Friday, 12 April 2013

Critical Realism School of Research

Q1: What are traditional schools of research (Research Paradigms)?
1     -    Positivism (it is called also traditional school of science or the hypothesis school)
2     -    Interpretivism (It is called also constructionism)

Interpretivism (Constructionism) 
Description in brief
After discovering a research gap, hypotheses are formulated then tested statistically.
Problem is not well defined, so you go to the people to understand the problem in qualitative way (non-numerical way).
Suitable for
·   A worldwide problem or industry specific problem.
·   Researcher has knowledge about the top so that he could construct  the questionnaire in an efficient way
·   Problem in general is not new and literature is available for it. Therefore, there is no need for exploring the problem.
·   It is a firm or group of firms’ problem.
·   Researcher does not know a lot about the top so that it is preferred to observe and conduct interviews.
·   Literature is not extensive in the topic.

·   Validation is very objective because the researcher does not intervene in the results.
·   Statistics can discover unnoticeable behaviors or relationships between concepts.
·   Enables the researcher to be expert in the topic because he/she touches the problem by his/her hand.
·   Organizations problems are solved and documented.
·   It has a direct impact on the economy
·   It is suitable for developing tools, software, and methodologies
·   It is not suitable for explanatory research.
·   It is not suitable for developing tools, software, and methodologies.
·   Validation is questioned since the validation is conducted by taking opinions of experts (Which may be your friends!!!!) or opinions of academics (which also your friends).
·   There is no objective way for validating your tool, software, or methodology.

Q2: A question for MIS researcher and Operations Management Researcher, do you think developing a tool or software make you deserve to obtain PhD? (Professor Stephen Evans, Cambridge University)
The answer is no because you have to have a theory for awarding the PhD.

Q3: So, why do I need to develop a tool or software at the end of my PhD?
Because your sponsor organization sponsors you to develop a tool or software for solving the problem. 

Q4: I do not have sponsor, do you think I need to develop a tool?
Yes, because at the end of your PhD you need to deliver to your community something tangible otherwise your PhD may be useless.

Q5: Okay, so I will develop a tool (to delivery something tangible) and I will develop a theory for awarding PhD. But what is the relationship between theory and the tool?
Since you are PhD student, you have to develop your theory to be the scientific base for developing your tool.

Q6: Now, the most important question, which research methodologies I should follow positivism or Interpretivism?
Actually, neither positivism nor Interpretivism could be followed.

Q7: Why?
Positivism alone will enable you to develop a very good theory based on testing hypotheses (positivism epistemology) but it will not enable you to develop your tool or software. Moreover, it will not enable you to understand the context of the problem (anti-positivism ontology).
On the other hand, Interpretivism alone will enable you to understand the problem and the context. But it will not enable you to verify your theory in an objective way since you will validate it in a so wired way which is asking your friends (we call them in the research experts and academia) to tell their opinions about my model?? Certainly, they will say “it is a big wow model”. 
It is not only the problem of validation but developing theory in an inductive way (develop theory based on 3 or 4 organization) is also questioned because 3 or 4 organizations are not sufficient to say it is a general theory. 

Q8: Thus, how can I solve this paradox? I want to develop a theory and its tools or software, what can I do?  What can I do?
The answer is “Critical Realism” Research.

Q9: What is critical realism research sometimes called pragmatic research (Some authors differentiate between them)?
Critical Realism research is a mixed philosophy. Mixed philosophy can take different forms
      -    Develop your theory based on interviews from small number of organizations (Interpretivism ontology) but you will validate the results using questionnaire (testing hypotheses).  Finally, you use the results to develop a tool using case studies. Sometimes it is called pragmatism.  
           -    Develop dynamic hypotheses in your interviews (grounded theory). In other words, your questions in interview guided by hypotheses. --> Many authors consider it interpretivism approach. But it considers testing hypotheses. 
          -    Develop your theory based on case study using interviews (Interpretivism ontology) but you validate the results using historical records or archival analysis à this is the ubiquitous form of critical realism. 
      - Doing action research by observing and interviewing first (Interpretivism) then the researcher act or intervene (by asking people to do something or asking organization to use something) and then see the results.  Therefore, the researcher develops the theory based on observation and interviews. From this theory, he develops hypotheses that tested by a real situation. And finally, researcher document objectively the results of his/her act. Actually, this is a loop. Therefore, based on the results and more interviews, new hypotheses should be developed in order to ask the organization to do specific acts to test these hypotheses. Again, the results should be documented and so on.
Actually, a lot of nowadays systems are based on action research. I am one of the believers that developing a tool or software based on theory without using the critical realism research is questioned.

Q10: So, what is the critical realism in philosophy?
In brief, you criticize the reality that you observe. So you have to test that the reality you get in order to state it is reality.

Q11: Okay, I know authors differentiate between realism and critical realism philosophies?
Yes, realism believes that what you see is real without doubt. On the other hand, critical realism is based on criticizing the reality that we observe. Therefore, I can classify pure Interpretivism and positivism as realism because both of the schools focus on a single way of getting the reality. No one doubted in the way of getting knowledge. In other words, positivists validate their way of getting knowledge (Epistemology) by validating the questionnaire (the tool of getting the knowledge) not by validating the way of getting the knowledge. In the same vein, Interpretivism, validate their models by asking people about their opinions about the model. Again the same problem they validate the model which is based on interviews by using the interview. If interview succeed at the first time, absolutely, it will succeed at the second time. Again we do not validate the way of getting the knowledge.
Only Critical realism criticizes the way of getting the knowledge as well as criticizing the ontology of the knowledge.
Based on this philosophical debate, your tool or your software should be validated in an objective way (based on hypotheses) but it should be developed in an interpretive way (based on your experience and interaction with people).

Q 12: What do you advise me?
I advise you to read critical realism by reading PhD theses. You will not find this school in academic papers. Why? Because it is a big project so that the researcher publishes at least 3 journal papers from this PhD. Each Journal paper takes one phase of research.

Q13: Do not read about critical realism from research methodology books. Why?
First, most of research methodology authors are either positivist or Interpretivist. Therefore, they will explain critical realism in a difficult way in order to make you believe it is impossible. And the rest of the book is either positivist or Interpretivist. So how can you read the rest of the book if you liked the critical realism???
Second, critical realism is an art more than science. 
Therefore, it is better to read the research projects of the leaders of action research and critical realism authors.

Q14: So, where can I find the leaders of this kind of research?
I do not know much of them, but you can find universities accept this approach such as  
University of Cambridge (IfM) (Such as Professor Stephen Evans), 
Cranfield University (School of Applied Science & School of Management) Such as Professor Joe Peppard and Dr. Essam Shehab, 
Bath University (Operations & Logistic Management) such as Jens Roehrich, 
University of Twente  (Dr. Maya Daneva &  Professor Weirenga ), 
and Aston University (School of Management)  (Professor Tim Baines)

You can read their PhD students theses. 

Q15: Where can I read PhD theses that use critical research approach?
I upload them on the Facebook group.  Go to the group, and click on files to download them.