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Writer's Profile
William Birchall

Specialised Subjects

Business, Management, Marketing, Operations Management

I am a full-time freelance researcher who currently consults with a variety of organisations. I have recently attained a Master’s degree in research and possess an undergraduate degree in Business Studies. During my spare time I tend to read about current affairs, technology, politics and philosophy. I have a keen interest in learning and researching is one of my greatest passions. Before taking up my position as a researcher, I worked in retail banking for several years which involved working in numerous job positions including a managerial role.

Research design: business intelligence

Research design assignment


This paper debates the building blocks to achieving a cohesive research design. Also, this paper is intended to be used for a dissertation project. In brief, the intended research proposes to focus on ethical issues within the area of Business Intelligence (BI) and how it is used. In order to plan a research design, the first item relates to the construction of research questions (followed by examples). The next step entails which methodological approach to follow. A strong case is put forward in favour of a qualitative approach. The main strengths of this approach are to answer the research questions in detail, and to suit the nature of the investigation. With a qualitative approach being preferable, the data collection method is chosen as asynchronous e-interviewing. This particular method carries many advantages, but most importantly it provides an anonymity factor when questioning the issue of ethics. Lastly, the analysis tool, ‘Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis’, is put forward as a suitable method into providing a rich and meaningful picture of the data that has been gathered, thus addressing the epistemology of the research design as a whole.

Research question construction

Blaikie (2007) states that constructing a research problem is a fundamental starting point to creating some boundaries to what the researcher actually intends to perform. This is achieved by signposting what will be studied and a set of boundary markers to delimit the territory to be covered. Following Blaikie’s (2007) guidance, the actual research problem is based on ethical implications of using such technologies associated with BI. Corporate scandals are all too evident in the mass media, which carry significant ethical implications (Wade, 1988; Jones and Kavanagh, 1996). If we think of the recent United Kingdom banking failures (The Guardian, 2008) questions remain about how decisions were made within these organisations. Speculation remains around how banks govern their operations especially with the failings that occurred in 2008. Examining how organisations gather data and use information from within the company may provide some understanding about the implications of the processes used in organisations. Using the example of banks, we see the how the adaption of new technologies is used to meet the demands of the market and customers (Onwindows, 2011). Do we completely understand these technologies or are they morally opaque, as noted by Brey (2004).
The following research questions have been formulated as a starting point for this particular research project:

  1. What are the ethical implications of using BI technologies?
  2. How does BI work in organisations?
  3. What are the decision-making processes that users of BI go through?

Kaplan (1964) defined methodology as “the study – the description, the explanation, and the justification – of methods, and not the methods themselves”. In Kaplan’s terms, the aim of methodology is to describe and analyse methods, throwing light on their limitations and resources, clarifying their presuppositions and consequences to help us understand, in the broadest possible terms, not the products of scientific inquiry but the process itself. To being with, a description and explanation of the research design is put forward to give some justification.
The research design proposes to follow a qualitative approach with the research context in mind (ethics and BI). Using a qualitative approach argued by Helman (1991) provides the most useful means of understanding why people behave in a certain ways, and for exploring the relationship between beliefs and behaviour. Essentially, the researcher is looking at the behaviour of individuals in a certain context (users of BI within an organisation). Using a qualitative approach aims to achieve some flexibility in design which is important when dealing with the unpredictability of phenomenon. Robson (1993) concurs that using a qualitative approach employs ‘a real world enquiry’; in other words, the detailed design emerges during the study. Bogdan and Biklen (1982) argue that qualitative studies are not just impressionistic essays made after a quick visit to a setting or after some conversations with a few subjects. The researcher spends considerable time in the empirical world laboriously collecting and reviewing piles of data. The data must bear the weight of the interpretation, so the researcher must constantly confront his or her own opinions and prejudices with the data. The notion of using qualitative design is closely linked to how the researcher intends to collect and analyse data (which will be explained further on).

