Saturday, October 20, 2012

3        Research Methodology

            The preceding chapter presented the secondary data collection that created the conceptual framework within which to embark on the primary data collection method discussed in this chapter. As it involves the analysis of communication skills practiced in the context of UAE’s multicultural project management in the context of its pursuit in achieving the goals of Vision 2021, the data collection methodology involves the need to take the pulse of real-world project managers in at least one industry  to confirm or reject the research hypotheses that communication is key to achieving success in a multicultural project that is quite common in a culturally diverse society across the UAE.

3.1       Research Design and Methodology

            The paper uses both qualitative and quantitative approaches to answer the research questions.  The two methods are not exclusive and while the paper is more qualitative in its assessments, particularly in the interview part of the primary data collection, it presents the survey results quantitatively to identify the themes that have emerged.  Pie charts and bar graphs have been used in the demographics part.  Since the nature of the study is more of an investigative behavioral inquisition to establish the value of communication to answer the research questions, an unstructured qualitative research design was used. This is often the preferred approach in social science enquiries that need to go beyond statistical quantification and provides the empirical set of data that explains certain trends or phenomenon (Kumar, 2011 and Kothari, 1985).  Hence, the motivation behind, nature and the extent of the communication skills as used by the sampled project managers readily lends to a qualitative approach to arrive at a thematic body of opinions and insights as summarized in the last chapter.  On the other hand, the results from the survey are quantitatively assessed to determine the dominant responses to each variables or questions and presented in tables or charts as appropriate.

            3.1.1    Data Collection

            The paper uses the qualitative approach in gathering the insights of project managers in assessing their insights on the role and value of communication to achieve the objectives of projects geared towards nation building.  It uses a purposive but simplified survey questionnaire on the Likert scale targeting 80 project managers in several UAE companies known to have several ongoing projects in the country.  This data collection method is augmented by direct interviews that targeted 20 senior project managers who have successfully completed major projects over the last 10 years or more.
            Alternative data collection methods were considered such as multiple focus group and observation approaches which are also viable data collection techniques.  The multiple focus group approach was ruled out as it required gathering a group of UAE company managers and staff at a predetermined schedule which may not be consensually easy to arrive at, thereby retarding the response rate.  The observation approach needs the research team to be present in an actual project management site and monitoring how project managers deal with various nationalities in the project.  This is more suited in a case study approach for one or two projects but will require observation over weeks or months beyond what is allocated for the research.  The survey questionnaire was the most feasible as it allowed the target respondents to respond at their convenience within the shortest specified timeframe.

            3.1.2    The Survey Questionnaire

            This study evaluated responses from the surveyed project managers on their experiential insights on the role and value of communication skills in a multicultural project setting.  Primary data collection was served by a purposive set of carefully worded questionnaire as presented in Annex A.  It was structured using simple, direct and unique closed ended questions on a 5-point Likert scale that measured the level of importance of or agreement to the questions as the case may be (Frary, 1996). The simplicity was designed to encourage a high response rate and not cause intimidation as some elaborate questionnaires tend to do (Vehovar & Lozar, 2008).  With five dimensions to be explored and several variables in each, the structure of the questionnaire is presented in Table 5
Table 5:  Survey questionnaire structure
Project Management Experience
Importance of Project Management Skills
Project Management Area Where Communication is Important
Cross-Cultural Communication Skills

             3.1.3   Interviews

            Personal direct interviews were conducted with select project managers among the survey respondents.  Annex B presents the interview prompts with just four questions to guide the research in gathering information from the interviewees. The interview was done after the results of the survey questionnaire came in and was used to clarify and expound on the responses of select individuals, notably the senior project managers with more than 10 years of experience.  The period for the interviews was indicated in the invites with a request for the participants to indicate their chat addresses or phone numbers over which the interview was conducted as well as the preferred date and time for their availability.   The respondents were made aware that their responses were recorded their insights comprised the primary data, along with questionnaire responses to support or disprove the content in the literature chapter as discussed in the preceding chapter.  The results of the interview were individually assessed, and shared or common insights were grouped to form a thematic body of opinions that comprised the qualitative results of the study.  

            3.1.4    Data Analysis

            The questionnaire results were tabulated in MS Excel and the distribution of responses over the questions was analyzed in terms of preponderance or commonly shared responses.  The responses to each question were quantified in terms of frequency and percentages and were represented visually through pie charts and bar graphs where appropriate. The quantitative aspect of the research ended here and the results were qualitatively assessed to reveal the common themes that dominated the survey results, particularly in the interview section where the gathered insights were studied, and categorized into groups to reveal a thematic body of opinions which not only affirmed the results of the survey questions but provided additional insights in the results..  The salient insights were summarized according to major themes as presented in answer to the research questions

            3.1.5    Qualification of the sampled

            The sample size was confined to a random sampling of 80 UAE project managers and management staff who have had past and present involvement in multicultural projects in four property development and construction industries in the Metro Dubai area. The list of project managers was requested from an initial visit to four companies with headquarters in the city.   Other companies known to engage in multicultural projects were also considered but none responses to the invite or failed to be received within the allotted time. Each project manager in the interview list which was gathered from an initial visit to these companies with a request to participate in the survey have had at least 10 years of experience managing teams of professionals and laborers from more than two countries.

            3.1.6    Survey Invitation Process

            With the expressed permission of their respective organizational heads to which their report directly, all the identified project managers were provided with survey invites along with the consent form.  The invites contained the researcher’s email address for which they were requested to respond back as an indication of their consent to participate in the survey and interview.  Once received, the emailed consent was responded to with a return email of the answered questionnaire.  Some of invitees were also requested to participate in an interview session with attached schedules for which they either accepted or requested for some changes.  Response rate was hoped to be at least 60% of the respondents in both survey and interviews as gathered from the four select companies.

3.2       Research Ethics

            The study followed accepted principles of voluntary participation and confidentiality of gathered data in any survey as mandated by the university’s ethical research guidelines. Informed consent was among of the primary considerations in any research that involved adults as respondents (Kimmel, 2007 and this research provided prospective participants with an emailed consent form prior to administering the survey questionnaire and interview. Anonymity was strictly observed as survey respondents did not have to indicate their names in the answered questionnaire returned by email. And while the names of select respondents in the interview were known to the researcher, anonymity was assured as respondent names were not divulged in the research paper.

3.3       Limitations

The survey questionnaire as a data gathering method usually has a low fulfillment or response rate. However, a high sampling size often generates enough respondents to create confidence in the survey results.  Holbrook et al. (2005) studied more than 80 US national surveys with response rates ranging from 5% to 54% and found no significant correlation between response rates and the quality of responses.   In fact, some surveys with low response rates (in the 20%- 30% range) showed relatively higher accurate measurements than those with higher (60% -70%) response rates (Visser, et al., 1996).  In general, despite a lack of empirical evidence to back it up, a higher response rate is traditionally preferred.
            A research is also as good as its results are relevant. Kumar (2011) pointed out that a study is just a snapshot, a cross sectional assessment of a phenomenon or situation conducted at a specific period of time and whose findings are valid only within a limited timeframe. This study collected and evaluated individual insights, values and judgments from sampled population on the relevance of communication skills to get through project imperatives in the context of the UAE government’s vision 2021.  Most of the insights gathered can easily be overtaken by new developments, both in the areas of communication technologies and its socio-political model.  In addition, project management disciplines may change over the period leading up to 2021. In short, the study is valid only until such times as these new and emerging trends project management and communications render the results of the study as outdated.

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