A research method is a strategy of inquiry which moves from the underlying philosophical assumptions to research design and data collection. The choice of research method influences the way in which the researcher collects data. Specific research methods also imply different skills, assumptions and research practices.
Qualitative research is an umbrella concept in which several methods of inquiry inform researchers about naturally occurring phenomena, processes, or perspectives of the individuals involved (Merriam, 1998). Qualitative methods, therefore, help researchers understand and explain meaning by providing a “complex, holistic picture” (Creswell, 1998, p. 15) of various social phenomena. Sherman and Webb (1988) stated that qualitative research “implies a direct concern with experience as it is ‘lived’ or ‘felt’ or ‘undergone’” (p. 7). The core notion of qualitative research lies in understanding a phenomenon from the perspective of the participant, not the researcher (Merriam, 1998). Kaplan and Maxwell (1994) argue that the goal of understanding a phenomenon from the point of view of the participants and its particular social and institutional context is largely lost when textual data are quantified. This is why a qualitative approach to this research has been taken.
Yin (1994) defines a case study as an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real life context, when the boundaries between phenomenon and the context are not clearly evident, and in which the multiple source of evidence are used. Yin (2003) has identified three situations when case study research is the preferred method of research. These are 1) when “how or “why” questions are to be answered, 2) when the researcher has little control over the events, and 3) when the focus of the research is situated within a real-life context. According to Bell (1987), the case study methodology has also been described as a term for a group of research methods that have in common the decision to focus an inquiry around a specific instance or event. The philosophy behind the case study is that sometimes just by looking carefully at a practical, real-life instance, a full picture can be obtained of the actual interaction of variables or events. The case study allows the researcher to concentrate on specific instances in an attempt to identify interactive processes that may be crucial but that are difficult to spot in a large-scale survey. Nisbet and Watt (1984) suggest that case studies can be useful in identifying unique features that may otherwise be lost in larger scale data and that these unique aspects may in fact hold the key to understanding the situation. By focusing on a small sample, researchers can give special attention to cross-level interactions and contextual factors-such as institutionalization, temporal processes, and structural determinants-that large scale deductive studies often must ignore or control (Ross & Staw, 1986).The aim of the case study is to provide a three dimensional picture of the situation illustrating relationships, organisational and political issues and patterns of influence within a particular context. A case study method is used when the researcher deliberately wants to cover contextual conditions that might be highly pertinent to the phenomenon of study (Yin, 2003).
The term “case study” has multiple meanings. It can be used to describe a unit of analysis or to describe a research method. Stake (1995) considered “the case” as a unit of study. According to his definition, examples of a “case,” are an organization, a program, a group, or a person. When a case study is considered to be the research method, Merriam (1998) regarded it as “an intensive, holistic description and analysis of a single instance, phenomenon, or social unit” (p. 21). This dissertation regards the case study design as a research method.
Case study research can be positivist, interpretive, or critical, depending upon the underlying philosophical assumptions of the researcher, but it most frequently follows the interpretative rather than the positivist paradigm of research (Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2000). The interpretive case study is used to understand the meaning of a process or experience. Interpretive researchers start out with the assumption that access to reality (given or socially constructed) is only through social constructions such as language, consciousness and shared meanings. The philosophical base of interpretive research is hermeneutics and phenomenology (Boland, 1985). This dissertation was completed using Stake’s interpretive design with multiple cases because of the different participants. Multiple case study research is conducted when the study includes two or more case (Yin, 2003).
Case study research is considered one of the best ways to generate new theoretical insights that are not anticipated by the literature (Eisenhardt & Graebner, 2007). Case studies do not aim to test hypotheses. Rather, they aim to “develop constructs, measures, and testable theoretical propositions” (Eisenhardt & Graebner,2007, p. 25), by closely examining the interaction of myriad factors – both anticipated and emergent – that are at play in a particular occurrence of the phenomena of interest, maintaining deep connection to the context in which behaviour is embedded.
In common with other qualitative research methods the most commonly cited weakness of case studies is that their results do not allow scientific generalisations to be made, that robust conclusions cannot be supported by one case study alone or facilitate the transferability of practice from one context to another (Yin 1988). However In this type of research, generalisation is not a central issue. The relevance of a case study is more important than its ability to be generalised. When a case study is carried out both systematically and critically and aimed at the improvement of understanding then it is relevant, and if any publication of its findings extends or expands the boundaries of existing knowledge of the subject area, then it is a valid form of research.
According to Corbin and Strauss (2008), coding occurs when concepts are developed from the data. Codes are short labels usually attached to “chunks” of words, phrases, sentences, or paragraphs (Miles & Huberman, 1994, p. 56). Codes were developed two ways: via a “start list” (Miles & Huberman, 1994, p. 58) and in-vivo (Denzin & Lincoln, 1998). A “start list” is a set of categories developed from key areas in the literature relevant to the research questions. Other categories and themes (in-vivo codes) emerged from the interviews and observation. These in-vivo codes reflect the participants’ own voices and use their words not those of the researcher (Denzin & Lincoln, 1998).The dissertation followed a with-in and between codes constant comparison strategy, as suggested by Corbin and Strauss (2008); this is used to discover different properties and dimensions of the same code. During the coding process, I used different analytic tools including asking questions (Corbin & Strauss, 2008), constant comparison, theoretical questioning, concept development (Denzin & Lincoln, 1998), and the relationships between the categories developed (Denzin & Lincoln, 1998). According to Corbin and Strauss (2008), asking questions and thinking about the range of answers is fundamental to any research analysis. The authors also stated that while the answers are only provisional, they start a critical thinking process about ideas to look for in the data. The second analytical tool utilized was constant comparison, which allowed me to compare categories with others for similarities, differences, and interconnections. Comparing categories and themes was essential to the research process because it allowed me to differentiate and identify properties specific to a theme or category (Corbin & Strauss,