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When reviewing scholarly studies that deploy the methodology of a qualitative inquiry, it is important to be fully aware of what ‘constructs’ the criteria for assessing their actual value. The rationale behind this suggestion is quite apparent – the very nature of a qualitative research presupposes that, in order to be able to succeed in it, researchers must be capable of understanding what accounts for the would-be probed phenomena’s discursive significance.
As Padgett noted, “Qualitative studies seek to represent the complex worlds of respondents in a holistic, on-the-ground manner. They emphasize subjective meanings and question the existence of a single objective reality” (2004, p. 3). Thus, in order to be considered as such that represents a legitimate scientific value, a particular qualitative study must be fully consistent with the so-called principle of the Hermeneutic Circle: “We come to understand a complex whole from preconceptions about the meanings of its parts and their interrelationships” (Klein & Myers, 1999, p. 71). It must also be observant of the principle of Contextualization (the actual significance of a particular political, cultural or scientific idea cannot be discussed outside of its historical context).
We can also mention the principle of Interaction (it presents scientists with the challenge of establishing a psychological trust with study’s subjects, while remaining unaffected by these people’s subjective opinions) and the principle of Multiple Interpretations (it is only by adopting an ideologically neutral approach towards making a qualitative inquiry that researchers are able to endow their conclusions with theoretical soundness). Finally, a high-quality qualitative study must be indicative of the researcher’s ability to recognize its own prejudices, in regards to the studied subject matter, without striving to suppress them altogether, as the positivist researchers do (Draper, 2004).
In the paper’s following part, I will review five academic qualitative studies, which address the matters, related to the notion of organizational culture, and which I believe were conducted in manner, more or less consistent with the earlier mentioned principles.
- In her 2010 study Applicability of the resource-based and dynamic-capability views under environmental volatility, Lei-Yu Wu aimed to test the validity of the hypothesis that: “A highly volatile environment does not weaken the positive relationship between ﬁrm dynamic capabilities and competitive advantage” (p. 28). The deployed methodological approach was concerned with asking 2000 of the randomly selected CEOs from firms in Taiwan to fill out a questionnaire (containing questions, related to the tested hypothesis), and analyzing the obtained 253 valid responses. The analysis’s focal point was to determine the discursive acuteness of the following factors (variables), within the context of how the sampled respondents usually go about ensuring the commercial successfulness of the affiliated organizations: resources, environmental volatility, dynamic capabilities and competitive advantages. The instrument of the obtained data’s quantification was a 7-point Likert scale.In the aftermath of having conducted the study’s empirical and analytical phases, Lei-Yu Wu determined that a particular organization’s ability to address competitive challenges, by the mean of relying on its well-established access to the rare, inimitable, and non-substitutable resources, negatively relates to the measure of the affiliated environment’s volatility. As the author pointed out: “In highly volatile environments, the effects of resource accumulation on gaining competitive advantages are considerably reduced” (p. 31). Hence, the study’s foremost conclusion – one of the main keys to ensuring that a particular firm would be able to maintain its competitive edge in the highly volatile environment, is increasing the extent of this firm’s dynamic capability.
- In their 2010 study Dynamic capabilities, deliberate learning and environmental dynamism: A simulation model, Romme, Zollo and Berends aimed to define the effects of deliberate learning – DL (with its integral components being the experience accumulation – AE, knowledge articulation – KA and knowledge codification – KC) on the extent of the organization’s dynamic capability. For this purpose, the authors conducted a number of simulation experiments (concerned with simulating the impacts of the earlier mentioned forms of DL on the organization’s operational routines – OR), during the course of which it was determined that, contrary what many researchers tend to assume, the effects of this type of learning on the organization’s systemic functioning are rather counterintuitive. As the authors pointed out: “The simulation experiments… demonstrate that the impact of deliberate learning on dynamic capability is non-linear and complex in nature” (1290). Hence, the foremost idea that is being promoted throughout the study’s entirety: “Increasing levels of deliberate learning investments produce both positive and negative effects on the organization’s ability to adapt its operations” (1275). According to Romme, Zollo and Berends, this can be explained by the fact that, even though the knowledge-related intensification of OR does result in increasing the measure of the organization’s operational flexibility, this comes at the expense of the same organization being required to invest into the process a number of often scarcely available resources. The authors also point out the additional factors that contribute to the above-mentioned phenomenon, such as the fact that the functioning of just about any organization can be discussed in terms of thermodynamics. This, of course, implies that the long-term effects of how managers go about ensuring the organization’s continual competitiveness cannot be predicted with the high degree of certainty.
- The 2012 qualitative study Does ethics statement of a public relations firm make a difference? Yes it does!!, by Ki, Choi and Lee, is concerned with promoting the idea that the measure of a particular organization’s affiliation with the ongoing ethics-related discourse, positively relates to the affiliated mangers’ likelihood to favor the specifically ethical mode of decision-making. The study aimed to outline the qualitative subtleties of this phenomenon. The essence of the insights into what prompts managers to act ethically, contained in the study, establishes the authors’ association with the Excellence Model of public relations. Methodologically speaking, the study is about analyzing the responses of 270 CEOs (located in Korea) to the ethics-related questions, contained in the specially designed questionnaires. Out of the 249 returned questionnaires (response rate – 53%), only 219 ended up being subjected to the sub-sequential set of analytical inquiries. The quantification of the obtained data was achieved with the mean of assigning the values of 0 and 1 to the dummy variables of the ‘existence of ethics statement’ and the ‘existence of education about ethics’. The study’s main finding is that, “Among the 219 practitioners, less than half (n = 105, 47.9%) indicated that their firm presented parameters to guide ethical public relations practices” (p. 271). The authors believe that this illustrates the validity of the study’s premise that the issue of ethics, within the context of how many commercial enterprises operate, often ends up neglected. In its turn, this prompted Ki, Choi and Lee to conclude that, for as long as it concerns ethical issues, employees should take part in the managerial decision-making process. The study’s main implication is that it exposes the innate reasons why many managers do not take the issue of ethics close to their hearts.
