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Using data to aid organisational change
Using data to aid organisational change

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3.1 Finalising research questions for your project

In developing your research questions, you also need to be concerned with issues of feasibility in terms of access and time. Most importantly you will have to consider the possibility of implementing the change you have identified. You do not need to be over ambitious, but you need to realistically evaluate how difficult it would be to get enough of the information you are planning in the time you have available before beginning the change. You need to plan a project that is neither too broad nor too narrow in scope and one that can be carried out in the available time.

Activity 3 Designing research questions

Timing: Allow around 60 minutes for this activity

Part 1 Things to consider when thinking about your research question

In Video 1, you will hear from four individuals who provide insights on the importance of setting the right research question. They will also talk about the strategies they adopted to come up with specific research questions for their projects, which were part of their MBA projects at The Open University.

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Video 1 What to consider when developing research questions for your project
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Now watch the video a second time and make notes on how the interviewees talked about the following points.

  1. Their main question (work problem or change) they set out to address for their project.
  2. How they came up with this specific secondary question (work problem or change). In other words, how did they narrow their project focus down to this particular question (work problem or change)?
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Part 2 Applying theories or frameworks to discuss your research questions

Read on to see how theories or frameworks are useful in helping you to focus further on your research questions.

Figure 3 depicts how research questions can contain a number of elements. The clear development of one or more research questions will guide the development of your data collection process and the tools or instruments you will use. Your research questions should emerge from a specific need to acquire greater knowledge about a phenomenon or a situation (i.e. your research topic). This need may be a personal one as well as a contextual and organisational need.

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Figure 3 Elements relating to a research question

Consider this example of how to develop a research question:

As a consequence of government cuts, your arts organisation has to re-structure and this is causing stress and tension among staff. You are involved in the planning of the change initiative and want to develop an organisational change programme that minimises stress and conflict. In order to do so you need to know more about people’s views, at the various organisational levels. What types of question would help you to:

  1. understand the context
  2. demonstrate to the various research stakeholders (e.g. organisational members and research participants [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , or supervisor, etc.) what you intend to do?

Perhaps you would like to make some notes of your initial ideas and think about how you could apply this process to develop your own research question. A way round this may be to ask the stakeholders to look for the research topic, but explain that this should be a problem they can identify in their context. Then they proceed to think of research questions which are actually questions in relation to the change they would like to apply to deal with the problem they wish to explore and, if relevant, think of sub-questions.

Figure 4 is an example of a framework that can be used to develop sub-questions out of your main research questions.

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Figure 4 An example of a research question and some sub-questions

Reading around the topic will help you to achieve greater focus, as will discussing your initial questions with colleagues and your supervisor. In the example above, assuming the literature has been searched and several articles on change management and business restructuring have been read, you are likely to have developed clearer ideas about what you want to investigate and how you want to investigate it.

Figure 5 shows what the main research question and the sub-questions or objectives might be.

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Figure 5 An example of a research question and some sub-questions

Part 3 Testing your knowledge of what constitutes a research question

Based on your notes from Part 1 and what you have read from Part 2, answer the three questions below:

  1. What constitutes a research question?
  2. Thinking about the problem you identified for your project, use the information in Figure 5 to outline the main pieces of information that a research question for your project needs to contain.
  3. Thinking about your chosen organisational context, create a diagram similar to Figure 4 that captures your project topic, main research questions and two sub-research questions.
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You do not need too many questions, it is better to keep your project focused – too broad and it is unlikely to work. Keep in mind that you will need time to implement your change, if you decide to do so.

Next, you are going to look at how to link your research question(s) to a specific work problem or change.