PhD Thesis Chapter 4

PhD Thesis Chapter 4
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  Chapter 4: Research method andmethodology  Three main areas of the study are addressed in this Chapter: theresearch approach; research method; and research design. Usingparticipant observation, interviews, and documentary analysis, thewhole tender process was shadowed in four different constructionfirms in order to capture how contractors arrive at a bidding price,and how they price risk specifically. Six potential researchstrategies were identified initially and evaluated in section 4.2against the three criteria of internal validity, external validity, andreliability to ascertain how their strengths and weaknesses mightbest help to address the research questions stated in section 3.6.5.Following the justification of a participant observation case studystrategy in section 4.2.2, the nature and actual implementation of participant observation in the natural settings of contractors isexamined in section 4.3. Section 4.4 covers research design. 4.1 The context of the study methodology Dilemmas often arise in the process of research; especially thechoosing of appropriate strategies and methods for answering of theresearch questions arising. While some methodological difficultiescan be resolved, others are more difficult.McGrath (1982) describes the process of making methodologicalchoices as ‘dilemmatics’, in that there are no ideal solutions, only aseries of compromises. Almost all research strategies relate to oneanother in different ways although each has a primary focus.Experimental research is concerned primarily with precision, surveyresearch with generality, ethnography with the character of theparticular context, and action research with issues of utilization (Gilland Johnson, 2002). There are different views about how thedilemmas pertaining to research can be resolved. The work of Morgan (1983) defines five approaches to the dilemmas based on  the work by Churchman (1971), Feyerabend (1975) and Mason andMitroff (1981). First, any attempt to find some evaluatory test, whichwill determine the merits of a particular research strategy, will runinto problems of relativism. Similarly, the search for an integrationor synthesis of strategies to find some common ground isapparently not possible given different paradigmatic researchassumptions, for by accepting one set of assumptions others maybe denied. A third approach is that assumptions and knowledgeshould be judged by their usefulness. This is the contingent viewthat there is no optimal way of undertaking research but, rather,that it depends on its practical utility to the interest it serves. Thefourth approach accepts the dilemmas as inevitable, and attemptsto counterpose the insights from different perspectives to reach anew understanding. Finally, a complete relativism could be adoptedin that each research strategy has something to offer and thatanything goes (Gill and Johnson, 2002). Thus, there may be no independent form of evaluating alternativeresearch strategies in any absolute terms. Broadly, therefore, theconsensus may be in favour of multi-method strategies, i.e.triangulation, which helps to incorporate the strengths of alternativemethods for overcoming another’s weaknesses (Gill and Johnson,2002). The research terminologies used in this study are mainly adoptedfrom a ‘research process onion’ found in Saunders et al . (2007:102). The authors explain that there are two extreme paradigmsunderlying social science research. These are positivism and radicalstructuralist or phenomenology as Easterby-Smith et al . (1999)explain it. The former, positivism, leans towards a deductiveapproach. The latter, phenomenology, is towards an inductiveapproach. Within these extreme research paradigms lie eightresearch philosophies, seven research strategies, three researchchoices, two research time horizons, and a variety of research  methods for data collection and analysis (Saunders et al ., 2007). The research philosophies that lie between the two extremeparadigms of positivism and phenomenology are realism,interpretivism, objectivism, subjectivism, pragmatism, functionalist,interpretive, and radical humanism. The order in which they arelisted shows the extent to which they lean towards deduction orinduction. Deduction focuses on theory testing while inductionfocuses on theory building (Saunders et al ., 2007; Gill and Johnson,2002). Ranging from a purely positivistic standpoint to a purelyradical structuralist standpoint are seven main research strategies:experiments, surveys, case studies, action research, groundedtheory, ethnography, and archival research. In the same order,there are three research choices: mono methods, mixed methods,and multi-methods. All fall under cross-sectional or longitudinal timehorizons. The techniques and procedures available for collecting andanalysing data are varied, for example questionnaire, interview,content analysis, focus groups, and observation (Wilkinson andBirmingham, 2003). 