The Role Of Customer Relationship Management In Collaborative Consumption

 Research question: The Role of customer relationship management in collaborative consumption

Study Chapter 2, 3 and 4 

• apply the feedback from the reading and your progressing insight to drawing up a research proposal on the topic. 

• Explore the project context of the research project at hand and decide on a single and feasible research objective. 

• Construct a research framework that gives a general indication of the steps that you plan to take to achieve the research objective; 

• Examine, partly on the basis of the research framework, which information will be useful or necessary in order to achieve the research objective. Then formulate this information into a set of research questions.  

Finally, you would draw up a power point slide on the research proposed topics


Designing a Research Project

Designing a Research Project

Piet Verschuren and Hans Doorewaard

Second edition

Eleven International Publishing The Hague


Much care was taken in the realisation of this edition. However, the author(s), editors and publisher do not accept any responsibility for any information which has been included that is incomplete or incorrectly rendered. In addi­ tion, they would greatly appreciate any suggestions for correction or improve­ ment concerning the text.

Published, sold and distributed by Eleven International Publishing P.O. Box 85576 2508 CG The Hague The Netherlands Tel.: +31 70 33 070 33 Fax: +31 70 33 070 30 Website:

Cover design: Haagsblauw, The Hague Layout: Textcetera, The Hague

© 2010 P.J.M. Verschuren and J.A.C.M. Doorewaard/Eleven International Publishing, The Hague

Original title: Het ontwerpen van een onderzoek (2007), fourth edition, ISBN 978-90-5931-496-2 (1st edition translated by R. Poper/2nd edition revised and edited by M.J. Mellion)

This publication is protected by international copyright law. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permis­ sion of the publisher.

ISBN 978-90-5931-572-3 NUR 916



Many handbooks have been written on the subject of research methods and these are all available to the reader when carrying out a research project. However, there is far less material available concerning the problems a researcher encounters when he or she is engaged in the previous process of designing a research project. This book was born from the idea that people are often faced with many problems during this initial stage of a research project. It is our aim to help the reader to design an adequate research project success­ fully. The guidelines and methods presented for designing a research project have been developed from a clear vision on research. A current vision on research can be described as being linear-serial. In this vision the various components of a research project are dealt with consecutively in a methodical way. In con­ trast to this perspective is an iterative-parallel approach. Here a research proj­ ect is seen more as a process during which various components are carried out simultaneously. The researcher is continuously returning to previous deci­ sions and findings to determine to what extent it is desirable or necessary to adjust them on the basis of later decisions and findings. We wrote this book from an iterative-parallel perspective. This book largely draws on insights that have been developed over the years within the scope of a course on ‘research design’ which was attended by stu­ dents from a wide range of disciplines. This diversity of participants forced us to develop general methodological guidelines which are not restricted to certain disciplines. We would like to thank these students for sharing their experiences with us.

Notes to the second, revised edition Despite the fact that the first edition of this book was well received and appar­ ently met the demands and wishes of the educational programs, we have decided to introduce in this second edition several important adjustments, moderations and additional sections. Wc have extended the presentation of the intervention cycle, and the elaboration of the set of practice-oriented research types which are based upon the distinct phases of the intervention cycle (see Chapter 2). In addition, we further specified the technique of unrav­ elling key concepts. We updated the numerous examples in our book and added many more examples in order to present the reader with a wide variety

6 Designing a Research Project

of examples from many different social sciences. We also added an extended series of assignments throughout the book, which offers the readers multiple opportunities to test their knowledge and to practice their skills in designing a research project. In the Appendix, we added a thorough discussion about designing conceptual (causal) models. We have presented a step-by-step plan with many examples, which will help the reader to master the difficult, but very important, subject of developing and applying these models.

