Philosophy & Methods For Data Collection

Modified: 27th Oct 2022
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This chapter looks at the research methodology and any limitations or potential problems in context to the researchers investigation of the leadership styles and their effects in influencing military divers’ safety perceptions, participation and acceptance of safety change within the MOD. The relevant sub-sections will specifically detail the selected strategy subscribed to in pursuit of answers to the research questions and the way in which data was gathered, analysed and utilised, and will further:

  • Discuss the research strategy plan and considerations;
  • Explain the reasons for the data collection methods adopted;
  • Present the framework for data analysis and the techniques chosen to achieve the research goals.

Both Bryman and Bell (2010) and Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill (2009) provide clear direction and full explanation of the layers connected with research strategy and design in terms relating to research: philosophies, approaches, strategies, methods, time horizons, technique and procedures. Figure 3-1 gives graphic representation of the ‘Research Onion’ as presented by Saunders et al. (2009, p. 108). For a researcher Saunders et al. (2009, p. 108) advocates that the philosophy adopted is an important assumption about the way the world is viewed, and will underpin the research strategy and methods chosen. Saunders et al. (2009, p. 107) quantifies that “The over-arching term research philosophy relates to the development of knowledge and the nature of that knowledge”. The researcher view for this study is subjectivist, adopting an interpretivism philosophy combined with an inductive approach.

Subjectivism is the interpretation of the meaning that individuals attach to group life occurrences; in context the researcher understands the social interaction between diving supervisors and subordinates relating to maintenance and acceptance of diving safety (Saunders et. al. 2009, p. 111).

Interpretivism is the appreciation of the differences between individuals as social players; key to this will be the researcher adopting an empathetic position to enter the group world of the research subjects to fully experience and appreciate their viewpoint as far as he is able (Saunders et. al. 2009, p. 116).

Inductive research approach (formulation of theory); adopting this approach allowed the researcher to gain a better understanding of people, and their attachment, in real world situations, whilst providing a greater degree of flexibility to allow changes to research emphasis as the project progressed (Saunders et. al. 2009, p. 126).

The objectives for this study are set within the context of a military high risk operational diving organisation and are looking to:

  • Identify the leadership style that best influences military divers’ safety perceptions, participation and acceptance of safety change.
  • Explore the military divers’ concepts of safety leadership and their understanding of the defence diving safety climate.
  • Examine the attitudes and perceptions of military divers’ to the organisational and technological safety changes, and the leadership of these changes.

A key aspect of value to this research is the opportunity, as identified during the literature review, to bridge a gap in existing research to associate an effective leadership style, with improved safety: education, participation and acceptance of change within a dynamic and diverse high risk defence military diving environment. The people of the armed forces are the key component from leadership to subordinate, and the integration between the two will determine the success and achievement of the maritime fighting operational capability. The chosen research philosophy is proposed as effectively allowing the researcher to understand the social interaction between leadership and those they command, to gain an appreciation of the differences between individuals and the roles they perform, and to understand the values that individuals attach to safety events in the setting of a frontline operational FDG. This research is a conscious effort to assist the military command to analyse and develop safety leadership skills, and equally important, educate and encourage others, whilst gaining an understanding of subordinates perception and perspective of the military diving safety climate.

Research Strategy

In the process of framing a clear overall research plan due consideration has been given to the research project in terms of the objectives and research questions relative to the purpose of this study.

The research strategy choice is led by the research questions and objectives, the amount of existing knowledge, time constraints and the resources available, supported by the researchers’ philosophical foundation (Saunders et. al. 2009, p. 141). This research involves serving military personnel within three operational units in the organisational structure of the FDG. The research purpose is a practical investigation with the study emphasis looking at a situation in order to explain the association between effective leadership styles and subordinate participation, perception and acceptance of safety change within a safety focused organisation.

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Within the context of this study, and linking the relevancy of the research methodology to the research project objectives and questions, the researcher justifies the selection of an explanatory case study strategy as the key research paradigm. A case study concentrating on the FDG as the organisation, and the three embedded FDU’s within as the sub-units, will provide an empirical investigation of present military diving safety leadership within its real life operational context using multiple sources of evidence.

