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Research Design

Page history last edited by Mark 10 years, 1 month ago

Research Design


In order to explore the individually-experienced nature of organization in the dual meaning contexts of the BAH and UCaPP discourses, the study examines five organizations, selected purposefully with maximum variation (Patton, 2002, p. 234-235) among organization types, sectors, sizes, ages, profit-objectives, participant gender, and scope of responsibility. I recruited the organizations through several means: two of the organizations were aware of my research through prior engagement and volunteered their potential participation (subject to review of the informed consent documents and their internal approval process); I was introduced to one organization through a mutual acquaintance; two of the organizations became aware of my recruiting efforts via people who read about my recruitment endeavours on my weblog (Federman, 2005-2010).


Because I am seeking to understand issues surrounding the nature of organization from the contexts of both BAH-conception and a conception grounded in UCaPP effects, I chose to limit the selection of organizations to those that are primarily grounded in Western cultures and sensibilities – the source of BAH effects – with a grounding in a literate, rather than primary oral, society. Thus, for instance, I would not choose an aboriginal or First Nations organization to include in this study, as such organizations emerge from a primary oral culture (Ong, 1982). Neither did I select organizations that are based in non-Western countries.


After securing institutional approval (Appendix A) from each participating organization, an email was sent by the organization to its members inviting them to contact me directly if they were interested in potentially participating in the project. I provided all those who responded with an informed consent package (Appendix B) that briefly described the project, the role they might play in it, and the potential risks and benefits of participation. In total, eighteen of the people who responded from among the five organizations that agreed to participate completed the informed consent package.


From December, 2007 through June 2008, I conducted relatively unstructured, in-depth interviews (Fontana & Frey, 2000) with each of the eighteen participants, with equal numbers of men and women. Although I acknowledge that racial, cultural and ethnic backgrounds might well influence individuals’ experiences in organizations when considered from the ground of relationships, the overall sample size of this study is, of necessity, sufficiently small so as not to enable specific selections on these, and other, diverse grounds. Based on the information and preliminary analysis from the first research conversations, and in keeping with the principles of theoretical sampling (Charmaz, 2000, p. 519; Strauss & Corbin, 1998, chap. 13) in the context of a grounded theory study, I returned to ten of the participants from three of the five organizations for second interviews between March and September, 2008.


Research Participants


All organizations were offered the option of having their identities disguised. Of the five, two not only requested confidentiality, but required me to sign a non-disclosure agreement concerning any confidential information that might be disclosed to me during the research conversations. I considered this to be advantageous to the interview process, since I could assure the participants from these organizations that they did not have to be guarded in their comments; that I was bound by the same confidentiality requirements as they. The authorizing individual at another organization said that he would reserve judgment with respect to identity confidentiality, pending the research findings (that organization remains confidential). Finally, two organizations gave permission for their organization’s identities to be revealed, with two of four participants from one, and both participants from the other organization, giving permission to use their real names.


According to the admittedly subjective and limited criteria described in the previous chapter, I assessed that two of the organizations were predominantly BAH in nature, two were predominantly UCaPP, and one appeared to be more-UCaPP at the beginning of the study and more-BAH in its behaviours and characteristics by the end. Interestingly, the two organizations identified as more-UCaPP agreed to reveal their identities in the research, while the two, more-BAH organizations requested confidentiality. The organization that appeared to transition from more-UCaPP to more-BAH was the one that reserved judgment. It is unclear – and not a part of the scope of this research to conclude – whether a more-UCaPP organization would generally be more willing to be open about its internal processes and organizational behaviour. However, I would suggest that such openness is consistent with UCaPP behavioural findings, and with the explanatory theory that will be discussed later in this thesis.


A more detailed summary of the participants and the research conversations can be found in Appendix C. Briefly though, here are the five participating organizations, in alphabetical order:


Organization A is a division of a Fortune 50 company in the information, computer, and communications industry and is therefore very large, well-established, and global in its for-profit business operations in the private sector. Organization A had recently undergone several years of significant organizational change and disruption to many of its members, and at the time of the research conversations was in a period of relative organizational stability. The five participants from Organization A include “Adam,” “Frank,” “Karen,” “Robert,” and “Roxanne.” One of the participants, Robert, has direct, supervisory responsibility; Roxanne has project management responsibility over a very large project team whose members come from various parts of the organization. The others are relatively senior specialists in their respective areas of expertise. I would consider Organization A to be a more-BAH organization.


Organization F is a small, four-year-old company with profit aspirations, considering itself recently out of start-up mode. Throughout the course of the study, Organization F grew from about twelve, to over twenty people. It offers web-based business services, primarily to other small enterprises and home-based businesses, although some groups in larger firms do use its services. Organization F’s three participants include “Aaron,” “Jeff,” and “Matt,” Matt being the founding CEO of the company. Organization F appeared to be more-UCaPP in its nature at the beginning of the study, but by the time of the second set of research conversations, it seems to have adopted considerably more-BAH behaviours and organizational constructs.


