October 15, 2015

Ph.D. research design: as it currently stands

If there is ever a time to really think about the research methodology, the research questions, and the compatibility between research methodology and research questions, it’s now early in the Ph.D. process. The first year was really more of an introduction to research methodologies and to give you a chance to explore various methodologies and methods, but the second year (of the part time version anyway) begins the nitty gritty of really thinking about your methodology and methods in preparation for collecting and analysing data and also in preparation of the Upgrade paper and presentation (not to mention the literature review and methodology chapters of the thesis). When I really think about the design that I am creating, it is fairly flexible: it needs to be, and it needs to be absolutely accurate and correct because the design advocates a theory building context so the validity, reliability, accuracy, compatibility, comparability, and the use and merging of different forms of data and methods are well thought out and documented otherwise the theory could simply fall apart.

Previously I had been thinking about combining quantitative and qualitative data in with Grounded Theory but I’m having difficulties in figuring out the way in which these very different forms of data could merge (even though there are some comments in literature that suggests that this is possible) given that Grounded Theory’s analytical processes really are designed for qualitative data. Even the Constructivist Grounded Theory from what I can currently understand (still learning about it) does not deal with quantitative data. I do understand though that Constructivist Grounded Theory does take into account the values, perspectives, and so on, of the participants and the researcher more so than previous versions of Grounded Theory when it comes to the development of a theory. A potential problem here that I can vision is that a lot of the perspectives of the participants are due to be collected using quantitative processes within a survey method: I might have to redo the design of the survey to increase compatibility but I will have to do more reading and thinking into this area of using surveys with Grounded Theory.

Alternatively, I might not need to alter anything too much as I have found an interesting paper that described its research methodology as a mix of Grounded Theory and other methods including a Survey not in a Mixed Methods context, but in a more flexible context. Further reading into such a design that accommodates both qualitative and quantitative data and the use of multiple methods and perspectives with the aim of developing a new theory has led to the finding of what could effectively and broadly conceptualise and explain my research design. What is it called? Drum roll please………..

A flexible, triangulated theory building design

Now then, obviously I am taking on a fair bit here because I am not planning, designing, developing and implementing a single method, single approach design: I am planning, designing, developing and implementing a multi-method, potentially multi-perspective, research design that aims to develop theory as reliability and valid as is possible.

The biggest challenge here for me is to design not only the individual methods, but to design the entire methodology in a way that the results from all methods can merge as cohesively, coherently, reliably, feasibly and validly as possible, in a way that can assist with effective theory building and a substantial understanding of what is really going on within the phenomenon of investigation.

This shall include very careful consideration of the design of each method, suitability of each method, and very carefully planning the merging of the data at analysis level. There are going to be lots of areas to address in particularly the possibility that the research shall contain both positivist and interpretivist paradigms. I am not sure if this really will occur but if so, given that I am a constructivist this might prove to be interesting. Also what needs addressing are the different arguments for and against different methods, and the problems associated with each method and a way that a cohesive and coherent plan and design can minimise or eliminate these problems and therefore generating more reliable and valid findings, leading to the development of theory that is grounded in research that is well designed.

Interesting times in the research design: lots to think about, lots to write about, lots to read about, and lots of planning, designing, experimenting and implementation! It all feels a little daunting, but I know that I am on the right track and the methodology that I propose is the right methodology for the context and phenomenon of exploration.

Obviously all this shall be in consultation with the supervisor and shall be assessed at the Upgrade presentation. In the meanwhile: strong hot chocolate and late nights!

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