- The main idea, promoted throughout the 2008 study A state of neglect: Public relations as ‘corporate conscience’ by Bowen, is that the role of ethics counsel (corporate conscience) is being commonly downplayed. The study aims to expose the inappropriateness of this state of affairs. It is also there to investigate what can be considered the actual source of the ethical attitudes, on the part of public relations professionals. While collecting the empirical data, the author deployed a multi-theoretical approach to doing this. The study’s methodology is concerned with the principle of a qualitative inquiry (interviewing the study’s participants and elaborating on the discursive significance of the obtained responses): “The four focus groups and 12 individual interviews were conducted by four professionally trained interviewers and moderators” (p. 278). The overall number of the study’s participants primarily GEOs) was 25. Throughout the study’s empirical phase, the selected participants were asked to reflect upon their own understanding of what accounts for the ethically sound approaches to managing an organization. This, of course, points out to the fact that the reviewed study can be considered highly interpretative. The study’s main finding is that, “Public relations practitioners… should employ the two-way symmetrical model as a way to create mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and its publics” (p. 291). This suggestion implies that, while on the line of their professional duties, public relations specialists must remain thoroughly observant of the discursive implications of the surrounding socio-economic environment. Thus, it will indeed be appropriate, on our part, to refer to this specific study, as such that contributes to the conceptual legitimacy of the post-modernist paradigm of public relations/management.
- In his 2013 study Harnessing value in knowledge management for performance in buyer–supplier collaboration, Yang strived to test the validity of the hypothesis that there is a positive correlation between the intensity of the knowledge-management processes within the organization, on one hand, and the measure of this organization’s operational efficiency, on the other. The discursive legitimacy of such a claim is being illustrated, in regards to the extensive literature-review, provided at the study’s beginning. The study’s empirical phase was concerned with asking the selected participants (137 CEOs in China) to fill out the questionnaires with questions, relevant to the researched subject matter. The obtained data was consequentially “analyzed using hierarchical moderated regression in SPSS” (p. 1987). The applied regression model made it possible both: the data’s quantification and the analysis of the essence of its qualitative fluctuations. The study’s main finding appears fully consistent with the initially provided hypothesis: “The relationship between knowledge dissemination and supply-chain integration will be positive when the degree of relational stability is high” (p. 1988). In its turn, this suggests that there is indeed a good reason in believing that the extent of the organization’s structural integrity cannot be discussed outside of how the systemic parts of this organization interrelate – something that presupposes the appropriateness of the specifically post-modern approaches to management. The indication that the reviewed study does represent a practical value, can also be considered the fact that it contains a number of insights, into the discursive origins of China’s ‘economic miracle’.
As it was mentioned in the Introduction, the reviewed studies do appear having been conducted in accordance with the main principles of making a qualitative inquiry. The validity of this suggestion can be best illustrated, in regards to the fact that, just about every of these studies provide a number of discursively ‘fresh’ insights into the researched issues (Nordqvist, Hall & Melin, 2009; Denzin & Lincoln, 2003). This implies that we can refer to the reviewed studies, as such that represent the objective value of a ‘thing in itself’. The soundness of this suggestion can also be shown, in regards to what can be considered the proofs that the element of a perceptual biasness in every of the reviewed study is rather negligible.
It is understood, of course, that this adds to the studies’ overall value rather considerably. There are, however, a few drawbacks to these studies, as well. The main of them appears to be the fact that the number of the sampled participants, in all five studies, can hardly be referred as being fully representative, in the cross-sectional sense of this word – something that is being deemed the most common methodological weakness of just about every qualitative research. Thus, it will be fully appropriate to conclude this paper by reinstating once again that the reviewed articles indeed represent some good examples of how this type of research must be conducted. I believe that this conclusion does correlate with the paper’s initially provided suggestion, as to the evaluation of qualitative studies.
Bowen, S. (2008). A state of neglect: Public relations as ‘corporate conscience’ or ethics counsel. Journal of Public Relations Research, 20 (3), 271-296.
Denzin, N. & Lincoln, Y. (2003). Collecting and interpreting qualitative materials. London: Sage.
Draper, A. (2004). The principles and application of qualitative research. The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 63 (4), 641-646.
Ki, E., Choi, H. & Lee, J. (2012). Does ethics statement of a public relations firm make a difference? Yes it does!! Journal of Business Ethics, 105 (2), 267-276.
Klein, H. & Myers, M. (1999). A set of principles for conducting andevaluating interpretive field studies in information systems. MIS Quarterly, 23 (1), 67-94.
Nordqvist, M., Hall, A. & Melin, L. (2009). Qualitative research on family businesses: The relevance and usefulness of the interpretive approach. Journal of Management and Organization, 15 (3), 294-308.
Padgett, D. (2004). The qualitative research experience. Boston: Cengage Learning.
Romme, G., Zollo, M. & and Berends. (2010). Dynamic capabilities, deliberate learning and environmental dynamism: A simulation model. Industrial and Corporate Change, 19 (4), 1271–1299.
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Wu, L. (2010). Applicability of the resource-based and dynamic-capability: Views under environmental volatility. Journal of Business Research, 63 (2), 27–31.
Yang, J. (2013). Harnessing value in knowledge management for performance in buyer–supplier collaboration. International Journal of Production Research, 51 (7), 1984-1991.