UNDERSTANDING THE RESEARCH ONION: AN ILLUSTRATION

Decembre 29, By Chidi Rafael

CHAPTER 3: RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

Research Onion as Framework

The research onion is used in explaining the research methodology for the study with the research onion framework adopted from Saunders & Lewis (2012).  This is presented in figure 3.1.  The approach taken in using the research onion framework is to go from the outer layer to the inner layer of the research onion. 

Figure 3.1: Research Onion Framework
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Source: Saunders & Lewis (2012)

Research Philosophy

 

The outermost layer is the research philosophy and the philosophy taken for this research is a pragmatist research philosophy.  The decision to adopt the pragmatist research philosophy was based on the rationale that CSR cannot be seen as a fact but socially constructed views on corporate social responsibility with insights from the result of the views.  In addition, the pragmatist research philosophy could yield better research results with the opportunity to use a mix of different methods in the research.   The alternative to the pragmatist research philosophy is the use of the interpretivist research philosophy or the positivist research philosophy which are the major philosophies used in the conduct of research but these did not fit with the requirements of the research.

The pragmatism research philosophy is considered to be relatively 'new' compared to other research philosophies but the pragmatism research philosophy has become a contending philosophy that researchers have considered as an alternative.  The pragmatism research philosophy stands in the middle between the positivist research philosophy and the interpretivist research philosophy with pragmatism focused on identifying solutions to the issues through the use of theories and frameworks. This would relate to a practicality view on how the philosophy contributes to addressing the research objectives.

Research Approach

 

The next layer in the research onion is the research approach and a deductive approach is taken as this fits with the pragmatist research philosophy.  The deductive research approach provides a comprehension of different understanding of corporate social responsibility actions by means of empirical data.  For this research, the deductive research approach will provide the observations that are needed in forming the views for the outcomes to address the research objectives. This is through the execution of primary research with the use of a structured questionnaire in order to build the understanding of the observations in addressing the research issues.

The alternative research approach considered for the research is the inductive research approach. While it is possible to utilise an inductive research approach for the pragmatist research philosophy, the decision was to utilise a deductive research approach given the linkage to an approach that is based on objectivity in the assessment of the observations. This is in contrast to the use of an inductive research approach which would have relied on subjectivity in the evaluation of the observations to support the results of the research.

Research Strategy

 

The research strategy for the research is the case study approach with the use of a survey questionnaire.  In this research strategy, the research is geared towards a single contextual setting.  The company case study research strategy supports an enriched understanding of the case organisation focused on (Blumberg, Cooper & Schindler, 2008).  The case study organisation for the research is Chevron with the research issues and observations focused on how these relate and apply to the organisational setting and situation. The case study approach provides a focus for the research with the efforts to address the research issues centred on the impacts of these research issues on the case study organisation. This provides stronger relevance in terms of the applicability of the research results and the impact that the consideration of the results could have on a specific organisation.  This would be different to the application of results if a more general approach was taken with no specific case study organisation considered for the study.

Research Choice

 

The next layer of the research onion is the research choice.  A mixed method is utilised with the use of a qualitative approach and a quantitative approach taken as the research methods applied in the study to be consistent with the pragmatist research philosophy. The quantitative research is consistent with the deductive research approach.  This was achieved through the use of primary research with structured questionnaires forming the basis for the interaction with primary research respondents.  The respondents for the primary research were individuals with knowledge of the CSR activities of Chevron. The mixed method approach provides a more robust set of results with the triangulation achieved between the combination of the qualitative research approach and the quantitative research approach. While this makes the research wider in scope in that more research activities are included, this ensures that the research has a more in-depth evaluation of the results and more robust findings from the combination of the qualitative research and quantitative research approaches.

Time Horizon

 

For the next research onion layer, the time horizon, a cross-sectional timing was utilised with the research conducted over a period of ten weeks.  A cross-sectional approach for the time horizon means that the focus of the research is on the current situation whereas the alternative, a longitudinal approach, requires the use of repeated studies over a period of time to identify correlation between observations and changes among the results over different time periods.  The research was conducted over ten weeks with the activities for each week presented in figure 3.2.

Figure 3.2: Weekly Timeline of Research


Timing

Activities

Week 1

Submit the proposal and start the research

Weeks 2-3

Review related literature
Conduct secondary research

Weeks 3-4

Prepare for the primary research

Weeks 4-6

Conduct the primary research

Weeks 6-7

Summarise the primary research results and link with secondary research results

Weeks 7-8

Draft the dissertation from the outcomes achieved

Week 8

Consult with the supervisor

Weeks 8-9

Finalise the dissertation while incorporating the feedback

Week 10

Submit the complete dissertation


Techniques and Procedures, and Research Instruments

 

The final layer in the research onion relates to the techniques and procedures taken.  In the research, both secondary research and primary research were utilised. The secondary research entailed the research and use of relevant academic literature, related reports and press articles. For the primary research, a structured questionnaire was developed and utilised with respondents providing their inputs through the questionnaire provided. This was the key research instrument utilised in the research.  The structured questionnaire focused on the corporate social responsibility actions of Chevron and how these fit with the principles and objectives of Chevron. The structured questionnaire was designed so that this would be answered by the respondents easily as these are close-ended questions.  This is an advantage in the research as this ensured that the questions would be easily and consistently understood by the respondents with the tabulation of the results also easily achieved with the design of the questionnaire.  Another research instrument used was Microsoft Excel with this software application utilised for presenting the data graphically.  For some of the responses to the questionnaires, the researcher was in touch with the respondents through email. 

