RESEARCH PROPOSAL – To what extent does the academic view of CSR compare with its practical application in private sector organisations?
The objective of the study is to determine the correspondence between Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies and practices reported in the academic literature, with the documented practices of a group of multinational organisations. The final research question(s), the substance of which is indicated in the title, will emerge from the summary of the Literature Review.
CSR is contemporary Strategic Management issue, in which huge gaps exist in the literature; there is no accepted definition for CSR, which remains a voluntary activity, little consistency in organisational approach, and a general perception of CSR as an ‘add on’ rather than integral to strategy.
Responsibility for driving CSR is frequently delegated to Public Relations, few marketing departments focus on its potential contribution to performance, but the number of Corporate Reputation Officers is increasing.
This paper overviews the proposed research and concludes with a critical in-depth evaluation of the research methods used, by a key secondary source.
Research Project and Design
Academic literature highlights tensions between maximising stakeholder value and social responsibilities. The review will include:
Papers on Social Contract Theory and Organisational Legitimacy that underlie a firm’s “corporate social and environmental disclosure policies” (Kohr, 2007 p.2). These explore the variety of motivations for disclosure, pro- and anti- CSR lobbies, examining whether disclosure is a tactic to influence and manage powerful stakeholders, therefore gaining their commitment as a means of organisational survival.
Another section of the literature examines the potential benefits of integrating CSR into corporate strategy. Porter and Kramer (2006) argue that attempts at CSR are fragmented; perceived as a cost, constraint or charitable deed. They propose a new business model and suggest a framework for integrating CSR strategically. The authors state that few organisations have systematically examined the type of CSR initiatives that would drive their business forward and simultaneously assist them in enhancing performance; those that have can demonstrate improvements in innovative practices, cost savings and a leaner supply chain. Piercy and Lane (2009) investigate how CSR is reshaping the strategic marketing environment and foresee CSR as increasingly important in retaining competitive position, and sourcing new forms of competitive strength. By focusing on practical sales/marketing perspectives, the research addresses positive and negative aspects of CSR in named organisations. An organisational study of the circumstances that precede the integration of CSR into strategy and the dynamics that motivate it, provides a practical link to the academic research (Perrini and Minoja, 2008).The authors concluded that the beliefs and value systems of the entrepreneurs played a fundamental role in shaping sustainable CSR, and that the relationship between financial and social performance depended on the type of competitive strategy selected. They highlight the intense debate on the processes that initiate adoption of responsible manufacturing processes and propose that CSR strategies be explicit and codified into managerial procedures.
Finally studies that critically evaluate CSR from an economic perspective noting “CSR as a ‘catch all’ phrase for an array of different concepts” (Benabou and Tirole, 2010). Discussions range from the business case for CSR to sacrificing profit, and to stakeholders delegating philanthropy to organisations by their willingness to forfeit money in forms such as purchasing power. The research highlights motivations for CSR such as public visibility, image enhancement and warns of firms exhibiting environmental friendliness which is no more than ‘greenwash’. Siegel and Vitaliano (2007) reinforce these points and examine “determinants of management’s decision to invest in CSR” based on the type of product/service sold.
Reference to critical texts on CSR and Stakeholder Theory, will provide further theoretical and practical applications. For example: Friedman and Miles, (2006); Freeman et al. (2010); Werther, and Chapman (2011).
The study will be based on qualitative data derived from secondary sources and adopts a deductive approach.
Secondary, multiple sources will be used exclusively: official bodies’ surveys; annual reports; company statements, transcripts, speeches, codes of conduct, marketing materials, press releases and documented organisational association with environmental groups; videos; podcasts; government regulations/guidelines; CSR reports; social networking sites, second life, websites of the firms and of official bodies, quality press articles, business journals, peer reviewed academic papers etc. The sample of organisations for investigation encompasses multinational companies of varying sizes, in which it would be impractical to carry out primary research, owing to the time scale for completion and of gaining access to non-publicly available information and suitable respondents within each company. Cost considerations would be prohibitive.