Piet Verschuren Hans Doorewaard Nijmegen, April 2010

Table of contents

Introduction 9

1 Project design 15 1.1 Introduction 15 1.2 Project design – in a nutshell 16 1.3 Designing iteratively 24

Part I Conceptual design

2 Research objective 31 2.1 Introduction 31 2.2 The project context and the research objective 33 2.3 Theory-oriented research 42 2.4 Practice-oriented research 45

3 Research framework 65 3.1 Introduction 65 3.2 Constructing a research framework 67 3.3 Specific methodology 70

4 Research questions 91 4.1 Introduction 91 4.2 Function and form requirements for research questions 93 4.3 Subdividing the research framework 100 4.4 Corroborative types of knowledge 106 4.5 Unravelling key concepts 115

5 Defining concepts 129 5.1 Introduction 129 5.2 Delineation 133 5.3 Operationalising 138 5.4 Linking up to the research objective 144

8 Designing a Research Project

Part II Technical research design

6 Research strategies 155 6.1 Introduction 155 6.2 Five strategies in a nutshell 158 6.3 Survey research 161 6.4 Experiment 169 6.5 Case studies 178 6.6 The grounded theory approach 186 6.7 Desk research 194

7 Research material 203 7.1 Introduction 203 7.2 Sources 206 7.3 Accessing sources 220 7.4 Advantages and disadvantages 231

8 Research planning 239 8.1 Introduction 239 8.2 Characteristics of planning 240 8.3 Activity plan 244 8.4 Time schedule 256

Appendix: Conceptual model 265 Introduction 267 1 The composition of a conceptual model 268 2 Basic patterns of causal relationship 271 3 Different uses of conceptual models 277 4 Demarcation and steering 282 5 A step-by-step plan for constructing a conceptual model 291

Bibliography 305

Index 309


The aim of this book For many researchers, the initial stage of a research project often proves to be the most difficult. This holds true both for those whose job it is to carry out research projects as well as for bachelor and master students who are start­ ing to write their assignments for their finals, and PhD candidates who are embarking on their dissertation projects. Experienced researchers are aware of the problems in formulating an exact definition for the problem that has to be solved, or in dealing with the specific way the commissioning party of the project precisely envisages the assignment. Students or PhD candidates face similar problems and very often they do not have a well-defined idea of what the project entails and what is expected of them. These starting-up problems can cause great uncertainty, both to those carrying out the project and their supervisors. As a consequence, this can be detrimental to the quality of the project. Moreover, such a poor start does not contribute to the pleasure found in carrying out the work. Therefore, it is important to be as well prepared as possible when embarking on a research project. Apart from this general background, there are two specific reasons for train­ ing in designing research. The first reason regards contract researchers who are commissioned by an external principal. We call this practice-oriented research. One of the most recurring shortcomings of these researchers is that they set to work on the research project too hastily The research project is often already underway before all of the parties have obtained a clear idea of which problem is to be tackled and what the problem is exactly. This often causes friction between the client and the researcher and, in hindsight, the results of these research projects will usually prove to be of little value. The second reason applies to students who start on their final research project. As soon as a place has been found to do the practical training and the topic of the research has more or less been established, they tend to plunge headfirst into a literature search. However, as they miss a steering set of well-defined research questions, they start reading everything on the subject matter. Much of this will appear unnecessary or of little relevance once the research questions are formulated. So they lose time compared with those who start by formulating a research design. The root of the problem is that the bulk of the methodology literature implicitly or explicitly focuses on how to carry out a research project. Much attention is

10 Designing a Research Project

paid to gathering, and particularly analysing research material. Too often one neglects the stage that precedes the actual performance. This stage concerns the designing of the research project. The aim of this book is to bridge this gap.