Data Sources

 

The main data sources result from the secondary research and the primary research. The secondary research provides the Chevron data and specifics on actions taken in the Niger Delta region. These are augmented by the theoretical arguments and the industry data from different published sources. The primary research provides the results of the structured questionnaire with the results used for the deductive approach. 

Research Sampling

 

The survey questionnaire was piloted after the initial development of questions to test out the clarity of the questions and to ensure that the questions were consistently understood.  Some potential respondents were provided the initial questionnaire to receive the feedback on the questions developed.  From the results of the pilot, the questionnaire was revised thereby incorporating the feedback of the people who provided the comments from the research pilot.

In terms of research sampling, the study utilised a convenience sampling approach.  The main reason for this is that the convenience sampling approach provides a simple and urgent approach in identifying potential respondents to the primary research.  While convenience sampling is not a typical research sampling method utilised in studies, there is increasing acceptance of convenience sampling where research limitations impact the ability to utilise other research sampling techniques (Brewis, 2014).  In addition, convenience sampling also works in studies wherein generalisations are not the main focus of the studies (Brewis, 2014).  For this research, the focus on Chevron as the case study organisations provides an opportunity to utilise the convenience sampling approach as a logical sampling technique in identifying relevant respondents for the primary research.  20 respondents were included in the final questionnaire responses with the respondents identified through the convenience sampling approach.

Research Ethics

 

As the research involves primary research, research ethics were applied extensively to ensure that the research results are considered to be robust and relevant.  The research ethics principles that were utilised include informed consent, anonymity and confidentiality.  For informed consent, this involved providing the primary research respondents with an understanding of the research objectives and enabling the potential respondents to opt in or out of participating in the primary research (Christensen, Johnson & Turner, 2011).  For anonymity, the details of the participants to the primary research are not included and are not linked to any of the primary research results (Blumberg, Cooper & Schindler, 2008).  Finally, for confidentiality, the research results are only shared with those who have a stake in the results and are part of the research in a specific capacity.


Research Limitations

The main research limitation of the study is the time for completion of the work and the ability of the researcher to include a larger size of sample for the primary research.  For the time of completion, the researcher was limited to the timing guidelines for the completion of the dissertation with all parts of the study to be completed and included within the defined period for dissertation work.  For the ability of the researcher to include a larger size of sample for the primary research, the limited time for completion means that researcher had to allot enough time for each part of the study to be worked on effectively.  The resulting time for the primary research limited the responses achieved by the researcher for the questionnaire.  The researcher was likewise impacted by the identification of the questionnaire respondents and the convenience sampling approach provided a mitigation to this issue.

Another limitation is the extent of data available in chevron relating to the CSR activities of the firm.  While there was sufficient data and information available publicly from the annual reports, the company website and other CSR-related reports from the firm, it is likely that there are other data and information that the researcher was not able to access as these were not publicly available.  The researcher did not have company access to data and information that were not provided publicly by the firm.

Research Reliability and Validity

 

The reliability of the research is based on the execution of the test instrument which is the survey questionnaire.  This was piloted across several potential respondents to ensure that the understanding of the questionnaire was consistent across different respondents.  The questionnaire was revised in order to address the issues in the questions that were not easily understood or not similarly understood by the respondents in the pilot of the questionnaire.  As the revised questionnaire was consistently understood by the potential respondents, this was deemed to provide a reliable response across the set of questions included in the questionnaire.

The questionnaire was also considered for validity.  In order to minimise the issues in relation to the test validity, the questionnaire was designed to as a close-ended questionnaire thereby limiting the responses of the respondents to a positive response, a negative response, or no response to the question posed.  Given that the questions were close-ended questions, the validity of the questionnaire was accepted as a result of this approach as the basis of the responses is the perspectives of the respondents.

 

Research Budget

The research was largely executed through desktop research with the primary research as the element with the largest cost implication.  As the survey questionnaire was conducted in the Niger Delta region among the stakeholders in the local communities, the research entailed the following costs to the researcher:

  • £800 round-trip flight to Nigeria

This is the main incremental cost to the research with all other costs and expenses not considered to be materially incremental for the researcher in the conduct of the research.

Source: Awurigwe, F. (2015). Investigation into Corporate Social Responsibility Strategies for Oil and Gas Companies in Nigeria: A Case Study of Chevron Niger Delta. Unpublished Thesis Paper

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