All entries for Thursday 18 June 2009

June 18, 2009

Trust: Is it declining?

When asked about whether we are a less trusting nation than we used to be, our response, typically is yes. After all, were not things always better in the 'old days'. Research (MORI) suggests otherwise (and for those interested in trust research, the MORI organisation offers a barometer of opinions via its regular studies of trust in the professions).

It appears that trust, in people like politicians and journalists, and in people in general is relatively stable over time (but then trust in politicians is low and remains low -  there isn't much room for it to fall further - and our trust in people in general (in the UK) hovers around the 50% mark).

When we are bombarded with bad news (politicians fiddling expenses, breaches of trust by businesses, failures in duty of care in social workers and hospitals, etc, etc.) it seems that we surmise that, on the whole, society is becoming less trustworthy. In reality, when making a judgement about whether things are getting better or worse, we are making assumptions about the past (of which we have but a sketchy recollection) biased by our perceptions of what is happening in the present. So the more bad news we hear the more likely we are to make an assumption that things must be getting worse, but it is just that, an assumption but one that then becomes a belief because of its constant presence.

But there is another question worth exploring. When dealing with subjects or people at arms length or being asked about professions in general, we might question whether what is being measured is trust, per se, or some measure of confidence in the professions ability to perform their function or simply their propensity to lie.

Trust, within the literature is (in short) a belief or the placing of faith in the reliability of a third party, particularly when there is an element of personal risk. Hence one might, legitimately, claim to trust ones babysitter (the downside risks do not bear thinking about), one might trust a friend with a secret and develop a level of confidence in that persons integrity and discretion, and one might trust one's own doctor based on a series of interactions. One might also trust an unknown doctor because when ill we have little choice until we have more information. But if we say we trust a profession, what are we actually saying. There is, at this level of interaction, little or no 'element of personal risk' (at least not in the short term) and hence the conceptualization of trust should differ.

This poses a question. Is the construct of trust as measured by MORI (trust in a corporate) the same construct of trust as that measured in the many research papers on trust (mostly trust in direct dyadic interactions - see trust_a_bibliography_may09.docx)?  To what extent are integrity, benevolence and credibility, Zand's (1972) three antecedents of interpersonal trust, transferrable to a conceptualisation of trust in a corporate? To what extent can we legitimately discuss the cognitive or affective form of trust in a corporate without reconceptualising the trust construct to remove the 'personal risk' factor? Or is the proximity of personal risk merely a moderator of the interaction.

If personal risk is removed, then it is no great surprise that there is little change in the perceptions of trust in corporates. What is really being measured may be an assessment of our belief in the likelihood that the average member of that profession would lie to use, a measure that might be more stable, but a measure that is not a  measure of trust.

Thoughts and comments welcome


Hybrid methods in communications research

Fascinating. This is the only word to describe yesterday's seminar delivered by Prof Debra Roter of John Hopkins University under the auspices of Warwick's Institute of Health Short Term Fellow programme and a part of Warwick's Festival of Social Sciences.

Debra, one of the most cited researchers in her field (physician-patient communication) and in fact in the top 250 most cited of all social scientists, delivered a paper on hybrid research methods (the merging of quantitative and qualitative - perhaps we should give it a name ?quantalitive or qualantitive). The context of the research was the oral communication between clinician and patient and the role of 'oral literacy'. Debra's framework for assessing the oral literacy burden (the impact of the use of jargon, complexity of language usage, the informational context and the interactive structural characteristics of dyadic exchanges) required the development of a new technique.

Simulated consultancy sessions between genuine clinicians and 'patients' (played by briefed actors) were taped. The 'patient' was asked for a post event assessment of how the session went and how satisfied they were with the encounter, the whole encounter was transcribed and analyzed for items such as use of jargon, language complexity (e.g. Fleisch-Kincaid scores) and interactivity (e.g. who spoke when and for how long), and the sessions were then viewed by 'analogue clients' (subjects recruited to watch, view and evaluate the sessions imagining that they were the client in the session and thus to objectively evaluate the interaction as an interested observer).

The output from this combinatorial approach produced quantifiable data (e.g. frequency of specific jargon, ratings of demeanour, interactivity, turn-taking, etc., ) that then permitted use of statistical tools (Debra only reported correlations within the seminar but more sophisticated analytical tools would be possible) to test for significant factors. As Debra stated, if, in a study, some main effects show up as significant despite being unable to account for all of the complexities in a research context, then something worth studying is present in the research.

The hybrid merging of quatitative and qualitative methods is not wholly original. In the management field there are many papers (e.g. Harrigan, 1983) and research methods texts (e.g. Bryman & Bell, 2007, where it is termed mixed methods) that advocate its possible usefulness. Most published research in the marketing field uses both as a matter of course (although it must be admitted that the range of qualitative techniques used is limited). Churchill's 'paradigm for development of better marketing measures' (Journal of Marketing, 1981) advocates the use of 'insight stimulating examples' and 'in depth interviews' (inter alia) as foundations in the building of robust questionaires. And content analysis is a well known technique for quantifying oral, textual and visual data to permit statistical analysis.

However, most of the previous work is triangulation (the use of different methods to investigate the same phenomenon to enable a cross-check and validity assessment) as opposed to a true hybridisation (the cross-pollinated and integrated use of methodologies to produce new insights into the phenomenon). What appears to be unique and interesting about Debra's approach is the simultaneous and multimethod extraction of information along both qualitative and quantitative lines of enquiry, leading to a richer interpretation and understanding of the phenomenon.

There is clear potential for a similar approach in the fields of marketing or business. For example, this technique applied to a study of buyer-seller interactions might prove extremely interesting and here the outcome - sale or no sale - could be even more certainly measured.

Thoughts and views on hybrid methods are welcome.


Marketing Education (1)

Last Friday saw most of WBS' marketing and strategic management group at an 'away day' (actually on campus, in Milburn House, but far enough away to be below the telephone and door knocking radar) discussing a range of issues relating to the teaching of the Groups subject matter. Topics ranged from the issues common to all Univeristy lecturers and professors (e.g. the balancing of teaching, administrative and research duties) through the exciting and challenging issues of blended learning and the roll out of wbsLive, new ways of teaching and the role of Warwick's teaching grid in developing and experimenting with new modes of teacher/student interaction, the role and value of simulations in teaching, the development of PhDs, to the challenges and opportunities for pedagogic research. Newer members of staff and those recently entering the academic world found it particularly useful and the level of collegiality (a phenomenon that wanes so easily as we get bogged down in the day to day delivery of courses and exection of research) was mesurably higher at the end of the day.

The fullness of the agenda, the enthuiasm for the subjects, and the valuable discussions generated meant the last item (pedagogic research) was but briefly discussed but has been placed on the MSM group's upcoming Research away day.

June 2009

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