Epistemology is the understanding of the acceptable knowledge in a specific field of study. Weber et al. (2015) go further to clarify this concept through questioning whether natural and social sciences should be studied in a similar manner. On this question, there are two main schools of thought, interpretivism, and positivism. If a researcher decides to use positivism, then he/she is better suited for the study of natural sciences since positivism assumes that only observable variables can produce credible data. On the other hand, choosing interpretivism, data collection will be heavily dependent on the interpretation as it gives a lot of weight to the role of social actors.
3.3 Research Approach
Choosing a research approach is of major importance to a researcher as it connects the existing body of knowledge and the particular research philosophies (Lewis et al., 2015). In my case, there are two approaches to conducting this research study; deduction and induction. Deduction involves developing and critically analyzing relevant theories, developing a hypothesis, and then testing the hypothesis using collected field data (Lewis et al., 2015). The alternate approach, induction, involves building a theory from the analysis of collected data. Unfortunately, in the research community, there are stereotypes about these approaches as a deductive approach is usually associated with quantitative and scientific studies while induction is associated with social studies involving qualitative data.
Rather than choosing one approach over the other, my research will utilize both inductive and deductive approaches, a combination that Reichertz et al. (2013) terms as an abduction. The choice was made in response to the purpose of my research. I want to study two food delivery systems with regards to specific aspects such as their structure, leadership, and organizational communication. Since these are areas with an extensive body of knowledge available, it will be most effective to collect relevant theories to gain a deeper understanding of the research subject. However, rather than forming and testing a hypothesis against the existing theories, I am going to use the theoretical underpinnings to understand the chosen areas better. This follows with the active approach through the search for patterns and forming conclusions.
There are five possible approaches that I considered for this qualitative research; ethnography, phenomenology, field research, grounded theory, and a case study. The ethnographic approach to qualitative studies derives from the field of anthropology. Ethnography focuses on studying an entire culture under the research topic. This is mainly due to its roots in anthropology where the idea of a culture is often tied to notions of geographic location and ethnicity though it has currently been expanded to include any organization or group. Ethnography is a diverse area with a multitude of methods and practitioners with the most common ethnographic research approach involving participant observation over long periods of field research. In this approach, the researcher becomes fully immersed in the culture under study as an active participant who records extensive field notes. Ethnographic researchers join in the daily lives of the study participants. Marshall et al. (2014) explain ethnographic research as collecting on site data in several ways to aid in triangulation over a period. Ethnographic research requires that the researchers collect data in the natural setting of their participants over a long timescale. They research the patterns of behavior, shared beliefs, and language within a cultural group all of which requires extended observation periods. However, ethnography will not work in this case since it explores a single data source not processes within a group of individuals.
The second approach, phenomenology, can sometimes be considered as a research approach as well as a philosophical perspective. Phenomenology is closely related to ethnography in that it seeks to understand how other people view the world, and how these views differ from the commonly held views (Smith et al., 2015). Therefore, phenomenology focuses on individual subjective interpretations of their life experiences. Data collection in phenomenological studies is done mainly through interviews to learn the individual’s impressions about a particular experience. This approach is mainly used in fields such as sociology, psychology and social work (Smith et al., 2015). Due to geographical limitations inherent in the current study, phenomenology would not have been a suitable approach as it would not have addressed the research question.
Field research is also a derivative of anthropology but unlike ethnography and phenomenology, it offers a broader approach to qualitative studies as the researcher has to go into the field or in the case of organizational studies, into the organization, which is necessary in order to observe the group under study in their natural environment (Smith et al., 2015). This approach bears similarities with ethnography in that the researcher documents extensive notes in their day-to-day interactions with the group under study. The difference between the two lies in that the field researcher observes from within his subjects while an ethnographer observes from outside the culture. Due to time and financial constraints, field research would not have been possible for the Dabbawala supply chain system.
The fourth approach is Grounded Theory in which researchers attempt to advance theories about the phenomenon under study. However, these theories must be based on observation. Grounded theory approach involves a complicated iterative process where the researcher begins with formulating generative questions that help in guiding the research while being non-confining or definitive (Dimmock et al., 2012). Therefore, the researchers have to identify the base theoretical concepts during the data collection phase. The researcher the formulates linkages between the new data collected and the theoretical foundations. Since each piece of data collected can potentially result in additional linkages, the process only ends when the researcher decides to conclude the study.
The last qualitative research approach is the case study. This approach generates a detailed analysis of a specific case. In this study, I have employed a case study approach. The case study design focuses on one or multiple cases and comprehensively analyzes them by collecting data about the population under study through various methods. Researchers employing this approach seek to understand and be able to explain how and why a series of events and participant experiences happened the way they did (Yin et al., 2014). Yin also argues that researchers employing this design should use multiple methods of analyzing the collected data. The case study approach is the most suitable for the current study since my purpose is to explore the factors that have facilitated the Six-Sigma compliant service delivery of the dabbawalas and determine factors that may be hindering their organizational development.
Yin et al. (2014) describe the aim of each study as having to describe why and how a sequence of events happened. The Case study approach has some added flexibility as compared to phenomenology in determining the quantity of data to collect and the linkages to be explored. In qualitative studies, the specific context of each situation requires detailed research and in keeping specific contexts, generalizability is unachievable. A case study research approach allows for the exploration, recording, and understanding of how the Dabbawala have maintained a stellar service record for over a century, how these practices can be generalized to other organizations, factors constraining their organizational expansion, and then provide recommendations on how they can utilize technology to aid in their growth efforts.
3.4 Research Strategy
Since my research was based upon a descriptive-analytical research strategy. This means that the research analyzed the available data and strove to draw some conclusions. I discarded the exploratory approach as the area of organizational efficiency have been well researched. Additionally, a purely descriptive approach would have rendered this work meaningless due to the available literature on both organizations under study.
3.5 Research Design
Considering the research purpose, a case study research design is the only appropriate one. Cronin et al. (2014) posit that case studies identify their research with specific geographical regions, in our case, two organizations, McDonalds and MTBSA thereby confining the research boundaries to two entities.
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