Chapter 4 Research Methodology
4.4 Research process
Regarding the research process, one challenge has been to move deeper into the meaning of the respondents’ statements to gain a better understanding of how actors relate to internationalization of science, technology and innovation. How they relate to internationalization can be translated into policy actors’ rationales for promoting new STI cooperation programs and researchers’ responses to government’s incentives.
Furthermore, it is equally relevant and helpful to understand the context and the
“interrelationship of their constituent events” (Mink, 1966). However, I moved away from a mere description of the changes in the Swedish research funding system (see chapter 6). Instead, I discuss the shifts in the research governance in Sweden as a way to provide insights into how these shifts have influenced the formulation of new government-sponsored STI cooperation programs. The explanation for the above selection lies in the utility and the need to understand a case in its context. This is important because it is one way a researcher demonstrates that the research findings are related to the broader context and that the three cases are not studied in isolation. This brief historical account is relevant to this study because today’s characterization of the Swedish research system is a reflection of the transformations in the governance of research that occurred in the 1990s. These transformations include the distribution of research funding which in turn gave rise to a funding model based on resource competition and project-driven research.
As referred to earlier, the research process in this study resembles a circle rather than a straight line (Creswell, 2003, page 181-190). This can be described as a cyclic method of alternation, going back and forth from research questions to data collection, delving into the material during analysis, to problem reformulation and back and forth again. Through this iterative process, the researcher delves deeper into the data, seeking to find more information that confirms initial assumptions. This iterative research process enabled the understanding of connections between different concepts in order to interpret the phenomenon studied. Sometimes during analysis new insights or questions emerged. When these were considered intriguing and relevant to the study, these concepts were corroborated by literature or incorporated into the questionnaire when further interviews were conducted.
The research process in this study consists of the integration of data collection and data interpretation and analysis (Eisenhardt, 1989). The research questions emerged along the research process as more data was gathered and analyzed particularly through interviews. This process is known as the abductive approach (Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2009). In this non-linear research process, interviews, which will be further discussed, were conducted in different periods of time.
Particularly, the interviews with actors involved in the Chalmers Transport Area of Advance case study were conducted from November 2012 to August of 2013.
A few interviews with participants in the Chalmers Transport Area of Advance were conducted in 2015. The transcribed texts from the interviews conducted in 2012 and 2013 were reused and now comprise the empirical material of the third case study of this thesis – the Chalmers Transport Area of Advance.
4.4.1 The research process: challenges and solutions
There are always challenges involved in any research process which makes this an interesting endeavor. Personal satisfaction in a thesis project is a result of the following factors: 1) problem and challenge awareness; 2) responsiveness, and 3) anticipation. Number one has to do with the recognition that challenges exist and the researcher must be prepared to solve obstacles, to be flexible and creative and to anticipate difficulties. Often there is a gap between the researcher’s own goals and expectations regarding the research project and practice – what is feasible to accomplish. Responsiveness means that a researcher is not only receptive to new ideas and changes but also flexible. Awareness enables the researcher to make pragmatic decisions and to be objective, by determining the feasibility of the research project. Finally, anticipation means to be prepared for unexpected circumstances. In the context of a PhD study, it means not only to anticipate changes but to turn new circumstances or challenges into opportunities. The next paragraphs examine some of the challenges that emerged throughout the research process and the solutions provided to address some of the obstacles encountered. The first challenge encountered refers to re-use of data.
The first round of interviews with the Chalmers Transport Area of Advance researchers was conducted between November 2012 and July 2013. The interviews with researchers working with the Chalmers Transport Area of Advance were initially conducted for a different research purpose. The initial goal of these interviews was to assess and to map the different kinds of utilities
that are and can be created from academic research or in the Swedish language,
“nyttigörande av akademisk forskning.” The transcribed interview material was intended for a different research project. However, the data resulting from interviews with researchers in the Chalmers Transport Area of Advance (AoA) program provided the opportunity to further explore how internationalization is viewed and practiced in a context where establishing international linkages was not the initial focus but an unintended and expected outcome.
In the beginning of this research project, there were specific goals, interests and expectations. Flexibility, pragmatism and creativity in the research process enabled me not to conform to one particular research direction. I decided to divert from the initial intentions and research study plan and added a third case study. My choice helped me to examine how three government-sponsored programs with the same overall goal – to encourage collaborative research and to inspire technology development and innovation – compare in terms of goals, design and key actors involved. One of the premises is that the two Eco-Innovation programs differ from the Chalmers Transport AoA regarding formulation, goals and focus. Thus, the inclusion of the Chalmers case in this study enriched the overall quality and diversity of the research. It was also a result of unforeseeable circumstances such as time constraints and changes in the research project. I remained flexible and open to reinterpret and use the data from the Chalmers Transport Area of Advance interviews in this investigation and to realign the content of the material with the research questions of this thesis, translating it into the internationalization context.
In addition to the above challenges, another endemic problem in qualitative research is the exercise of sorting through large amounts of data, particularly when hundreds of pages of transcribed notes are produced from interviews.
Initially, it is tempting to code everything and to use the majority if not all categories produced during the coding process as part of the findings and analysis. Being selective in relation to the data is part of being an objective researcher. Personally, filtering data and gradually eliminating unnecessary or trivial interview passages, concepts and discussions was a difficult but important exercise throughout this research process. Attributing meanings to interview accounts and dissecting interview passages to elicit relevant patterns and concepts is a subjective action. Researchers can elicit meanings and concepts from the material but cannot make the data “talk.” It is subjective because meanings are attached to the researcher’s own interpretations, views and pre-conceived ideas. Subjectivity means that the above mentioned research process
would be different and would result in a different interpretative exercise had the author of this study been a different person.
Nevertheless, another challenge I encountered during the thesis writing process concerns the relationship between the researcher and the data itself. Over the course of the PhD research process, I strived to discern between the appropriate moment when it was useful to get close to the empirical data (e.g. interview notes and transcripts) to gain insights and when I needed to distance myself from the material to draw general conclusions. Often I would be too involved in the transcribed text, getting carried away or dawdling on a particular topic and spending too much time on it. In a few occasions, being too close to the transcribed material impaired my analytical clarity and the orientation towards more general formulations. I addressed this problem by discussing the issue with my advisors and by distancing myself from the transcribed texts from time to time. Another solution was to write down a set of broad conclusions based on the evidence I had gathered through the interviews and used these broad considerations to guide me and to keep me focused on the larger research issues.