The process of choosing a qualitative research methodology poses a particular challenge to a management researcher, primarily due to multiplicity of factors that should be considered before selecting an appropriate methodology design. In this paper, a consideration of factors influencing a researcher’s selection is presented, with a view to addressing the challenges that might arise in the process.
Factors Influencing Qualitative Methodology’s Selection
Each of five methodological approaches identified by Creswell (2013) may be characterized by its peculiar philosophical (ontological and epistemological) basis, as well as by the historical context of its application in respective disciplines. Therefore, all the methodologies arising from the latter warrant specific examination before deciding on the limits of their applicability.
Narrative research is by its essence confined to the analysis of textual, or similar, representations of the symbolic codes generated within the respective social networks and structure. This lack of objectivity is underscored by a narrative approach’s status as the “version” of the ongoing ideas and processes rather than their factual expression (Mason 2002, p.168). While this factor may assist the researcher striving for a comparative or historically grounded conceptualization of the appropriate social constructs, it simultaneously hinders efforts of those researchers who seek a more or less objective approach to the phenomena under consideration.
Thus, while narrative research may be extremely helpful in conceiving of the individuals and groups’ views on social practices and institutions, it would limit the research perspective by preventing a detached look at these phenomena. However, at the same time, narrative research may be of great interest to the stakeholders concerned with the issue of organizational values, as expressed in the dominant organizational culture’s narratives, indicating a potentially wide field for applying narrative research designs in management studies (Easterby-Smith, Thorpe, & Jackson 2012).
Similarly, a phenomenological research’s application rests both on the ontological position assumed by the researcher and the requirements upheld by the research stakeholders. Phenomenology ultimately involves the understanding of shared experiences by the individuals living and acting in respective social environment, and the acceptance of such collective psychological experiences as a key criterion for research’s validity logically entails denial of the phenomenon’s independent existence (Creswell 2013, p.59).
At the same time, research stakeholders may become interested in phenomenological research if they are interested in hermeneutical interpretation of the phenomena or objects that have become a focus for research (Alvesson & Sköldberg 2000, p.52-55). For instance, such outcome may be achieved if the stakeholders are convinced that the organizational culture of the firm or institution under research is defined more by collective stereotypes of its employees rather than by any empirically established economic considerations.
Grounded theory approaches seem to be some of the easiest to select and present to research stakeholders. Due to their flexible and non-dogmatic character, grounded theory research designs may prove popular and comprehensible to the research stakeholders with the experience of conducting and coordinating group interviews or similar field data collection, with the subsequent formation of an explanatory theory underpinning empirical findings (Bryman & Bell 2011). The interview-based character of most grounded theory approaches makes them adaptable to the variety of business and management studies’ applications.
As to ethnographic research, its usage may be validated by the need to present an external perspective of the organization’s affairs that would normally be impossible due to the observational bias on the part of the in-site researchers (Easterby-Smith, Thorpe, & Jackson 2012). However, some research stakeholders may believe that an external researcher’s approach may be biased as well, thus leading to the need to convince them of the researcher’s impartiality.
Finally, case study approaches would probably be the easiest to implement while dealing with the organizations striving to solve their particular problems through recourse to respective research procedures. A case study’s justification would arise out of the specificity of the context within which the organization operates, which might be enough to persuade most research stakeholders to the approach’s validity.
Thus, the qualitative research methodology’s justification is predicated on the researcher’s ability to provide rationale for the selected approach to his/her stakeholders, as well as to connect the respective choice with their practical concerns. Without combining these two factors, a success of research methodology’s implementation may be at risk.
Qualitative Research Challenges
The challenges faced by the researchers in dealing with the qualitative research methodologies’ application are likewise specific to each methodological approach involved. For instance, the narrative-based research design may suffer from excessive dependence on individual perspectives of the interviewees, potentially putting its validity under doubt on behalf of the stakeholders. On the other hand, in the case study research design, the main challenge lies in delimitation of the boundaries and criteria of the cases chosen for analyzing the respective problem (Creswell 2013, p.76). The phenomenology-based research design can be criticized due to the allegedly broad or narrow criteria implemented in selecting the individuals with common experience (2013, p.62). Similarly, the grounded theory approach may be challenged on the basis of perceived flaws in the inductive reasoning underpinning it (Mason 2002, p.180).
Nevertheless, the suggestions and guidelines included in the course’s readings may allow the would-be researcher to avoid the pitfalls associated with the vague or too narrow criteria for the methodology selection. In addressing the aforementioned challenges, one should bear in mind that, while research approaches identified by Creswell (2013) are fundamentally similar in their data collection procedures, they differ sharply in the focus adopted by each methodology (2013, p.76). Thus, in order to select a respective research methodology, it is necessary to specify one’s desired focus in the prospective research.
The research methodology’s selection process may be fraught with complexities but the implementation of a chosen approach is ultimately dependent on the researcher’s ability to communicate his/her research plans to research stakeholders and participants. In addition, the choosing of appropriate research focus is an integral part of providing for a successful qualitative research.