There are two basic approaches in knowledge creation, and they are hermeneutic approach and the positivist approach. The positivist approach is generally related to that school of thought that believes that truth is always evident and can be accurately measured through the use of proper methods. This approach also believes that truth is pristine and purely objective in nature and is unaffected by the point of view of the observer (Bryman 2002). The other basic approach to knowledge creation is hermeneutic approach that bears very close reflection of the idea of Verstehen as propounded by Webers. In its basic form, this approach to conducting a study focuses on proper interpretation of text. (Cooper and Schindler 1998)
Philips and Brown (Phillips and Brown 1993) feels that the researcher should interpret the available text from the point of view of the author’s and while analyzing the underlying subtext must surely take into consideration the socio-cultural context and the interplay of various related vectors while the text was actually written. Once such a perspective is obtained, a close examination of the structure of the text is undertaken and, if necessary, in the light of intensive examination of the structure of the text, the earlier interpretation of the text and the conclusions drawn from it are altered. This approach very closely approximates the qualitative approach adopted while adopting the interview and questionnaire method of data collection and interpretation because in this method the researcher needs to evaluate and analyze the responses against the backdrop of prevailing socio-cultural context and interpret them accordingly keeping these socio-cultural parameters in mind and place them in proper categories. Any error in properly evaluating the impact of the all pervasive socio-cultural backdrop will most surely throw up wrong conclusions from the research.
In the research undertaken in the present instance, there is no scope of adopting the positivist approach as there is no truth as such that needs to be uncovered and dispassionately observed and analyzed; all that is available is a series of impressions and expectations from interested groups and experts in this field of human endeavor. The approach would be to collect these impressions and expectations in as unbiased manner as possible and attempt to analyze the responses from various respondents keeping in mind the socio-cultural milieu to which the particular respondent belongs. Thus, hermeneutic approach would be the most suitable approach in the present context where available responses will be critically analyzed to arrive at concrete logical conclusions.
Designing the study
C. William Emory had laid down certain basic prerequisites for an effective research design and it would be worthwhile to recall those details at this juncture (Emory 1985). Design is basically a three tier structure and at the very lowest (or, first stage) tier a clear description should be available regarding the nature of information that is relevant to the research question and the desirable sources from where such information can be obtained. The second tier should mention the strategies and techniques that need to be adopted and applied for collecting the relevant information and in the final tier an approximation should be provided regarding the time required and the cost that has to be borne in conducting the research.
The design of the research is, in my opinion, very important as it is in this stage that a crucial decision is being taken to determine the appropriate method of collecting data and, though all methods have their respective advantages and disadvantages; it is the choice of the data collecting method that gives a research either sufficient depth or gives it a generalized and superficial nature. If the data collection method is inappropriate, the reliability and validity of the entire research work might be open to questioning from various quarters.
It is quite obvious that the design of the research has to be scientific to ensure credibility and relevance of the entire research work and there a five well established criteria that must be fulfilled for a research to be called a genuinely scientific study (Denzin and Yvonna 1994).
- The researcher should be in a position to assess what is the truth and must always be in a position to assess and reassess both the data and the methods by which the said data has been collected.
- The person who has asked the questions must be identified so as to identify whether there can be a possibility of a latent bias while the questions are being asked by that particular person. This is a double check to ensure there is no personal bias while collecting data as this happens to be one of the biggest drawbacks of any qualitative research study.
- The conclusions arrived from the available data must be presented in a way that it can be cross checked and reworked, if necessary or desired by any other person.
- All hypothesis and conclusions must be falsifiable.
- There must be total transparency in the entire process with the methods adopted in conducting the research, the available data and the conclusions drawn from them laid open and threadbare to all those that are interested in the entire exercise.
There is an inherent problem with these five demands. Replication of a specific set of responses is usually very difficult, practically impossible, even if the questioner and the respondent remain identical if the set of questions are repeated at two different time intervals. This surely does not put the validity of the questionnaire in doubt as a lot of parameters keep changing in volatile scenarios and responses also vary in tune with the altering backdrop. Thus the practical approach would be to slightly alter the questions keeping in tune with parameters that might have changed over time but being very particular that the basic nature, tone and tenor of the questionnaire remains intact.
