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Important Considerations for Research Design and Data Collection Procedures

Updated on October 18, 2012

Data collection feasibility is one aspect of research design one should take into consideration. In the course of the Ph.D. program I have written a number of papers about Cambodia. I am interested in Cambodia and leadership in Cambodia because I worked there for nearly six years. This hub discusses valuable lessons I learned about properly designed data collection procedures in a research design proposal.

Think Carefully about Research Projects and Feasibility of Data Collection

Through my research endeavors I have come to think one should be cautious about loyalties and think pragmatically when attempting research studies. Twice I travelled to Cambodia to do research for papers for my Ph.D. program. Both times I learned much about conditions in Cambodia through the research projects and had invaluable discussions with organizational leaders (especially a managing partner of the fourth largest bank). However, I do not think I got out of the trips all I could have. The reason for less than desired results was tied mostly to poor research design and data collection techniques. I chalk most of this up to being new to the research field. But, my caution here is: before you spend money for an expensive plane ticket, it is wise to have a solid plan in place and get advice from professors, so that you come out with a publishable paper on the flip side.

Make Sure Your Surveys and Interview Questions are Well-Devised

More specifically, before going long distance for a project, make sure your quantitative surveys and qualitative interview questions are well-devised (translated for cultural relevance if necessary) and you have a sufficient source of data (i.e. network). Fortunately for me, I knew enough sources in Cambodia that when I lacked participants I was able to scramble to find other sources of data collection. In my latest survey, I chose not to go to Cambodia, but hired proxies from organizations I was familiar with and who had long-time experience in Cambodia. Hopefully, that paper will be published soon - it is currently under consideration.

If You Use Proxies for Data Collection, Give Clear Instructions.

A proxy is a person you solicit to conduct the survey on your behalf. You set up the general data sources, but the proxies hand out and collect the surveys and then send them back to you. If you use proxies make sure you make every detail crystal clear. That last research project compared follower perceptions of servant leadership in leaders between those from Christian and traditional Khmer faith communities. My desire was to include participants who were older than 18 years old. However, I did not communicate that as well as I thought I did and received about 10% of the responses from those under 18. From my experience, the younger ones probably understood the questions better than some of the older pariticipants due to better education. Still, it is important to communicate your intentions clearly when using proxies.

If You Use Proxies for Data Collection, Make Sure They Have Time to Fulfill the Commitment

When soliciting proxies, you also have to consider the proxy's true availability. I used proxies from three different organizations and had a little trouble with one of them. In that case, I networked with the head of an NGO who became inundated by some government audits and had little time to pass out and collect the surveys. I am extremely grateful for what he did do on my behalf, but I did not receive as many respondents from him because of his time constraints. In another case, one of the proxies was an American young man who did not speak a lot of Khmer (the official Cambodian language). He had been in Cambodia for over ten years and was teaching English for school in his area. The questionnaires were translated into Khmer along with the instructions about how to fill them out. If he had to field any relevant questions, I am not sure he was able to give adequate responses. Still, the reliability alpha scores were consistent with scores received in the U.S.

Make Sure Instructions about How to Fill Out Questionnaires is Clearly Delineated

One problem I ran into often in conjunction with both Servant Leadership scales was the question of who to consider as "my leader." In Cambodia there could be a huge difference in the outcome of the survey depending on who the respondent thinks of, especially for the Christian. The chief leaders for everyone in Cambodia are their parents and grandparents. They have a saying "be faithful to your gods at home before the gods in heaven." Beyond the parents, whether you ask the people to think of their immediate supervisors, political leaders (like the prime minister), their teacher at school, their religious leader at church or the local temple, or their parents at home could yield very different results. So in the data collection process you must define the parameters succinctly or the results will be skewed.

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