Jake Gordon

Qualitative Methods Project Proposal

Statement Of Research Question

Today, it is almost impossible to escape the use of computers, predominately in the sphere of work, but also in leisure. Almost every job now can benefit from increased efficiencies brought through the correct use of technology. Because of globalization and rationalization forcing companies and civil organisations to become more competitive (Friedman, 2000, Ritzer, 2000 and others), one cannot afford to forfeit increased efficiencies and choose instead not to adopt technology, unless an extreme niche can be found in which to do so.

However, whilst efficiency may increase, the effect of technologies on humanity itself would appear to be negative. As technology creates greater rationality, George Ritzer (2000) expands upon Weber's earlier work on beuraucratization, explaining how rationality can become irrational. Technology replaces jobs, creating uncertainty and insecurity (Nickie Charles, 2002), but also strips away repetitive tasks from jobs, possibly making them more enjoyable.

It is therefore necessary to examine how people think about technology, develop an understanding for the relationship between the two, and place this in the context of the development and progression of society. Hence, the chosen research question used to do this will be: "Human Resistance To Technological Advancement: An Analysis Of Human Sentiment Towards Technology In The Work Place". By analysing these feelings, it will help us to better understand if it is possible for our society to continue to thrive and enjoy the benefits of technology without social detrement to workers. It will also help enhance our predictions for the future, gauging the balance between technological advacement and human resistance against this.

Details Of Methods To Be Used

The researcher is to follow a basic methodological guide for the project, however is encouraged and is expected to use it as only that: a guide. The ultimate aim of the project is to interperate and gain an understanding for human sentiment towards technology, and if during field work it is found that alternative methods are more applicable to truly aid discovery, then these should be adopted presuming they do not raise adverse ethical issues.

Informal interviews with loosely structured questions will be used as the predominant research method. The interviewee will be asked their consent for the publishing of their answer before any questions may be asked, and will be made aware that their anonymity cannot be guaranteed but will be sought. After the interview, the interviewee will also be told about the exact nature of the research project, and will have a chance to comment on the nature of the project, and add any further comments which this creates. This will be included in the interview transcripts.

As well as qualiative data, quantitative demographic data will also be collected. This will include age, sex, locaton and occupation of respondees. There will also be a quantitative part to questions asked to respondents. For example, when asking a respondee about their opinion on matters, they will also be asked to give a rank between, say, one (1) to five (5) to accompany their qualitative answers. This data will enable the project's findings to display both short and quick statistical information for the media and other bodies to use, and also to substantiat findings with numbers.

As some of these interviews are to take place within the work place, it is also the job of the researcher to make observations about the environment, and tailor specific questions related to it. The researcher will not be required to participate as a regular worker within any of these environments (as this is unnecessary and would be both time-consuming and limited in scope), but simply make a number of key observations. For example, they should make note of the level of advancement of technology in a work place and the role of the technology in people's jobs. However, the researcher should ensure that any observations made do not make the work place identifiable, as this would compromise interviewee confidentiality.

Interviewing has been chosen as the primary method of research as it is a good way to gather comments from a large and varied sample group. A participant observer approach would not be applicable as it is more suited to study in environments in which the researcher spends most of their time with a small number of people whom they get to know well. Opinions on technology can be gathered through simple interview techniques and largely do not require a getting-to-know period first.

A weakness of the chosen method is that it is prone to repetition over the full year-long period over which it is to be carried out. It is important that the researcher can find ways to make the project enjoyable, ensuring that they do not lose interest in its goals. To overcome this, it is suggested that the researcher mixes their settings for interviews, and passes the task of transcription to a competent third party. The researcher may also like to complement the interviews with a selection of group discussions or other methods that they find to be useful throughout the year.

A large number of interviews also pose a problem in analysis. However, this is unavoidable and the researcher must ensure they leave aside a great portion of their allocated time to this task, both during the course of each week, and in the closing weeks of the project after all interviews have been transcribed.

Partially as an ironic gesture, but mainly for the reasons of efficiency and transparency, the research project shall be conducted using an extremely technologically advanced process. A website will be setup for the project to provide visitors with full access to the project (as outlined in secton 'Strategy For Recording & Analysis' below) as well as an online version of a basic questionnaire for visitors to take, and discussion forums for general debate over the issue being researched.

A full time plan for the proposed project cannot be written at this stage, as it will depend largely on the individual researcher's own preferences, and the preferences of any sponsor or funder. However, below is a suggested guideline:

  • Month 1: setting up administrative computer software for researcher; sending letters to selected companies and arranging times for interviews;
  • Month 2: setting up of accompanying website; first phase of interviews;
  • Month 3: more of first phase of interviews
  • Month 4: analysis of first phase of interviews; alterations made to second phase accoringly; times arranged for second phase of interviews
  • Month 5: second phase of interviews
  • Month 6: more of second phase of interviews
  • Month 7: more of second phase of interviews
  • Month 8: analysis of second phase; alterations made to third phase accordingly; times arranged for third phase of interviews
  • Month 9: third phase of interviews
  • Month 10: more of third phase of interviews
  • Month 11: more of third phase of interviews
  • Month 12: analysis of all data brought together; conclusions drawn

Over the course of the full year, a total of around 100 interviews should be completed, with each 'phase' of interviews allowing the researcher to explore new questions which arise from previous phases.