The objective and target group The objective of this book is to instruct novice researchers, such as under­ graduates and PhD candidates, but also the more experienced researchers in contract research, on how to set up an adequate research design in general. We provide them with a method that can be used to design a research project. By following and studying this method, and by carrying out the accompany­ ing assignments, the reader can practice this planned approach. Our method can be applied to any type of research in the social, policy and management sciences, regardless of the precise contents and regardless of the research strategy to be chosen. This book deals with many different aspects involved in designing a research project, such as: defining the project context, delineating the research project to manageable proportions, defining a realistic research objective, formulating a set of research questions that is sufficiently steering, giving a clear definition of the key concepts and operationalising these concepts in dimensions and aspects, selecting the necessary research material and research strategy, as well as drawing up a project plan. In the Appendix, we pay attention to the design of a conceptual model. The intended target group for this book includes students and PhD candidates in the arts and humanities: social studies, public administration, human geog­ raphy and spatial planning, social and political science of the environment, communication studies, organisational studies and business administration, to mention only the most important. The majority of examples in this book are taken from these disciplines. In addition, we explicitly address the supervisors of students and PhD candi­ dates. Many teachers in academic and vocational education are familiar with the problems associated with monitoring projects. Frequently noted problems are the ongoing preparation time and the duration of the final project. Another problem is the incoherent or poorly grounded statements found in the docu­ ments produced. In many cases, students are capable of writing short papers, but as soon as a more extensive document such as a thesis is required, they have trouble sticking to the plan and arriving at an intelligible argument. To a certain degree, this is occasioned by the absence of a detailed research design. Such a design can make clear in advance what the research project is to produce and what is necessary to achieve this. Supervisors of dissertation projects are also familiar with these problems. A dissertation project usually starts with a research proposal on the basis of which research funds have been awarded. In most cases these research proposals cannot be compared with what is defined in this book as a research design. In order to acquire a grant, the proposals

Introduction 11

often tend to focus on the scientific merits and the complexity of the propo­ sed project. A research design, however, with a set of sufficiently steering research questions, needs to be set up using entirely different elements. What is required here is not so much the scope of the project but how to arrive at the required degree of practicality and delineation. The consequences of not paying enough attention to these issues are an inordinately long preparation time and a literature survey that may take up to eighteen months, including the risk of PhD candidates prematurely abandoning their project. Therefore, in this book the reader will find many guidelines and ways of reasoning that are useful to supervisors and assistant supervisors so that they can help to accele­ rate the start-up stage and shorten the time span of the total research project, not to mention the improvement in the quality of the research results, because they help to design an effective research before the project begins. A third target group consists of professionals whose job it is to commission a research project and/or to deal with the results of scientific research, such as the policy advisors in governmental organisations, and the staff managers in profit organisations who want to make use of the results obtained in an adequate manner. An often heard complaint is that the results presented and recommen­ dations made are not specific enough to support the required improvements. A main cause of this problem is the lack of fine-tuning between the actual prob­ lems in the commissioning organisation, and the paraphrasing of these prob­ lems into the research objective and the set of research questions. In Part I of this book, which deals with the conceptual design of a research project, we specifically focus on the fine-tuning between the actual organisational problems and the formulation of the research objective, the set of research questions and the con­ ceptual model. The theoretical insights and the training assignments offered in Part I, will help the professionals in the commissioning organisation to make sure that the results of the proposed research will contribute to the improve­ ment required for the organisational policies to be successful. Finally, a word of warning is appropriate here. The application of the detailed design methodology offered in this book makes it possible to develop a well- structured and steering research design. One may compare the results of our methodology with the design and the specifications made by an architect. Usually, the architects design and specifications form the start of a successful building process. The same goes for the designer who uses the design meth­ odology offered in this book to make a successful start for the research project. Nevertheless, the reader is advised to delve further into the existing literature on data collection, data analysis and the research strategy that the researcher plans to use, before carrying out these activities. He or she should do this because in Part II of this book, in which we discuss several research strategies and methods of data gathering and data collection, we especially focus on the part of the research methodology that is needed when designing a research project, rather than on the execution of the research.