While collection of data is surely a very daunting task, analysis and interpretation of collected data is no less an important activity since the final outcome and conclusion of the research process completely depends upon how the available data is interpreted. There is an inherent risk in interpretation in that there may be multiple interpretations that might be equally valid (at least from the point of view of dry logic if not from the practicable or feasible angle) since there is always the danger semantic confusion arising in questions asked and answers provided as same words indeed carry different connotations and denotations when used by different social groups, especially a group which has intrinsically remained in the minority and been subjected to severe social strictures and discrimination. This problem of semantic confusion is very hard, almost impossible, to solve and one has to try and remain as unaffected as possible while carrying out the research project (Reichardt, et al. 1995).
However, there is one way out of this problem and that is by being completely transparent throughout this research process and allowing the respondent to know how the response is being interpreted and allowing the respondent to alter the response if, in the opinion of the respondent, the responses have not been properly interpreted. Such a confirmatory detour before the responses are officially published has been found to remove a majority of so-called misinterpretations.
Since we will base our research process entirely on qualitative approach, it is perhaps necessary that we clarify what exactly a qualitative approach signifies. Though it is difficult to give a technically accurate meaning of qualitative approach, all that can be said about this approach is that it concentrates on processes and meanings that cannot be concretely quantified in terms of amount, quantity or frequency. However, such an approach provides a deeper understanding of the researched variable in the larger context of interrelated social forces that combine together to continually influence the researched phenomenon (Hamel 1993).
There are a sizeable number of experts that believe although qualitative approach might not be that sound statistically or mathematically, it indeed provides a far greater understanding of a phenomenon in its socio-cultural milieu which helps the researchers to formulate logical theories about why and how a phenomenon occurs under certain specific circumstances (Markus and Robey 1988).
According to historians, primary sources involve written records left by people who have actually lived in an era or have personally witnessed an incident. Primary sources, with respect to research process refer to the basic and original material that formed the evidence that the researcher examines analyses and interprets (Finnegan 1996).
Researchers can, as Cooper and Schindler state, collect primary data either through direct or indirect (i.e. over telephone or email or by sending a questionnaire) interviews (Cooper and Schindler 1998). The primary data used in this research process was obtained through four face-to-face interviews, four telephonic interviews and twelve responses received against questionnaires sent.
Secondary sources are data that have already been collected, analyzed and results presented by some earlier research process conducted in the related field and for the purposes of the current research process secondary data consists essentially of relevant information published in journals, magazines and websites (Zikmund 2000).
There are certain advantages and disadvantages of basing a research on secondary sources. The main advantage of secondary data is its ready availability in huge quantity and at negligible cost whereas collection of primary data is a very costly and time consuming exercise which is not always possible for every researcher to undertake on a large scale. Simultaneously, the inherent disadvantages of secondary data can also not be denied as the data available in the websites have been compiled by someone other than the researcher and the credibility and relevance of the data can very well be questioned. So, in the current research process, the researcher has exercised considerable precaution and judgment before incorporating any secondary data in the research material and can claim with a reasonable degree of confidence that the secondary data is authentic and entirely credible.
Practical Aspects of Interviews and Questionnaires
There are basically two types of interviews – structured and unstructured. While the structured interview runs along a predetermined script and is mainly controlled by the interviewer, the unstructured type generally begins with the interviewer having some loose structure in mind and letting the interview proceed along as the interviewee responds and modifying, skipping or even creating new questions along the way. The researcher might adopt both the methods and is the best judge in the given situation as to which method is best suited for the purpose of the research process.
The other issue that needs to be settled is whether the interview is to be recorded or a transcript of it would be prepared or whether the interviewer will simply rely on memory while incorporating the data in the main database. While recordings and transcripts have their obvious advantages, the time and cost involved in these options and the usual reluctance observed in most interviewees of being recorded during an interview had forced the current researcher to rely on memory but sufficient care has been taken to ensure that the collected data faithfully reflected what the interviewees had to convey (Kvale 1996).
The following seven criteria were strictly followed while conducting the interviews to make them as unbiased as possible:
- Consideration – The interviewer showed enough consideration and refrained from occupying a high ground while conducting the interview.
- Empathy – The interviewer expressed sufficient empathy with the interviewee.
- Transparency and flexibility – The interviewer never shied away from expressing opinions when the situation demanded so and was always willing to rephrase questions for better comprehension of the interviewees.
