group of people observation.  The advantages of using sampling are; low cost, faster process of data collection, and also improve accuracy and quality of the data (Sapsford and Jupp, 1998; Easterby-Smith et al., 2010;Saunders et al., 2010). However, it is difficult to target all population because cost is to high and the population is dynamic (Ader et al., 2008) The focus will be in small samples of different groups no less than 30 people from group, the aim is to involved more than 500 participant and get 10% responses. The researcher will target different levels and different group ages of the Wales society such as; student, teachers, 10 top companies in Wales from private and public sectors, Wales Assemble Government (WAG), and unemployed, elderly and young people which plays a important role in society, they are actors, to enable the researcher to find out what is understood of different groups of social innovation, does it have impacts in there lives and how? Does it meets society needs, (Mulgan 2006) what is their role in this process and why? And so what, future trends? It is crucial for the researcher to get sampling right because sample data depend on the relationship between the sample and the population (Easterby-Smith et al., 2008). 
The researcher is aware of issues related to gain access with the above groups and research ethics. Therefore different strategies are evaluated in order to gain physical access (Gummesson, 2000), access to intend participants, and continuing access in order to carry out further investigation of the research (Marshall and Rossman, 1999; Gummesson, 2000), and also cognitive access to enable the researcher to get sufficiently close to find out valid and reliable data, in order to meet objectives of the research (Saunders et al., 2010). Nevertheless, Marshall and Rossman, (1999); Sekaran, (2003); and Blumberg, (2005) highlighted the importance of feasibility.  Overcoming access issues, and meets research objectives the strategy suggested by Saunders al., (2010) is implemented. The strategy is to use existing and develop new contacts, provide a clear picture of the research purpose and types of access require in order to ascertaining credibility, and also using suitable language is important point of the research despite the fact that discourse analysis (linguistic investigation) is not in focus of the study.
 Research ethics are considerate as “…moral principals…” Blumberg et al., (2005:92). However, it will be affected by the social norms  (Zikmund, 2000). Code of ethics is considered from the firs stage of research process, research topic formulation, continuing with research design and gaining access, data collection, data processing and analysis, and also reporting findings. Healy (2001); Horwood and Moon (2003); Jack (2006); Easterby-Smith et al (2008) and Saunders et al., (2010) suggested the key principals of the research ethics such as; no harm comes to participants, respecting dignity of participants, protecting the privacy and confidentiality, anonymity of participants, honesty and transparency, and avoid misleading of research findings. However, Snell (1993) indicates this, ethical issues are extremely complex. Bell and Bryman (2007) explained that, most of ethical issues are small-scale, incremental and ambitious.       
Research design will be broad-based methods; data collection and analysis will be guided primary by the grounded theory, or inductive perspective (Glaser and Stuart, 1967). The strategy of grounded theory is the, whereby the collection, examination, and process of continual re-examination of data will determine the research findings (Saunders et al., 2010).  Qualitative methods will be conducted in form of case study, in order to create in-depth rich account (Rubin and Rubin, 1995; Scholz and Tietje, 2002; Yin, 2003) and rich understanding of the context of the research (Morris and Wood, 2001). The case study strategy suggested by (Yin, 2003); Saunders et al, 2010) has ability to generate answers for the question ‘why?’ as well as the ‘what?’ and ‘how?’ However, case study strategy is criticised from positivists view because they do not have inflexibility of natural scientific design, rarely allows generalisations to be made from specific cases to general population, and produce loads of data that allows for any interpretation (Easterby-Smith et al., 2008). Although, Yin (2002) suggested that, all case studies should have clear designs created before any data is collected, but also are concerns about validity of the data which may contain the same degree of validity as more positivist studies (ibid).  But on the other hand, qualitative case study is less concerned about the validity, and more concern with providing rich picture.
However, in order to generate quantitative data the research will conduct a combination of various data collection techniques and tools such as; semi-structured interview, focus group, observation, and questioners. However, Robson, (2002) argued that questionnaires are not for exploratory or other type of research which required a large numbers of open-ended questions, but it works better with standardise question that can be confident and will be interpreted in same way by all respondents. But on the other hand, Gill & Johnson (2002) have pointed that questionnaire are useful method for descriptive and exploratory research.  Easterby-Smith et al., (2008); Saunders et al., 2010; Burns, (2001) suggested triangulate multiply sources of the data. Triangulation is a useful framework that helps to find out the meaning of the data.   Leach (1990) described quantitative data by the term ‘empiricism’, but (Duffy, 1985) has described as’positivism’. However, Cormack, (1991) clarified that, it derives from the scientific method used in physical science. Dewey (1993); Healey & Rawlinson (1994) have drew distinction between qualitative and quantitative data; quantitative data is based on meaning of numbers, collection results in numerical and standardises data, and analysis conducted through the use of diagrams and statistics. Qualitative data based on meaning of expressed through words, collections results in non-standardised data requiring classification into categories, and analysis conducted through the use of conceptualisation.
Saunders et al., (2007) have identify techniques of analyses of quantitative data such as graph, charts, and statistics and explained the importance of using these techniques to explore, present, describe and examine relationships and trends within our data. However Robson (2002; 393) argue this by defining qualitative data as a”... a field where is not at all difficult to carry out an analysis which is simply wrong, or inappropriate for your purposes. And the negative side of readily available analysis software is that it becomes that much easier to generate elegantly presented rubbish”.

