Designing Research: A Day With The Vikings in London
On 22 October 2013, LSBF hosted a delegation of business and finance students from Zealand Institute of Business and Technology led by Jakob Hornbeck and Helene Johansen.
By Dr Steve Priddy
This was a second annual visit and Jakob and I thought it would be fun to put LSBF students together with the Danish hordes and spend a day designing our own research project. At Masters level the dissertation represents one third of the programme and is a challenging task. Too frequently students put to the back of their mind this stage of the programme and arrive at its commencement ill prepared and daunted by how much there is to actually research.
Jakob and I prepared for the day itself by setting down ten topics currently of great importance in the world of business and finance. These were:-
- Big Data – hype or reality
- Corporate governance and ethics in business
- Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics – an emerging skill gap?
- Energy Futures – renewability, efficiency, and reduction, what needs to happen?
- Small and Medium sized enterprises (SME’s), entrepreneurship, and access to finance
- Business to Business (B2B) and their use of social and media websites
- Corporate Growth Strategies – organic, M&A, Greenfield, joint venture – which works?
- Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) – how to attract it sustainably and for the long term
- Brand Building in the Multinational corporation – how to make it effective
- The Psychological Contract – how do things really work around here?
After the students were settled down and introductions made we encouraged them to form themselves into three teams of six or seven individuals across LSBF and Danish borders. We asked each team to select a topic for the day, either from the list above or of their own making. As it transpired the topics selected were from those suggested and covered energy futures, SME’s entrepreneurship and finance, and sustainable, long term FDI.
This was the easy part! At the heart of any good research is the formulation of an answerable research question underpinned by what I would call a series of specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound (SMART) objectives, and what Jakob would refer to as sub-questions. The teams set down to do this for their topic, and then each reported back with we facilitators encouraging critique of each others’ work. Critique is a fundamental activity in business life, where it will often be across skills and functions so it is important for future business leaders to learn to criticise constructively and with empathy.
The next stage of the day was for each team to think about how they would structure a literature review using the research question and objectives they had formulated. Specifically we asked them what sort of sources would they go to, what key words would drive their searches. We asked them to think about how a 5,000 word chapter would be structured in terms of headings, sub headings and other forms of navigation. And most importantly we asked them to think about what might be the gap in existing knowledge they might be opening up, since research is by definition an incremental activity that adds to the stock of what we already know.
This led us on to what students find – and our teams were no exception – often the most difficult and apparently obscure chapter of any dissertation, the research methodology. What on earth does business and finance have to do with research philosophy, approach, strategy and timeframe? We did our best to point to the integrating function of this chapter. How it bridges what has come before, the setting of question and objectives, the literature review, to what will follow, the documentation of findings and their analysis, the conclusions and recommendations.
We pointed out that research methodology covers four key points:-
- A demonstration that students understand that all research involves choices – of philosophy, strategy, approach and timeframe, for example
- A justification of the specific choices taken by the student to generate the evidence they need to answer their question
- The specific elements involved in the forming of their own research design
- A reflection on the reliability, credibility of the evidence and an understanding of the ethical issues raised in the conduct of any research
We asked each team to think on these four points and to outline how they would handle them in their projected research.
Of course we might have gone on to reflect on what they expected to find, since all research is in one sense a predictive activity – we have a hunch about the patterns that will emerge. We could have thought about how to document our findings and then contextualise them in the existing body of knowledge. We could then have drawn out bold conclusions and recommendations from our work.
But we did not. Exhaustion crept in, which is gratifying, since it demonstrated active young minds at work. To compress into a day what would normally take a student over 600 hours of study was always going to be a tall order.
Instead we ate pizza, drank wine, and regretfully parted too soon from each other.
Thankfully there will be next year!
Dr Steve Priddy is Head of Research at LSBF