4.2 Research approach How do contractors respond to risks in the tender process, i.e. howdoes risk apportionment relate to pricing levels of contractors?Clearly, the justification of an appropriate approach for answeringsuch a complex research question posed some ontological,epistemological and methodological challenges. Ontologically, riskperceptions vary significantly since risk is a concept which differentpeople may perceive differently (RICS, 2004). Epistemologically,there are various paradigms of risk measurement (Wright andAyton, 1994). For example, disagreements still exist over how toapproach the estimation, combination and comparison of theprobability and severity/magnitude of the risk concept (Ward, 1999).Methodologically, what will be the indicator of risk response; howwill risk response be operationalized; and what will constitute the  researcher’s theory of risk? These questions posed the majorphilosophical challenges the researcher needed to resolve throughan extensive review of literature on the theory and techniquesproposed for managing risk. This study seeks to understand the extent to which contractorsapportion risk in their tenders; and how, and in what circumstances,risk apportionment influences prices. In the first place, this requireda comprehensive strategy for capturing pricing activities, observingwhat contractors do when they put together a price, learning aboutwhat features they take account of, including the extent to whichthey apportion risk and the mechanisms they use for building uptheir contingencies. In essence, the main purpose was to carry outa major study that captures the whole tender process of contractorsas it normally happens, and use the data to answer the researchquestions.First, this required the justification of an appropriate researchstrategy prior to the choosing of appropriate methods for carryingout the fieldwork within the framework of the chosen researchstrategy (Gill and Johnson, 2002). Due to a similarity in the nature of the question asked, the approach used for formulating the stepsrequired to carry out the study was informed by the one used byMintzberg (1973: 221-229) for investigating the question: whatmanagers actually do? Here, the research question is: how docontractors actually price risk in bids? Mintzberg reviewed potentialmethods, listing their advantages and disadvantages and how eachmight be most appropriately used to achieve his research objectiveof discovering what managers actually do.   Table 4.1 Evaluation of potential research strategies ResearchstrategyEpistemologicalstandpointSensitivity forcapturing the tenderprocess variable, contractors pricea bidSensitivity forcapturing the risk response variable, contractors pricerisk in bids ExperimentPositivismExperiments are oftenhighly structured, one-off, and artificial innature. Hence, may nothelp to capture thewhole tender processand humanistic elementsaffecting bid-pricing.Risk is a conceptinfluenced by humanperception. Experimentmay be unable to capturethe humanistic elementsprompting risk response,and changes in riskattitudes over time.SurveyObjectivism Surveys are often highlystructured, cross-sectional, and shallow innature. Hence, may notbe best suited forcapturing the whole bid-pricing process in theway it naturally happens.Surveys may result inwhat people claim to dorather than what theymay actually do.Surveys rely onrespondents’ accountsand their ability to relatepast events well. Riskresponse may vary overtime. Sometimes, some of the risk may be includedso smoothly in prices thateven the estimator doesnot realize it. Hence,survey may not beappropriate.CasestudyRealismCase studies can bebased on a longitudinalor cross-sectional timehorizon. Hence, makingit suited for capturingthe whole tenderprocess. Its flexibilityallows the use of appropriate methodssuch as observation toexplore naturally anddeeply. The potential use of various methods includingobservation offers areliable means of seeingwhat contractors actuallydo and to shadow somelive tender processes inorder to map riskapportionment attitudesand changes throughoutthe process.ActionresearchSubjectivismAction research is avaluable variant of quasi-experiments.However, it entailsplanned interventionsand hypothetico-deductive analysis whichmay not be best suitedfor the commercialsetting of bidding.Hence, it could bedifficult to implementthis kind of research in areal life tender process. The use of plannedinterventions in thetender process and thenmonitoring the effect of that intervention todiscern whether or not ithas produced theexpected outcomes maybe difficult in real life andperhaps not be bestsuited for capturing riskresponse as it naturallyhappens in the tenderprocess.GroundedtheoryPragmatismGrounded theoryresearch has thefeatures required to helpcapture the tenderprocess of contractors.However, the mainconcern here is not togenerate theories abouttendering but to providea descriptive account of what contractorsactually do.Grounded theory is wellsuited for studies of human interaction, andexploratory research.Hence, it provides anappropriate and naturalmeans to potentiallycapture risk responseattitudes in the tenderprocess of contractors.EthnographyInterpretivismWith its longitudinalnature and potentialapplication of severalmethods, ethnographyprovides a major meansof capturing the wholetender process of Ethnographic research iscredited with a focus onnaturalism through theuse of direct observationwhich would provide auseful means of identifying the
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