Data Collection Methods
Continuedf from: Measurement Scales
Once a research question has been agreed upon, a research design is formulated which includes an appropriate and effective method for collecting data. It has been rightly said by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes) that ‘it is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.’
In business research, data is collected from various sources and a variety of methods or techniques are used in its collection. It may be from a secondary source or primary source. In case of latter, it could be census or survey, laboratory experiment or field experiment, open or hidden observation.
Each method has pros and cons. When population is large, it is neither necessary nor advisable to cover each and every member but a sample would suffice. It is quicker, cheaper and, if well-designed, it can provide precise information about characteristics of the population. On the other hand, causal inference can only be drawn from experiments. So choice of the method depends upon time, money and objectives.
Observation is a primary method of collecting data by human, mechanical, electrical or electronics means with direct or indirect contact. As per Langley P, “Observations involve looking and listening very carefully. We all watch other people sometimes but we do not usually watch them in order to discover particular information about their behavior. This is what observation in social science involves.”
Observation is the main source of information in the field research. The researcher goes into the field and observes the conditions in their natural state.
There are many types of observation, direct or indirect, participant or non-participant, obtrusive or non-obtrusive, structured or non-structured. The observation is important and actual behavior of people is observed and not what people say they did or feel. For example, people value health but they would pick up food they know to fatty. It is useful when the subject cannot provide information or can only provide inaccurate information like people addicted to drugs. But at the same time, in observation the researcher does not get any insight into what people may be thinking.
OBTRUSIVE AND UNOBTRUSIVE
Obtrusive mean visible, thrusting out or evident. It is like class monitor, traffic warden or inspector. On the other hand, unobtrusive mean hidden, camouflaged or low-key. In such method, the researcher is not required to intrude. Also, it reduced bias. It enables to obtain data from a source other than people like instead of asking people which soft drink they like, an unobtrusive source would to collect empty cans from garbage dumps and analyse their brands. There are other such examples: to ascertain popularity of journal, one can observe its wear and tear in a library. Also, entry counters in a supermarket provide very strong evidence that from which side the customers come in. Likewise, number of hits on a web site can be related to its usefulness or popularity. Hidden cameras can show consumer behavior in the store.
PARTICIPATIVE OR NON-PARTICIPATIVE
In participative observation, the observers becomes a participant in the program or culture or context being observed. It may require long time as the researcher needs to become accepted as a natural part of the culture. On the other hand, if one needs to observe child-mother interactions, one would resort to non-participative observations looking from a one-way mirror to note verbal or non-verbal cues being given by the mother and the child.
Presentation I : OBSERVATIONSClick thumbnail to view full-size
In a survey, usually general questions are asked to know what customers or subjects do and think. But it one wants to know ‘why they feel that way’, one has to conduct an in-depth research. In survey, answers may depend on the mood of the respondent. As such, the survey shows how one feels at one particular time. But in in-depth research, long and probing interviews are taken to find out customers satisfaction and loyalty, usage, awareness and brand recognition etc. as discussed below:
A group is formed of 8 to 12 persons. They are selected keeping in view the targeted market. The group members are asked about their attitude towards a concept, product, service, packing or advertisement. Questions are asked in an interactive-group-setting where members are free to talk to each other. A moderator guides through the discussion. Through one-way mirror, the client or its representative observes the discussion, interpret facial expression and body language.
There are some draw-backs. There is lesser control of the moderator or researcher and it lead to irrelevant discussions. Moreoveer, individual members consciously or unconsciously conform to what they perceive to be the consensus of the group, a situation called “Group-think”.
The technology has give rise to “Modern Group” where group-members participate “on-line” and can share financial and operating data, pictures, voices and drawings etc.
These are more or less like Focus Group. But Focus groups are formed for one-time discussion to decide about a particular issue. On the contrary, panels are of long-term nature for meeting frequently to resolve an issue. These can be current customers or potential customers; can be static or dynamic (members coming and going).
Another difference is that penal are selected by the organizers through certain criteria like education, exposure and interest. Of course, there are exception like Microsoft Panel for Research and Evaluation of their software which are formed through open invitation.
In-depth interviews, also called as one-to-one interviews, are expensive in term of time and money but are good for exploring several factors. Problems identified in an interview may be a symptom of a serious problem.
The interviews may be conducted face to face or through telephone or these could be computer assisted interviews. Nowadays, television interviews have become more common.
But interviews are fraught with bias from three sources, the interviewer, the interviewee and the interview setting. The interviewer may misinterpret the response or distort it while writing down. He may unintentionally encourage certain responses though gestures and facial impressions. The interviewee may not give his or her true opinion or avoid difficult questions. The setting may be good or bad creating comfort or discomfort. It may be open or in presence of some colleagues or senior or level of trust may be inadequate.
In order to minimize bias, the interviewer should have knowledge, skill and confidence. Rapport and trust should be established in the interview.
A psychological test in which a subject's responses to ambiguous or unstructured standard stimuli, such as a series of cartoons, abstract patterns, or incomplete sentences, are analyzed in order to determine underlying personality traits and feelings. This entails indirect question which enables the respondent to “project beliefs and feelings onto a third party". The respondents are expected to interpret the situation through their own experience, attitude and personality and express hidden opinion and emotions.
Of many techniques, word association, sentence completing and ink-blot tests are very common. In these techniques, both verbal and non-verbal (hesitation, time-lag and facial expression) are noted and interpreted.
Such tests are useful for finding out consumer preference, buying attitude and behavior. Eventually, these are used for product development or finding out reason for failure of an apparently efficient product.
Presentation II: IN-DEPTH TECHNIQUESClick thumbnail to view full-size
EXPERIMENT FIELD AND LAB
Considerable data is generated or collected through experimentation in business research. A bank may conduct an experiment to know what attracts depositors: profit or security or liquidity. In a lab experiment, a group of 50 participants would be given chips representing money and would be shown three banks of which one was giving highest profitability, second was more "secure" and third provided liquidity through ATM and quick cheque processing system. The participants would be asked to deposit their chips with any of them. The total with each bank would be calculated and chips returned to participants. In the next round, the three banks would be rated equal expect one would be giving high returns and the participants would be asked to make their deposits. The experiment would go on and the data generated may point out a cause-and-effect relationship between any of the three motives and deposits.
In case of field experiment, a bank may advertise that one of its branches is celebrating 100thanniversary and is offering 3% over and above its normal returns of 6%. If high return attracts more deposits, the clients would shift their saving towards that branch but if clients feel convenience is more important, there would not change in deposit levels..
One of the differences between lab and field experiment is use of real players or mock players. In other words use of actual clients or volunteers.
Presentation III: EXPERIMENTClick thumbnail to view full-size
Surveys are based on short interviews either face-to-face or on telephone. These are based on simple questions. Also, there are computer-assisted interviews.
Survey can be performed by sending a questionnaire and quantifying the response when questionnaires are returned.
This is explained in the following power-point presentation:
Presentation IV: SURVEYSClick thumbnail to view full-size
Methods of collection data depends upon (i) nature of problem, and (iii) time and money available. Mostly, data is collected through use of secondary source. If no such data is available from liberaries or on the internet, one has to collect primary data for which a number of methods are available such as observations, indepth techniques, experiments and surveys.