The use of secondary data is appropriate and advantageous since research focusses on documented past events and scope for manipulation is significantly reduced, superiority of data quality collected using diverse sources is likely and obtained at lower cost. (Hammersley and Atkinson 1995, in Ritchie and Lewis 2003, p 34) suggest that this method is useful “where situations and events cannot be investigated by direct observation or questioning’” Data from official sources is likely to have been checked for its reliability and validity and new perspectives sometimes result from secondary data review (Saunders et al. (2009)
Saunders et al. (2009) and Siegel and Vitaliano (2007), suggest caution with use of secondary sources as manipulation of information by senior managers (such as in annual reports), aggregation of data from several sources collected for diverse purposes, as well as personal and political bias in press articles, are common. The researcher recognises that insufficient public information may be available. Consequently the authenticity, reliability and validity will be carefully checked to concentrate on the authority and reputation of original sources, purpose of data collection, sample error, methods employed and agreement between data across different sources. The number of organisations chosen is limited to those in which sufficient documented information is likely to available; this is not generally viable for SMEs. Completion of the research within the time scale is feasible, given the researcher’s prior knowledge of the organisation sample.
The characteristics of qualitative research are appropriate in this study : words are used to express the implications of the findings; analysis will be conducted using concepts of CSR derived from the Literature Review; the topic relates to socially aligned experiences; the “presence of absence of something” (Kirk and Miller,1986, p.9) is identified; data must be categorised and analysis will take place on the basis of fit with the theoretical framework.
A positivist philosophy will pervade the study as CSR is a business area of “observable social reality”(Remenyi, et al. in Saunders et al. 2009, p 113) and broad statements are possible within the context of each organisation. Data derived from past events facilitates the required ‘value free’ approach while a well documented, structured technique for analysing and interpreting the data against a pre-determined conceptual framework enables full replication. Saunders et al. (2009) suggest that is possible to take a positivist approach with a qualitative study.
The research is deductive in nature demonstrated by: testing academic theory against organisational practice; use of qualitative data, scientific judgements and unambiguous structure; starting with the conceptual framework and drawing data for comparison from recorded events, in order to support an objective viewpoint. While generalisation is possible within chosen organisations, the unrepresentative sample does not allow broad generalisability.
An evaluative research strategy is chosen appropriate to “issues surrounding how well does it work?” (Ritchie and Lewis 2003, p 29). Initial Literature Review and targeted research define the framework, enabling emergence of summative evaluation of variance in outcomes and effectiveness that result from each firm’s CSR philosophy. Hart (1998, p.47) supports the suitability of this method for discovering areas for further in-depth research and as particularly appropriate for small scale “illuminative study”.
A non representative sample of five specified organisations from two industry sectors will be used; Coca-Cola, Kraft, Thorntons plc, Sabaf Spa and IMI plc. Comparison between large and medium size companies within a sector, as well as that between firms in two major sectors, is therefore facilitated.
The time horizon is retrospective over ten years.
Building a conceptual model and analysing findings will follow methods used in an evaluative study by Vaaland and Heide, M. (2005). (Appendix B). The unit of analysis is the individual firm and data will be categorised by comparison with the conceptual framework (constructs).followed by simple matrices to illustrate the findings (Miles and Huberman,1996, p 241) and allow patterns to emerge, and to recognise relationships and deviances, so gaining a more thorough understanding of the findings.
The study will be organised as follows: introduction to the purpose of the research, why it is of value, a separate section for the academic literature review and summary expressed as constructs that are then illustrated in a theoretical framework, which will be applied to analyse of each of the organisations in section three.
The next section will contain results of research into the CSR policies and practices of each of five companies, using secondary data sources followed by an individual company summary. In the third section each organisation’s practices will be compared with the conceptual framework to establish the degree of convergence, or divergence.
Reliability and Validity
The study sequence stated will be followed, and detailed analysis conducted, links discovered and interpretation made will be documented to enable consistency and transparency as to how conclusions were reached. To further support reliability and validity, a series of re-checks between data and findings (Cresswell, 2008, p150.) to the theoretical framework will take place, in addition to scrutiny of data mentioned in methodology.
This is an unobtrusive method that does not influence the data. There is bounded reliability since only five companies are included.
Reproducibility is high, since publicly available data is used and comprehensive documentation will allow other researchers to carry out further similar studies, adding to existing knowledge.
External validity/triangulation is demonstrated through cross- checking of various authenticated sources previously described. Generalisability is low.
Content validity is relatively high indicated by small sample and use of authoritative sources.
Construct validity, and hence the capacity to develop the concept of CSR, is unknown as it depends on the degree of correspondence between the constructs and findings.
Thick description used to provide context for the study and its findings will add richness and depth, reflect the degree of precision effected adding to the validity.
Peer reviews will be attempted to strengthen validity and, although potentially difficult, qualified contacts will be approached.