The researcher has identified the following reasons for selecting the chosen strategy as the most appropriate:

The emphasis is on studying a situation or problem in order to explain the relationships between variables (changeable military operational diving environment), Saunders et al. (2009, p. 140) explains “studies that establish casual relationships between variables are termed explanatory research”. Explanatory case studies centre on trying to find out – explain – why something happens.

Biggam (2011, p. 118) cites Cohen and Manion (1995) who describe that the case study researcher typically observes the characteristics of an individual unit (single case study) or number of units (multiple case study); the purpose of such observation is to probe deeply and to analyse intensely the different phenomena that constitute the life cycle of the unit or units. Saunders et al. (2009, p. 145) supports a case study strategy by citing Robson (2002) who defines case study as ‘a strategy for doing research which involves an empirical investigation of a particular contemporary phenomenon within its real life context using multiple sources of evidence’. Saunders et al. (2009, p. 146) advocates that the adoption of a case study strategy will give a rich understanding of the context of the research, and the processes being enacted and the ability to generate answers to research questions that seek a range of different kinds of evidence.

Ethical Review – A University of Portsmouth ‘Ethics Approval Form – Students’ has been completed at Appendix 1. Ethical implications have been considered in terms of this research strategy and the key ethical issues affecting participants regarding: safety, harm, embarrassment, stress, privacy consent, confidentiality have all been carefully covered and have been fully documented within that document. The Information Sheet and Consent Form at Appendix 3 were utilised, which clearly provides information regarding participant involvement and anonymity.

Data Collection

Two data collection techniques that are commonly used within research are quantitative and qualitative. Bryman and Bell (2010, p. 26-27) outlines that quantitative research is a strategy that emphasizes quantification in the collection and analysis of data (numeric); whereas qualitative research is a strategy that accentuates words (non-numeric). Saunders et al. (2009, p. 151) gives further explanation in that the research data collection technique chosen will be guided by the research questions, which if clearly formulated will effectively determine the method used to answer them.

A military diving organisation, operating within a high risk complex environment, has many sources of data that can be drawn from to facilitate a better understanding of the people, and their attachment, in this real world situation. Focusing on the keywords to identify, explore and examine it was decided to use a mixed methods approach which allows for different data collection techniques to establish an outcome from more than one angle (thereby offering a measure of triangulation). The emphasis for data gathering concentrated on the use of questionnaires, and researcher participant observation to collect primary data from a sample source of fifty-three personnel serving within the FDG units, giving a confidence level of 95% with a 1% margin of error. The rank range of the fifty-three personnel was CDR to AB; RN rank hierarchy structure is presented at Figure 3-2. Secondary data was sourced from organisational documentation.

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The literature search strategy was conducted via the University of Portsmouth Library intranet, using the databases Science Direct, Web of Knowledge, Emerald, Business Source Premier and Ebrary e-book reference library. The key search words used and combinations are detailed in Table 3-1. Google Scholar Advance was also utilised using the same key words. The military Defence Intranet was used to source and review military reports, documents and publications. The researchers of the articles all come from reliable academic and professional backgrounds; as research authors’ they have been attributed with academic articles in credible publications on the topic and related issues of leadership and management competency.

Key Search Words: Leadership, Safety, Military, Perception, Style(s), Climate, Effective, Indicators, Commitment, Transactional, Transformatinal, Training, , Occupational, Workplace, Acceptance, Models, Health and Safety Executive, Commercial, Organisations, Passive, Participation, Change, Criteria

Framework for Data Analysis

Bryman and Bell (2010, p. 571) suggest that one of the central complications with qualitative research is that it very quickly generates a bulky, cumbersome database due to dependence on text in the form of field notes, interview transcripts, or documents. The task of framing research data for analysis is a process of describing, analysing and interpreting the collected empirical data (Biggam, 2011, p. 113). Saunders et al. (2009, p. 490) put forward the use of qualitative analysis processes such as summarising (condensation), categorisation (grouping), and structuring (ordering) of meanings from collected data, and that all of these can be used in isolation or in combination to support interpretation of data. Saunders et al. (2009, p. 491) outlines that the procedures for analysing qualitative data can be highly structured, whereas others adopt a much lower level of structure. In contrast quantitative data analysis in the forms of graphs, charts and statistics allow for presentation, description and examination of data to establish trends (Saunders et al. 2009, p. 414).