- Critical – The interviewer, however, never hesitated to point out inconsistencies or prima facie contradictions in responses of the interviewees.
- Attentiveness – The interviewer was sufficiently attentive throughout every interview session so that inconsistencies and self contradictions could be pointed out the moment they occurred.
- Interpret – The interviewer was always ready to help in interpreting a question or properly framing a response so that the interviewee felt satisfied that the final response actually conveyed what the respondent meant it to be.
- Ethical – The interviewer always remained within ethical limits while conducting the interview
The interviews that have been conducted during the research process were unstructured with some guiding questions and broad topics that ensured the interview progressed more like an informed free flowing interaction rather than a question answer session that happens in most structured interviews. However, being unstructured in nature, the questions and their answers were obviously not identical in every instance but the guiding questions ensured that the interviews progressed along broadly the same line in each occasion. The unstructured nature of the interviews also helped the respondents feel relaxed and they were more forthcoming with information and suggestions than they would have probably been had the interview been strictly structured.
The interviews were conducted with persons that are directly involved and affected by the researched phenomenon and they included Libyan professionals and students and teachers who have studied or are studying in schools and universities in Libya. Attempts were made to interview some university professors who are actively involved Libyan education scene and have first hand information and impression about this area, but those interviews turned out to be more of a pedagogic monologue without throwing up any personal opinions or sharing any personal experiences. Since such theoretical discussions are freely available in websites and magazines, the current researcher failed to discover any specific merit in those and decided against incorporating them in the final database.
The interviews were done without any electronic recording but copious notes were taken and these were elaborated into properly formed sentences and paragraphs and transferred to laptop. The interviewees were given printouts of such notes and their responses were incorporated in the main research data only after they agreed about the content.
The interviewees were informed at least three days in advance about the nature and purpose of the interview and this was repeated at the beginning of the interview so that respondents understood why and how they could be most helpful in the entire process. The issue of anonymity and publication of names was also discussed threadbare as it involved an important ethical factor and in all the instances it was resolved to the full satisfaction of all the parties involved in the process (Calder 1977).
The choice of appropriate language was also an issue that needed some attention and the researcher upheld the principle of transparency by not hesitating to use Ebonics when it was felt that its use will add to the transparency and comprehensibility of the ongoing interview process. The response was very positive and the researcher was invited in more than one instance to return with further queries if any. At times, direct and pointed questions were asked when routine questions failed to elicit desired response.
Design of Questions
Though there were no predetermined questions as such, all questions that were asked observed the basic six criteria (Payne 1980) of a properly worded interview question:
- Is the question asked in a language known to both the interviewer and respondent?
- Is the question unambiguous?
- Are there any unstated assumptions in mind of the interviewer?
- Is the wording neutral or tries to indirectly influence the respondent?
- Is the question too impersonal to elicit a proper response, or, has the question the right amount of personal touch to make the respondent involved?
- Are there sufficient alternatives available to make the answer meaningful?
There is always another issue that needs to be resolved before designing the questions. That is, whether the questions would be open ended or close ended. As the researched topic is a sociological phenomenon rather than a purely scientific one, there would be many occasions where a closed question would not be able to elicit a reply that accurately portrays the interviewees’ opinion. A mere ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ more often than not a proper indicator of what the respondent is trying to convey. As a sociological phenomenon that has been in operation for close to four decades was researched, more emphasis was placed on open ended questions where the respondents had the liberty to frame their responses in such a manner that threw up various facets of the researched phenomenon in its proper perspective and impact.
The questionnaire that was sent to respondents had a turnaround time of two weeks as that was considered necessary for them to provide well thought out responses instead of the instant and quite possibly casual replies. Further, the questionnaire was framed keeping in mind Emory’s guidelines in this regard so as to obtain as genuine responses as possible. The guidelines that were strictly adhered to were (Emory 1985):
· The questionnaire was framed in such a manner that respondents became quickly interested in the process and became motivated to voluntarily participate in the process.
· The respondents were not subjected to early requests about information that could be construed by them as being personal or might hurt their ego.
· The questions commenced with simple and straightforward issues and gradually progressed towards more complicated, critical and nuanced issues.
· Special care was taken to ensure that changes in frame of reference was kept at the minimum and wherever such changes indeed occurred as they became unavoidable, these were clearly pointed out.