12 Designing a Research Project

How to read this book This book does not require specific prior methodological knowledge. The constructive line of reasoning, the many well-elaborated instructions and heuristics on how to obtain results, the abundance of examples and a set of assignments render it suitable for self-study. As a result, the reader is unlikely to run into problems while perusing the text. Designing a research project from the outset is difficult enough. That is why the instructions and the step- by-step plans presented in this book have been kept simple. Another word of warning also is appropriate here. The straightforwardness of the book may lead to an underestimation of the difficulties encountered when designing a research project. This will change, however, as soon as the reader applies what he or she has learned to the practice of his or her own research. Then it will become clear that the distinct steps of the designing process are more difficult than they first appeared. The process of designing is even more complicated because, apart from the required knowledge and skills, the designer needs creativity and imagination. The best thing to do is to apply the methodology in this book to an actual research project. Therefore, after finishing each chapter, the reader is encour­ aged to apply the suggestions and assignments to his or her own research project. We strongly support teamwork in this respect. The process of design­ ing works better with the support of a colleague who is engaged in the same process. Teamwork encourages the use of creativity and imagination. It also offers opportunities for critical reflection and discussions as to weaknesses, inconsistencies, and gaps during the ‘work in progress7. Besides self-study, the book can primarily be used in training courses in which participants in working groups discuss and practice the various ele­ ments of setting up a research project. At present, master students, bachelor students and, increasingly, PhD students are given the opportunity to follow these courses at various universities and research institutes. In order to facilitate this type of usage, each chapter ends with a step-by-step approach enabling the researcher to carry out the relevant stage of his or her research project. Please note the following. If the researcher simply applies the step-by-step plans presented after each chapter to his or her research project, he or she risks losing the benefits of an iterative design strategy suggested in this book (see Chapter 1). In a nutshell, the iterative design strategy suggests that the designer continuously switches from the various parts that make up the designing process. That is why we suggest that the researcher acquires the skills of designing a research project in two separate phases. First, he or she should become acquainted with the different methods and heuristics of each individual stage in the designing process, by studying the contents of each of the following chapters in this book. Once the reader has become acquainted with the several techniques and has acquired the skills needed, he or she can

Introduction 13

apply the methodology to a real-life project. Only then can the research project benefit best from the iterative design strategy. In addition, the book can be used as an easy-reference manual for anyone who is about to carry out contract research or who is embarking on an activity com­ parable to research, such as writing reports and papers, drafting articles and setting up short-term applied research projects. In the past, it has proven to be quite practical when one has the opportunity to reread the basics of research design during a research project. Again, there is a danger that, as a consequence of the step-by-step plans, the reader slavishly applies these steps, without critical reflection. This will reduce the learning effect, and increase the risk of developing a poor qua­ lity research project. Research is often too complex and too multiform to be designed entirely according to a set of previously fixed rules. The step-by- step plans presented in this book are meant to serve as rough guidelines for supporting the designing process. They should be used as initial steps which help the reader to structure his or her ideas. We strongly suggest that the rea­ ders maintain a critical attitude during each step of our methodology. You can never design a research project on the autopilot, without critical thinking.

Structure Chapter 1 explains the logic underlying the project design and the structure of this book as a whole, by illustrating this with an authentic case. Chapters 2 through 8 and the Appendix elucidate and elaborate on the various elements of the design. For each individual chapter the text has been structured as follows. The beginning of each chapter gives an example from an everyday situation demonstrating the point we would like to make that is based on a specific problem. Subsequently, we go into further detail about the methods, procedures, methodologies and guidelines you can use when carrying out this particular stage of the research design. All this leads to a step-by-step approach, At the end of each chapter, the step-by-step approach is applied to the authentic case introduced at the beginning of the chapter.

1 Project design

Designing can be compared to making a painting. When you are engaged in this activity, you continuously work in all areas of the canvas. The shapes and

colours of one section inspire the shapes and colours of another. From time to time you take a step back, your eyes half-closed, to view and ponder the quality and

harmony of the whole.

l.i Introduction

Designing and carrying out a research project is a complex activity. The researcher is bombarded by a host of new impressions. Moreover, the various parties who are involved in the process make different and often contradic­ tory demands on him or her. In such a situation, many readers will find it difficult to develop a goal-oriented mode of action, in which it is clear to your­ self and to the other parties what is going to transpire. The following example depicts such a situation.

Example ‘A problem with logistics’ A student of organisational studies has been assigned a project for his mas­ ter’s thesis at a department store chain. After a quick tour around one of the company’s department stores and after consulting his supervisor, the student immerses himself in literature on logistics and compiles a list of possible prob­ lems concerning the logistics. He presents this list to a number of employees within the company. It soon appears, however, that the problems with the logistics are not the real issue. What is more important are the different views held by the employees of the company regarding what has caused these prob­ lems. By now the student has been working on his final project for well over one month. He realises that he had better make haste with the people he still needs to interview concerning their views on this particular problem of the logistics. But who should he approach for these interviews? And what exactly should he ask? Should he delve into the problems revolving around the logis­ tics or not? And what is actually part of the company logistics and what is not? Furthermore, it is now July and many people are on holiday. He feels under pres­ sure and decides to conduct a number of interviews with some executives, but he

16 Designing a Research Project

does not obtain very much of information. ‘When will you be finished with the report?’ his supervisor urges. The student quickly draws up some inter­ view reports, but soon it is quite clear that this is not going to pass as a thesis. What should the thesis contain? How can theoretical depth into the subject be realised? All in all, the project does not look too promising.