However, is an ongoing debate between social and natural science fields regarding to research philosophies and approaches, non of the views have proven that one is better than other, each have own limitations.  Epistemology and ontology philosophies are relevant to this study and each contains important differences between each other that will influence the way in which the researcher thinks about the research process (Saunders, et al., 2009). Epistemology generates set of assumptions about the best ways of inquiring in to the nature of the world (Crotty 1998; Easterby-Smith et al., 2008; Saunders et al., 2009).  Whereas, ontology define that, the fundamental category of reality,  (Schwandt,   : Crotty, 1998). Despite the limitations epistemological approaches will be employed in this study.  Positivism, realism, and interpretivism are three epistemological philosophies (Saunders et al., 2006) laboured by Easterby-Smith et al (2008) as positivism, relativism, and social constructivism, all have views about the way in which knowledge is developed and judged as being acceptable (Collis and Hussey, 2003). Therefore, it can be argued that there is no one best method of developing knowledge and that exclusively valuing one method restricts the ability to progress beyond its inherent boundaries. However, positivism is potentially fast economic, can provide wide coverage, and also, easy to provide justification of policies (Easterby-Smith et al., 2008). This is associated with quantitative data that is hard to control there pace, progress and end points. But, on the other hand social constructivism is good for process and meanings, flexible and good for theory generation and most importantly generates less artificial data (ibid)

Qualitative and quantitative data are different, both have recognised strength and weakness, one approach is not superior to other and are use in combination for best result. Other limitations of the research are time constrain, and lack of resources (financial and human) because it is a large project therefore these resources are crucial. Social innovation is a new concept therefore is not enough literature out there; this may be able to limit the reliability and validity of secondary data. Another challenging of the research will be to achieve sampling size because the population is dynamic and could be high cost as a result of the geographic position of the targeted groups. And also will be difficult to get access to all stakeholders and may affect the validity and credibility of the data.

Recognizing the tension between researchers about quantitative and qualitative research, and attempting to understand it, may serve to create relevant and distinctive modes of enquiry in this research. From examining research in this study, qualitative approaches appear to be invaluable for the exploration of subjective experiences of people, while quantitative methods facilitate the development of quantifiable information. Combating the strengths of the methods in triangulation, if time and money permits, results in the creation of even richer and deeper research findings. This study will discovers and uses different methodologies, it will assist in creating the necessary balance in the knowledge required to develop organizational research as both a science and an art.  

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