In support of an inductive research approach primary quantitative data was analysed using tabular and pie chart representation, and qualitative data by summarising and narrative thematic analysis. The data gathering process included the use of questionnaires to gather quantitative data and field notes were taken as part of the participant observations to gather qualitative data. Figure 3-3 presents the adopted quantitative and qualitative analysis process for this research project. As research developed related information and ideas were recorded by the use of interim summaries and self-memo as analytical aids.

  1. Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis Process
  2. Compare Findings (Literature Review)
  3. Collect Data
  4. Analysis Process
  5. Group Themes and Issues
  6. Perform Analysis (Interpret what is happening

Limitations and Potential Problems

The selection of a particular research strategy is determined as Saunders et al. (2009, p. 108) suggests by the researcher’s view of the nature of reality or being (ontology), the view regarding what constitutes acceptable knowledge (epistemology), and the view of the role of values in research (axiology).

In terms of this research project the adopted philosophy is that of interpretivism; comprehension of the differences between individuals as group players (Saunders et al. (2009, p. 119). To support this rationale and provide clarification, this research is focused on an investigation amongst individuals within an organisation and the importance of gaining a better understanding of the differences between the leadership and follower human factors and the roles that these differences play. The emphasis for the use of an inductive (formulation of theory) approach and the link with adopting an interpretivism philosophy is based on the following key aspects:

The research is value bound and the author is part of what is being researched and cannot be separated and so will be subjective (Saunders et al. (2009, p. 119)

The authors view regarding acceptable knowledge is subjective focusing on the details of the situation and the reality behind these details (Saunders et al. (2009, p. 119)

Research emphasis is on mixed method (quantitative and qualitative) data collection from a small sample with a purpose of in-depth investigation to gain an impression of what is ‘going on at the coalface’, so as to understand better the nature of the situation.

The Case Study is a research strategy that has been employed by researchers to tackle and offer an understanding of real-life issues across a broad range of study areas. Saunders et al. (2009, p. 146) suggest as a strategy the case study is considered apt in generating answers to ‘Why?’, ‘What?’ and ‘How?’ questions which as a strategy will be of particular importance for this safety research where the aim is to gain a deep understanding of the situation and the procedures being performed (Saunders et al. 2009, p. 146).

Contemplation of the rationale for this investigative project and the use of multiple method data collection and analysis techniques best fit the influences and aim of an investigative research project into real-life safety leadership and management in context to a high reliability military organisation. Bryman and Bell (2010, p. 42) suggest that “a research method is simply a technique for collecting data”, and an essential criterion for business research is that the study is reliable (dependable), can be replicated (confirmability), and is valid (credible), therefore it is vital to ensure that data collection and analysis is relevant to ensure the study is focused and concise. The time-frame associated with this research project will only permit a “snapshot” to be taken at a particular time and as suggested by Saunders et al. (2009, p. 155) a cross-sectional time horizon best suits academic research projects of this type. Consideration of the short time frame and small sample group; key to this research project’s success is therefore centred in the selection of multiple research methods with focus on empirical data collection from questionnaires and participative observation techniques to collect primary data, supported by secondary data collection from organisational documentation. Use of a mixed methods approach can yield better prospects to answer the research questions and evaluate the extent to which findings may be trusted and inferences made (Saunders et. al. 2009, p. 160).

Saunders et. al. (2009, p. 156) discuss the credibility of research findings with reference to reliability (that data collection and analysis produce consistent results) and validity (that results are actually about what they seem to be about). The selected research approach is considered to provide reliability; the researcher was mindful of the threats such as participant and observer error and bias, which could present threats to reliability. In an effort to combat participant prejudices and inaccuracy anonymity was maintained throughout, and questionnaires were completed at a selected time that as far as possible prevented external influence. To mitigate against observer partialities and mistakes accurate field notes where maintained during observations, and embedded periods where spent with each FDG unit to gain a real sense of the situation, recording actual events as they occurred rather than relying on memory. The researcher has delivered consistent and valid research which has investigated safety leadership and the concepts and perception of military divers as set out within this chapter in the context of real military missions and rehearsals; where their has been risk of equipment failure, individual error and environment issues at all times.


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