Data collection
Social desirability biases are considered to be a major hurdle for the planned research design. For example, if participants are aware of a researcher’s intentions this could have a significant impact on the data collected (Fernandes and Randall 1992; Moorman and Podsakoff 1992). Trevino and Weaver (2003) provide guidance in that the researcher should not focus on a company’s “dirty laundry” or effectiveness of company ethics initiatives, the researcher should communicate to informants that the questions intended to be asked should centre on formal policies, procedures and organisation characteristics. If this strategy is adopted, it should reveal how company’s ethics activities, if any, vary to fit different organisational situations. The idea to utilise asynchronous e-interviewing is to create a platform that takes a sensitive approach to these challenges.
Asynchronous e-interviewing is proposed as a suitable tool to address the challenge of social desirability biases, and a convenience tool to access the desired target audience. Schneider et al., (2002) describes asynchronous e-interviewing as, in-depth interviewing, which is usually conducted via email, which is unlike e-mail surveys, semi-structured in nature and involves multiple e-mail exchanges between the interviewer and interviewee over a period of time. Online asynchronous, in-depth interviewing is also different from virtual focus groups in that the information volunteered by individual participants is not shared with, viewed, or influenced by other participants. The preference of this method in contrast to other techniques is primarily to address the sensitive issues surrounding the research aims.
Using asynchronous e-interviewing aims at using the strengths attached to the perception of online communication, which is often related to anonymity which normal interviewing lacks. Hodgson (2004), Mann and Stewart (2000) explain that lack of in-person contact removes a sense of accountability and therefore may encourage people to willingly participate. Lee (1993) conforms to the idea of anonymity by stating that e-interviewing is deemed less-intrusive than face to face interviewing, less pressure is applied to participants in terms of needing to finish the interview in a stringent time frame, and which is key to the research proposal, respondents maybe more likely to admit socially undesirable behaviour.
Asynchronous e-interviewing is semi-structured by nature which enables the researcher to set out topics and issues to be covered in advance in outline form. Patton (2002) states that the main advantage of outlining what is to be discussed increases the comprehensiveness of the data and makes data collection somewhat systematic for each respondent. Logical gaps in data can be anticipated and closed. Interviews remain fairly conversational and situational. However, there are dangers to missing important salient topics. To address this danger the research design will require some creativity when probing certain questions. Patton (2002) also argues that the wording of questions can initially result in substantial different responses from different perspectives, thus reducing the comparability of responses. The researcher will need to be mindful of the language used especially if the question is only asked in text form.

Another key factor for using e-interviewing entails the consideration of the potential target audience. With the research context outlined, the type of participants may not be easily accessed using face to face and telephone interviewing due to the nature of their profession. Lehu (2004) states e-mail interviewing enables researchers to study individuals or groups with special characteristics or those often difficult or impossible to reach via face to face or telephone interviewing. Access to such potential participants may prove difficult mentioned by Burke and Miller (2001) in organising a convenient venue, time and date. Brampton and Cowton (2000) added that e-interviewing brings a convenience to interviewing, by eliminating geographical hindrances. Meho (2006) notes that emailing also eliminates the need for synchronous interview times and allows researchers to interview more than one participant at a time, because a standard interview schedule or list of questions can be sent individually to several participants at once irrespective of their geographical location or time zone. With the target audience being users of BI, e-interviewing provides a convenience to obtaining data from the field of study.