The student in this example lacks insight into the various steps involved in the preparation of a research project. For him it is merely a jumble of activities that lack a well thought-out and planned approach. This first chapter presents an overview of the various aspects involved in research, which will be elaborated on later in this book. Section 1.2 gives a sur­ vey of research design and an outline of its various aspects. This section shows how you should structure your designing activities. Section 1.3 sketches the process in which research design can be developed.

1.2 Project design – in a nutshell

Designing research involves two separate sets of activities. The first involves determining everything you wish to achieve through the research project. This has to do with modelling the content of the research; we call this the con­ ceptual design of a research project. The second set of activities concerns how to realise all this during the implementation stage of the project. This is called the technical research design. The conceptual design is the subject of Part I of this book. It determines what, why and how much we are going to study and it consists of four elements. In the first place, the objective of the research project is formulated, i.e. the goal of the research. It concerns the contribution the researcher wishes to make to solve a problem outside the research itself. That is why the research objec­ tive is also called the external aim of the research, the goal of the project. The research objective, in other words, concerns the use of the knowledge the research produces, not the knowledge itself. Secondly, this research objective must be derived from and embedded in what we will be referring to as the project context. The draft of the research structure is then developed into a research framework. A research framework consists of a schematic representa­ tion of the most important research phases. Subsequently, the researcher must determine which information can contribute towards achieving the selected research objective. We are now at the stage of formulating the set of research questions. This set consists of a number of core questions and sub-questions that need to be answered during the different phases of the research project. The answers to the research questions provide the exact knowledge required

1 Project design 17

in order to achieve the research objective. This concerns the so-called internal aim of the research, the goal within the research project. An important part of formulating the research questions is determining which theoretical frame­ work will be used to study the research object. In this book we call this theore­ tical framework the research perspective’. Sometimes the theoretical framework consists of a ready-made theory that the researcher has found while studying the relevant literature. But more often than not, the researcher will have to derive a theoretical framework from different theories that need to be adjusted in order to fit the research project. Such a theoretical framework often takes the form of a so-called conceptual model. The conceptual model is the theoretical framework of the research project, and it consists of a set of assumed relation­ ships between the core concepts of this project. In the Appendix of this book we present detailed instructions on how to develop such a conceptual model. The final part of the conceptual design concerns a set of activities in which the core concepts of the research objective, the research questions and the conceptual model are defined, refined and made concrete. It is particularly important that abstractly defined core concepts are translated into observable phenomena, i.e. indicators. This process is called defining and operationalising the key concepts. This process helps the researcher to demarcate his or her research object. The second set of core activities in designing a research project concerns the technical research design, or simply technical design. The technical design is the subject of Part II of this book. Roughly speaking, the technical design con­ sists of the decisions concerning how, where and when we are going to do our research in order to answer the research questions. A first step to be taken is the selection of the research strategy. Core questions to be answered are: Is the researcher looking for breadth or depth, will he or she follow a quantitative or qualitative approach, first-hand observation or an analysis of information or data produced by others? Once the researcher has decided on a research strategy, he or she needs to choose a set of activities which establish the kind of research material needed to answer the research questions: where is this research material to be found, or how can it be produced? We call this care­ fully deliberated set of decisions the plan of research material generation, in quantitative research also known as the process of data gathering. The third and final category of activities and decisions that are needed within the frame­ work of making a technical design concerns a clear and consistent research plan. Figure 1.1 summarises this.

The components listed to the right in Figure 1.1 represent the next seven chap­ ters. Here, we will briefly explain each of these components while referring to the project ‘A problem with logistics’ that we discussed above.