Answers to Exercises in the Book

6.1 Gathering secondary data

Individual/Group – Conduct a search for corporate sustainability reports online, (many firms post such reports or reviews on their websites) and select and download three of them. Examine their content, make a list of the issues covered, and identify who has authored them. In class, discuss what we could learn from an analysis of these reports. How important is it to consider authorship when analysing secondary data?

When analysing secondary data it is essential to consider the reason why these data were created in the first place. In the case of corporate sustainability reports – in particular those published online – we can assume that these were not just created as a critical account of a given firm’s sustainability record but also as a means for public engagement or even ‘window dressing’. This is not to say that such reports are full of untruths or misleading facts, just that there is an incentive to include some facts (and not others) and to present ‘challenges’ in a certain way.

In addition it is very important to consider authorship. For example, in some industries sustainability reports are written by consultants rather than by company employees. A change in the way sustainability issues are addressed can therefore be the result of a change in authorship (e.g. different consultancy) as much as an actual change in discourse or practice. 

6.2 Diary methods

Individual  – Think about what kind of research questions lend themselves to use of diary methods. Write a paragraph on a project that could involve diary methods and a second paragraph justifying your choice of method. If you cannot think of any project conduct a literature search.

Diary methods lend themselves to understanding the perspectives of different respondents to an issue or phenomena (often one that occurs within the same timeframe).

They are also particularly useful in collecting information on the ways perspectives might change over time. Hence lend themselves to longitudinal studies. Diaries offer personal accounts. As such, they give an individual’s perspective on activities and issues – epistemologically they emanate from a constructionist point of view. In terms of analysis, the researcher is often required to reconcile the different interpretations made of events by the different respondents and to provide an explanation that links these together in the production a holistic and comprehensive explanation or interpretation.

One of the most famous examples of the use of diary research was research undertaken by Rosemary Stewart, who published in 1979 a study that examined the nature of managerial work. One of the authors of this book also used diaries in a research project to understand the effects of incentives for miners working in British coalmines (Bowey & Thorpe, 1986). In this study a cross-section of workers were trained to write diaries detailing their reactions to the incentive scheme in operation. A cross-section of coal workers took part in this study from managers through to face workers.


Bowey, A.M. and Thorpe, R. with Hellier, P. (1986) Payment Systems and Productivity, London: Macmillan.

Stewart, R. (1976) ‘To understand the manager’s job’, Organisational Dynamics, 4 (4): 22-32.

6.3 Exploring the potential of qualitative interviews

Individual – There are various types of qualitative interviews, not all of which are discussed in this chapter. Conduct a literature search for more information on different types of qualitative interviews, using the resources and search strategies introduced in Chapter 2 on literature reviews. Identify at least five types of qualitative interviews. Prepare a short briefing (1,000 words) on the more specific features, advantages and disadvantages of expert interviews, narrative interviews and ethnographic interviews.

In the table below we have listed some of the key features, advantages and disadvantages of expert interviews, narrative interviews and ethnographic interviews. We encourage our readers to browse through methods textbooks, handbooks as well as the Internet to find out more about these techniques so that they can add to this table themselves.

Type of interview

Key features



Expert interview

  • Interviewer selects interviewees based on their expertise.
  • Interviews focus on the knowledge or expertise of interviewees, not on the interviewees themselves.
  • Little is known about the more specific context of the interview.
  • Depending on the expert, interviews may or may not be audiotaped.
  • Fast way of accessing specific knowledge, good and early orientation of a field or to learn about ongoing developments.
  • Not very time consuming.
  • Access is easier than with other techniques (less intrusive than observation; most people enjoy being treated like ‘experts’).
  • Depending on the research design, you may be able to use the same questions in various interviews.
  • Expert knowledge is not neutral. When there is little information on the context of what is being said, it is more difficult to identify bias or detect lies.
  • Some interviewees feel offended by not being treated as a person but rather as a ‘brain with legs’.
  • It can be difficult to get an appointment with an ‘expert’.

Narrative interview

  • Interviewer asks questions which stimulate interviewees to tell them a story about a significant event or experience they have made.
  • Label derived from the Latin word narrare (to tell a story).
  • The focus is not on the reported ‘fact’ (expert interview) but how the interviewee makes sense of the fact.
  • Allows for the in-depth exploration of what is thought about a social phenomenon and how it is experienced.
  • Helps to reconstruct the sequential unfolding of an event as experienced by the interviewee.
  • Information is more contextualized than in an expert interview.
  • Interviews are usually audiotaped.
  • Time consuming: narrative interviews tend to be very long interviews; it can take some time to get to the actual event/story.
  • Requires flexibility and attentive listening on the side of the interviewer.
  • Interviews can develop in different ways which makes it more difficult to prepare and compare them.
  • Information appears as more biased as it is openly based on peoples’ perceptions rather than ‘abstract knowledge’.

Ethnographic interview

  • Informal and usually unstructured interview that is conducted as a ‘friendly conversation’ in the context of ethnographic research.
  • Information is obtained through observation and conversation.
  • Interview situation appears more natural and is hence more appealing to many interviewees.
  • Information revealed in the interview is highly contextualized (observation and interaction).
  • Conversation can take place while interviewee performs other tasks. Interviewer can ask questions along the way (e.g. how, why something is done).
  • Unstructured interviews require more flexibility and focus (thinking on the spot).
  • Usually recorded in interview notes, which then have to be written up.
  • Like most ethnographic approaches, this is a very time-consuming method; (participant) observation leading up to the conversation can take weeks if not months.
  • More difficult to analyse within a comparative framework.