Limitations of the study not previously mentioned in are; the finite information available, quantity identifiable within the time frame and the subjective selection by the researcher.
Information accessible, history and context will vary for each company; attempts will be made to source adequate data to minimise these effects.
Triangulation is weakened by use of secondary data only; interviews or surveys for comparison though not feasible, would increase convergent validity
Bias in documents used as research data and potentially on the part of the researcher, owing to interpretation being influenced by prior contact with firms.
Additional strengths result from the historical perspective, feasibility of completing this study and substantially adding to the richness of literature. Costs are kept to a minimum. Ethical considerations are minimal; no interviews or access to companies required, and an objective approach will be employed to ensure data is not distorted. CMI Code of Practice is used throughout. No permissions or legal issues are relevant; research will use researches resources only.
The qualitative study by Perrini and Minoja (2008) is a key source. (Appendix A). The research approach is inductive with a predominantly phenomenological philosophy. The case study strategy adopted, demonstrates strong links to grounded theory particularly in data analysis. These characteristics are apparent throughout methodological framework; in the authors’ declaration of theory building, organisation of the study by building a conceptual framework, theory emerging from the processing and analysing of data collected using codes and findings communicated via rich, thick description.
A well structured audit trail is explained in the introduction and followed; the purpose is clearly enunciated and study accomplishes what it planned to do. The theoretical framework precedes the research questions and suggests a case study methodology which reflects Yin’s (2009, p 11) parameters including: using a single case approach to a contemporary field of research in which there are gaps in the literature, and a broad approach to the subject has been taken previously; the study is rigorous, providing detailed knowledge of the organisation, by generating answers to questions that are stated to have included ‘how’ and ‘why’, which underpin the case study strategy; the data collection spans several interviews employing different interview types, observations and documentary analysis. The data is coded in three stages commonly used in grounded theory approach (Strauss and Corbin 2008 in Saunders et al. (2009) p 509); open (first order), axial and finally selective from which theory arises.
Although Yin’s design is evident, the authors incorporate ideas by other recognised experts, ensuring that potential lack of rigour is minimised. Their design approach is “highly iterative and closely linked to data” (Eisenhardt, 1989, p 532), includes comparisons of the findings with the literature which Cresswell (2009 p 189) describes as his third model of literature use, and Eisenhardt includes in the process for building theory from case study design.
Non probability sampling techniques allowed the authors to gain access to specific organisational members for some of the interviews and to change the emphasis as research progressed, an important feature of qualitative research. However no information is given of the basis for the initial sample chosen, no detail of any observation of body language and hence potential degree of response and measurement bias respectively.
The time horizon is longitudinal; observations taken over a six month period and several years of documented information.
A theoretical/conceptual framework results from the findings, as would be expected in an inductive study.
Reliability (replicability) is strengthened by multiple views from different respondents and observational procedures being explicitly stated. Synchronic reliability is suggested by consistency derived from the range of primary and secondary sources employed, which increase validity and reliability.
Representational generalisability is not expected in single case research which also suggests bounded reliability. Theoretical and inferential generalisability (Ritchie and Lewis 2003) apply as the framework derived has more general application, and findings likely to apply to other settings respectively.
Primary and secondary data sources and multiple analyses provide triangulation (convergent validity). The primary data collection is rigorous, varied and repetitive, which may have reduced participant /researcher bias. Silverman’s (2000) constant comparative method for internal validity is evident from documented, constantly checking data backwards and forwards.
Richness and depth gained through thick description provide context for the study and its findings, reflect prolonged time spent in the field and allow wider inferences to be drawn, adding to the validity.
The use of audio recordings and field notes, combined with examination of corporate presentations to authoritative bodies, member respondent validation of the accuracy of findings and peer evaluation, suggest a high degree of reliability and validity throughout.
Face/internal validity is , since no piloting of questions is recorded, and analysis lacks reflexivity; specific use and examples of codes and their links to the conclusions are not revealed. No mention is made of deviances that might have aided theory development. Therefore extent of reproducibility is uncertain.
While the literature review provides content validity, this is weakened by apparent failure to pre-test interview questions.
Although qualitative research does not usually identify causal links, one conclusion suggests reasons why CSR has become strategised, suggesting an element of positivist philosophy and some deduction.
Potential bias in participant responses and methodology limitations are acknowledged but not researcher bias.
Ethical considerations are not stated. Significant costs are likely given the time period and range of activities.
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