Data analysis tool: Interpretative Phenomenology Analysis (IPA)

IPA is argued as a suitable tool to investigate the research questions set by the writer. To justify why this is the case we first need to look at the roots of IPA starting with Husserl (1927). Husserl considered one of the largest contributors towards phenomenology inquired that experience should be examined in the way that it occurs. Husserl (1927) argued that we should ‘go back to the things themselves’. The ‘thing’ Husserl is referring to, then, is the experiential content of consciousness. In other words, Husserl implies that when we stop to self-consciously reflect on any sort of experience whether it be seeing, thinking, remembering and wishing, we are being phenomenological. Although Husserl provides some insightful historical roots to IPA, using phenomenology in its purest form would consume too much of the researcher’s time. For example, learning how to perform the eidetic reduction, for which Husserl offers little guidance or steps in order to get at the ‘essence’ (Smith, Flowers and Larkin, 2009). Husserl was a key mentor to Heidegger who took a critical approach to phenomenology. Heidegger (1962) questioned the possibility of any knowledge outside of an interpretative stance, whilst grounding this stance in the lived world – the world of things, people, relationships and language. Heidegger was more concerned with the ontological question of experience itself, and with the practical activities and relationships which we are caught up in, and through which the world appears to us, and is made meaningful. Heidegger’s work was instrumental to the latter developments of Merleau-Ponty (1962) and Satre (1943). These contributions demonstrate the ontology of understanding experience invoked in a lived process which largely underpins IPA. However, this is not the only influence, as focus is turned onto Hermeneutics.
Hermeneutics is an important part of intellectual history and offers important theoretical insights for IPA. IPA is an interpretative phenomenological approach and therefore Heidegger’s explicit ascription of phenomenology as a hermeneutic enterprise is significant. Following Heidegger, IPA is concerned with examining how a phenomenon appears, and the analyst is implicated in facilitating and making sense of this appearance. Heidegger (1962) states that phenomenology is seeking a meaning which is perhaps hidden by the entity’s mode of appearing. In that case, the proper model for seeking meaning is the interpretation of a text and, for this reason, Heidegger links phenomenology with hermeneutics. How things appear or are covered up must be explicitly studied. The things themselves always present themselves in a manner which is at the same time self-concealing. Heidegger (1962) and also Gadamer (1990) give insightful and dynamic descriptions of the relationship between the fore-understanding and the new phenomenon being attended to (Smith, Flowers and Larkin, 2009).
With the rationale of IPA being employed as tool to elucidate sense-making, this provides an idiographic approach that aims at answering the research questions through transcribed verbatim generated via e-interviewing. An argument put forward by Malim et al. (1992) emphasised that idiographic approaches aim at addressing the ‘wholeness and uniqueness of the individual being studied and aims to give a complete in-depth picture’. However, limitations arise through unfeasible generalisations, and that idiographic studies are ‘subjective, intuitive and impressionistic’ thus making it difficult to establish which variables are important. With combining IPA and e-interviewing the aim is to enhance the notion of sense-making. With the episodic content that is generated from emailing, these episodes will be shared back and forth between participant and interviewer. With these exchanges the reflection of what is being said should happen automatically. The participant will be given time to reflect on what is being asked and they have the power to reply when it suits them. Naturally, the interviewer will also get time to reflect on the responses made by participants and may actually probe more effectively, say, in comparison to a face to face interview. This notion of reflexion is used as a key counter argument to the absence of body language and cues associated with face to face interviewing. The use of acronyms, natural language and emotion icons will be encouraged for participants to use as another way of expressing themselves. The researcher will also be mindful not to constantly bombard participants with questions and be tactful to changing conversation topics to keep the interview process fresh.

The proposed research design aims to follow a qualitative approach to suit the phenomenon being studied and is flexible in a way so that it can be tailored as the data collection is performed. The writer has emphasised some of the methodological challenges contained within the field of business ethics. Addressing these issues should ensure validity of the research carried out and provide a novel approach to analysing data. Asynchronous e-interviewing provides convenience to collecting data by being able to contact multiple participants at once and not having to transcribe what is being said. However, body language is lost and verbal cues which potentially could provide clues to what is being said by participants. This omission is outweighed by the anonymity and accessibility e-interviewing provides. To understand the data collected, IPA is suited to the verbatim collected by e-interviewing. By closely analysing words said by each participant, themes emerge from the piles of data collected by the writer and therefore can be compared for commonality and thus provide solid evidence.
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