Inter Pares is a social-justice, non-governmental organization managed explicitly on feminist principles. It is politically active, tending to work with marginalized and oppressed peoples in Canada and in the emerging world. Inter Pares’s thematic foci tend to be related to issues like women’s rights, local control over natural resources, sustainable agriculture, community rebuilding after war, and similar peace and justice endeavours. Its two participants are Samantha (“Sam”) and Jean, both of whom agreed that their organization demonstrated behaviours and an organizational philosophy that are characteristic of what I would call an archetypal UCaPP organization. However, it was not always so: Inter Pares transformed from being a more-BAH organization approximately fifteen years ago, primarily so that its internal dynamics and culture would be consistent with its espoused, externally represented, values.


Organization M is a ministry of a provincial government in Canada. Consequently, it is a relatively large, very bureaucratic, administratively controlled, and hierarchical organization—as BAH in its operations as Inter Pares is UCaPP. According to one of the participants, Organization M became increasingly more BAH in its nature beginning approximately twenty-five years ago, resulting in a significant shift in the nature, scope, and breadth of individuals’ jobs, and their attitudes towards their employment in the organization. The four participants vary in tenure from less than one year in the organization, to over thirty years; it was fascinating for me to see the differences in their ascribed relationship to the organization, and their individual outlooks based on the length of their employment. The participants include “Mary,” “Mina,” “Sean,” and “Stan.”


The fifth organization is Unit 7, an approximately 100-person advertising and direct marketing agency based in New York City. Unit 7 is part of Omnicom, the largest conglomerate of advertising, marketing, public relations, branding, and event management organizations in the world. It is a for-profit corporation, tending to work with some of the largest organizations in the United States, including those located in the pharmaceutical, financial, health care, industrial, and manufacturing sectors. At the time of the study, Unit 7 was a little over four years into a transformation from being a BAH organization to becoming a more-UCaPP organization; as reported by the participants, the transformation has been, and continues to be, a considerable challenge for many individuals, and for the organization as a whole. The participants include Cindy, “Frances,” Loreen (the CEO), and “Roger.”


Research Conversations and Analysis


Over a period of nearly eleven months, I engaged in a total of twenty-eight research conversations, totalling 38.3 hours; eighteen initial conversations, averaging about an hour-and-a-half in duration, and ten second conversations, averaging about an hour each. The initial conversations were open and unstructured beyond the initial question – “Let’s begin by me asking you to describe what you do in [your organization]” – founded on an underlying and constant awareness of the necessity to gain trust, and establish and maintain rapport with each participant. I incorporated many of the approaches enumerated by Oakley (1981) to de-masculinize what might otherwise be a more formalized interview: creating reciprocity between me and the participant; encouraging emotional responses from the participant (and allowing them in myself); encouraging the participant to mostly control the flow and sequence of narratives; and by far most important, allowing the participants to create any new, emergent meaning from a contextual ground that may change during the research conversation(s).


The first interviews sought to discover a reference base of each participant’s constructed conception of organization. Although I did not directly ask the following questions, these suggest the types of information, knowledge and recounted experiences that seemed to be useful to this endeavour at its outset, and served to guide me through the conversation:


  • How does the participant situate her/himself in their organization; in particular, what sort of language is used to describe their situation (e.g., functional, hierarchical, relational, etc.)? What is the primary (and other influential) linguistic basis from which meaning is made in their organization?


  • How does the participant describe his/her interactions and relationships among individuals, workgroups, and geo-dispersed or organizationally-dispersed groups/teams, both intra- and inter-organizationally (e.g., functionally, transactionally, exchange of flows, etc.)?


  • On what basis are connections primarily formed and maintained within the culture of the organization (e.g., administratively, directly interpersonal, task-oriented, political loyalty, etc.)?


  • By what processes are the effects of decision-making and subsequent actions anticipated (e.g., deterministic metrics, explicit analysis of secondary effects, mechanisms primarily designed to keep one’s proverbial derrière from being exposed, etc.)? How common are so-called unintended consequences of decisions and actions (that can be interpreted as a proxy for systemic lack of anticipation)? How are the decision processes situated within the Competing Values Framework (Quinn & Rohrbaugh, 1983) axes of flexibility, structure, and outcome?


  • What are the natures of participants’ own attachments to their workgroup, department, and organization (e.g., mercantile/instrumental, identity-forming, social/hedonic, knowledge/experience expanding, etc.)?


The second conversations in which I engaged with some[1] participants from Organizations A, Organization F, and Unit 7 were structured around more specific questions that arose from initial data analysis. Many of the issues pertained to gaining a more in-depth understanding of participant-reported behaviours, observations, experiences, and perceptions that seemed similar among different organizations and may even have had similar instrumental outcomes. However, they often seemed to have opposite intentions, meanings, and effects, comparing one organization to another. For example, in two organizations, participants report that inclusive meeting attendance – especially in the context of relatively high-profile or strategic projects – is an important part of the organization’s culture. However, further probing reveals that for the more-BAH organization, inclusive meeting attendance is perceived as a defensive move, for example, in the context of someone making a case for their own organizational survival; a way to be seen by superiors as demonstrating one’s value (both individual and group) to the undertaking, even if that value might be judged as tenuous; or aggressive, as in the case of someone seeking to expand their domain of influence or control. This appears to be especially true when a person of higher rank or authority is present at the meeting. On the other hand, in the more-UCaPP organization, inclusive meeting attendance is viewed as an important process to “socialize information” (Sam-1-27)[2] that transcends individual, subject-matter-specific responsibility in order “to understand the organization, and to make sure we understand and can represent the collective mind, the collective positions and approaches” (Jean-1-37).