Details Of Selection Strategy

Whilst the research question is specifically about technology in the work place, study will not be restricted to just those in jobs. In particular, it is necessary to interview people who have prior experience in jobs - perhaps from which they were made redundant due to technology - and also young people who are making important decisions about their education and the work it will lead to. It will also be necessary to interview a wide range of workers, from those who control capital and top management positions, who are actively making technology related decisions, down through any hierarchial structures.

A clear disadvantage of this approach is that there are so many variables, and so many interviews which must take place. However, everyone wll have their own unique points to make, according to their own unique positions. In order to truly answer the research question it will be necessary to gain as wide a knowledge as possible.

Details Of Access Strategy

The majority of interviews will take place in the work place, and access to these work places will have to be gained. To do this, a number of businesses and organisation will be selected through directories such as 'The Yellow Pages'. The individual with the highest role in those businesses will then be approached by letter followed by an email or telephone call and asked if their business would like to participate, outlining the nature of the study. If they do agree, then they will be asked how many interviewees there can be, and for a suitable date to continue. Hopefully it will not be necessary to make any payment for these interviews, however if it is found that there are not enough businesses willing to participate for free, then some incentive will have to be found and budgeted into the project.

Other interviews will take place in the relaxed atmosphere of the home, especially those with people who are not at work as they are redundant or still in education. Where under 18s are interviewed, permission will first be obtained from a parent or guardian. Access to homes will be achieved by phoning people in advance and arranging a suitable time.

Strategy For Recording & Analysis

All interviews will be recorded using a dictaphone or similar device, with transcriptions written in full. Names mentioned in interviews will be substituted for anonymous names, as will anything which makes the transcript identifiable to a person or organisation.

The data from each individual interview will be analysed by the researcher within one week of that interview. These analytical notes will be appended to the transcript, which should then be stored relating to several keywords and themes. The transcript and analytical notes will be digitized and stored in the HTML format for access by the researcher and general public from a local web server. Individual transcripts will be searchable by date, keywords or themes, and their content will also be fully searchable. Doing so will enable the researcher to quickly and easily find not only a certain transcript, but also exact quotations or words within those.

On completion of the project, the transcripts, analysis and all other data will be published on the Internet to make all findings fully transparent. Rather than fellow citizens having to rely upon an inherently subjective analysis made by the researcher, everyone will be able to make their own conclusions and read all the transcripts and researcher's analytical notes in full. Whilst the researcher will conclude the project with their own outlined findings presented in the traditional fashion, those who find the subject of particular interest will also be able to read each individual transcript for themselves.

Discussion Of Ethical Issues

An obvious ethical issue is that of confidentiality, particularly where data is published on the Internet. As mentioned in section 'Details Of Methods To Be Used' above, interviewees will be told about all issues relating to this before the interview begins, and they will clearly have the option of opting-out of answering any questions.

Because of the unique nature of posting transcripts on the Internet along with their analytical notes, interviewees will be able to opt-out of this process. That is, they can ask for their transcript and notes to go no futher than the researcher and the researcher's own findings, rather than also being subjected to Internet scrutiny.

The researcher will be asked to follow the British Sociological Association's 'Statement of Ethical Practices' which outlines a researcher's responsibilities towards research participants, and also with sponsors and/or funders.


"Human Resistance To Technological Advancement: An Analysis Of Human Sentiment Towards Technology In The Work Place"

A distinct weakness in this proposal is that of funding. A rough estimate at the cost of this proposal is: the cost of a full-time post-graduate researcher for one year (£20,000); a typist to write up transcriptions (£5,000); a programmer to develop the accompanying website (£5,000); transport, communications and miscellaneous costs (£3,000). The total comes to well over £30,000.

Few commercial businesses are likely to sponsor this proposal in its current form due to its request for findings not to be kept as business secrets, but as fully accessible documents. Universities and other academic institutions could possible pay, however they are chronically under funded. The government could pay, however securing such funding would be a difficult procedure. In order to be undertaken, it is most likely that the project would either have to be run by a charitable researcher working for pennies, or with amendments according to the sponsor which adopts it.

There is a geographical and time limitation to the proposal, with only one city in Britain to be studied over the course of one year. Clearly there may be differences in sentiment between cities, towns and smaller settlements, and also from country to country. However an analysis of how sentiment varies geographically can be studied in future research projects, rather than including too much data in the one project.

However, the project also has many strengths, many of which have been discussed in the body of this propsal and will not be repeated here. The subject of the study is one which appears to be immensely under-studied considering its increasing importance in modern society. The proposal has also been well studied and includes an in depth procedural guide for a research to follow. Meanwhile, the proposal allows for the researcher to have some degree of agency to ensure that they can follow the basic principles of qualitative research, grounded in the pursuit of discovery.

This qualitative methods research proposal has been written in an attempt to ensure that the project itself, if fulfilled, can be done so with mimimal of problems and maximim value. It has been designed to be transparent and available to all those who wish to benefit from its findings (through the Internet). As such, it should benefit the whole of society, rather than just a select few in academia or in a business or organisation sponsoring it.

[Research Proposal length: 2,745 words]
by Jake Gordon, some rights reserved