During some conversations, I perceived a connection or parallel among some seemingly unconnected aspects of information offered by a given participant. In those, relatively very few, instances, I would suggest the connection and ask if it made sense – that is, was meaningful and significant – to the participant. In some cases they agreed; in others they did not. Where I have included such an elicited connection in the analysis, I make my suggestion explicit in the text.


The approximately thirty-eight hours of research conversations resulted in slightly more than five-hundred, single-spaced pages of transcripts. Research participants each received copies of their respective transcripts and were invited to make any changes they saw fit so as to accurately reflect their opinions and observations. The revised versions were loaded into the Transana qualitative analysis software system (Fassnacht & Woods, 2008), and the data were open coded (Charmaz, 2000, p. 515-516; Strauss & Corbin, 1998, chap. 8), producing codes (“keywords” in Transana terminology) that are described in detail in Appendix D.


Throughout this coding process, and the subsequent axial coding process that combines initial codes into larger categories (Strauss & Corbin, 1998, chap. 9), I wrote numerous research memos that I posted on my weblog (Federman, 2005-2010), many of them as part of a series tagged as “EMD” or “Emerging from the Mists of the Data.” I received a number of comments on these analytical reflections from members of the public (including some research participants), and these contributions both influenced my thinking and enabled me to more clearly articulate ideas in their formative stages as I responded to the various comments, critiques, and suggestions. These contributors provided knowledge that was valuable to my process and at times, I had the distinct impression that they felt some sort of personal identification with participating in my research process, and gratification that their contributions were indeed valued.


I should note that during the process of axial coding, I made one complete pass through the data with each particular category theme at top of mind, continually asking, “what does this particular excerpt tell me specifically about this theme?” This focus enabled me to better understand the nuances of the participants’ responses, especially since many of the conversation excerpts (“clips”) had multiple initial codes, often spanning several category themes. In all, I made ten complete passes through the data over the course of most of a year during the analytic phase of this project.


The themes that emerge from the data and create the framework for understanding the key distinctions between BAH and UCaPP organizations are:


Change: including creating and initiating change within the organization; individuals and the organization as a whole responding to changes both among internal and external constituencies, and environments; and assimilating the consequences of change.


Coordination: including the processes through which the members of an organization achieve a sense of common purpose; how the organizations understand collaboration and teamwork (and whether they recognize the distinction between the two); and the underlying philosophy of information flow throughout the organization.


Evaluation: including the distinctions between the two types of organization relative to how contributions are valued, and how each judges effectiveness.


Impetus: including how leadership is regarded and constructed; the decision-making processes with respect to goals, objectives, intentions, and commitments; the nature of extrinsic motivation in each type of organization; and the dominant sensory metaphor.


Power dynamics: including how authorization and approval for individual or group action is accomplished; how the nature of individual autonomy and agency is regarded in each organization type; and how issues of control, resistance, power, and empowerment are accommodated.


Sense-making: including how the organization deals with ambiguity, contradiction, and uncertainty, as well as inconsistent information in its environment; and how it accommodates diverse ideas and opinions among its members.


View of people: including whether the organization’s dealings with its members are primarily instrumental or relational in nature; as well as whether its underlying philosophy that guides its policy-making favours individuality or collectivity.


In addition to these seven major themes for which there were clear behavioural, attitudinal, and cultural distinctions between more-BAH and more-UCaPP organizations, there was one additional theme that emerged from the data that appeared to be common in its responses among members of both organizational types. Belonging, membership and boundary speaks to issues of identification among individuals and the larger groups with which they associate, be they workgroups, departments, or the organization as a whole. While analyzing the data, focusing on this particular theme, it became increasingly apparent that there is something special – dare I say powerful – about the process and nature of identity construction between individuals and the specific organization(s) of which they are members, and conversely, organizational identity with respect to the individuals who comprise its membership. As we shall see in the subsequent chapters, the nature of the distinctions between the two organizational types that emerged from parallel 20th century discourses, and the key similarity, provide intriguing clues to the fundamental nature of contemporary organization itself.


Read On: A Note on My Standpoint

[1] Participation in the second round was voluntary; one participant from each of Organizations A and F chose not to participate. Additionally, consistent with grounded theory methods with respect to data saturation, I did not feel that additional data were required from either Inter Pares or Organization M, each of which seemed to be archetypal exemplars, respectively, of UCaPP and BAH organizations.



[2] I am using a notation for direct quotations from participants in the form of Name-Conversation#-Paragraph#. Thus, Sam-1-27 refers to the first conversation with Sam, paragraph 27 in the transcription as it is loaded into the Transana database.




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