6.4 Conducting individual and group interviews

Group – In groups of two to four, discuss the advantages and disadvantages of individual interviews and focus groups. For what kind of research would you choose to conduct individual interviews? What kinds of projects would benefit from the use of focus groups? Prepare a list of three projects (title and short abstract) that should be undertaken using just one of these two approaches (individual interviews or group interviews) without stating the approaches you have chosen on your list. Exchange the list with another group. Can you guess whether the list suggests projects for individual interviews or focus groups? Which group did a better job in identifying suitable projects? Why?

In the table below we summarize some of the main advantages and disadvantages of individual interviews and focus groups. Again, this should be understood as an indicative rather than exhaustive list of features.




Individual interviews

  • Useful for investigating complex topics as they leave more room for in-depth explanations. When probing and/or laddering techniques are required, individual in-depth interviews are the method of choice.
  • More useful for exploring individual perceptions and decision-making processes.
  • Relatively easy to set up.
  • Make it easier to address sensitive issues which interviewees might not wish to share with a group.
  • More flexibility for the interviewer, easier to alter the interview guide along the way.
  • Series of rather similar interviews can become boring for the interviewer.
  • Interviewers usually avoid challenging the opinions of individual interviewees, whereas peers (focus group) might initiate a more critical, and as such more revealing discussion.
  • It can be difficult to make sense of conflicting accounts of events forwarded by different interviewees.


Focus groups

  • Useful for exploring a wider scope of opinions and experiences as well as group dynamics, relationships and collective decision-making processes.
  • Group dynamics can be helpful for identifying trends, exploring conflicting opinions, and for building consensus.
  • Multiple stakeholders can be involved which can make this method more attractive to some research participants.
  • Focus groups make it easier for participants to engage in the research process.
  • Not useful for topics that require long or complex responses.
  • Peer pressure can inhibit the responses of some individuals.
  • Logistics can be complicated.
  • Facilitation of focus groups can require a lot from the interviewer who might require assistance.

Individual – Conduct a search online for online tools and platforms that could be used for online focus groups. Identify what appears to you the best option and compare your solution to those that identified by others in your course.

Group – Watch the following video. How does Janet Salmon define qualitative e-research? What examples does she give?

Janet Salmon defines qualitative e-research as methods allowing us to use information and communication technologies to collect visual, written, audio, video or multi-dimensional media data from participants anywhere, any time. She provides an example of online interviews using web conferencing techniques.

6.5 Strategies for qualitative interviews

Group – In groups of 3–4, make lists of the main rules that researchers should follow when developing interview questions.

  • Ask interviewees questions that they can actually answer – ask them about their experience, expertise, thoughts, views, wishes or feelings
  • Do not ask your interviewee your research questions as these are likely to be too complex/abstract to be answered without any preparation
  • Ask only one question at the time
  • Avoid questions that can be answered with one word (e.g. yes/no)
  • Don’t ask very long or complicated questions. Keep it simple so that the interviewee does not get confused
  • Think about possible follow-up questions and prompts you could use to elicit more detail

Individual – Download and read the online resource cited above. Based on the document and everything you have learnt to far, develop a checklist that will help you to develop a topic guide for a current or future project.

Individual – Go online, download and read the article below. What kinds of interviews were conducted for this research?

The interviews were conducted using the critical incident method. Interviewees were asked to describe two significant incidents in which they discussed a problem with a person from one of the other two departments.

6.7 Interviewing

Individual/Group – Watch the first video included above and make list of the mistakes made by the interviewer.

The many mistakes made by this interviewer include the use of leading questions, speaking too quickly (and too much), asking closed questions (which can be answered with yes/no), the use of distracting movements and her preoccupation with her phone. The interviewer does not keep eye contact and conducts the interviewee in a rushed manner and appears to be bored by the interviewee’s responses. She also interrupts and challenges the interviewee in an appropriate way.

Group – Watch the second video. Can you see the difference? Discuss what the interviewer does better this time around. Why does it matter?

In the second video the interviewer pays attention to the interviewee, and appears interested in what the interviewee has to say. She keeps eye contact and gives the interviewee time to think and reply in much more detail. She guides the interviewee through the process with a gentle hand – rather than conducting an interrogation (as shown in the first video). She seems to value the interviewees input and asks questions that are both open-ended and well-put. The video does not only provide a nice example of how a semi-structured interview should be conducted it also demonstrates the impact has on the quantity and quality of the data collected in this way.

Group – Think about which of your own characteristics and traits could affect your relationship with research participants. In pairs, discuss these traits and write them down. What characteristics or traits are likely to have a positive or negative impact on your data collection?

Before entering a field, it is useful to think about one’s presence and develop a greater sense of self-awareness about how others might perceive you and how behaviours/activities might be likely to be perceived in this field. This involves reflecting on our own identities and on the identities of potential research participants. Aristotle refers to the importance of pathos, ethos and logos when communicating with others: pathos refers to how well individuals are at making an emotional connection with the person they are communicating with; ethos refers to how credible and authentic the person comes across, in this case, interviewer to the interviewee and logos, refers to how coherent, reasonable and intelligible, in this case the questions, are that are being made. Depending on the project, demographic markers such as nationality, ethnicity, age or gender can impact on our research. Attributes such as social class, shared hobbies or pastimes and religion also shape the ways in which we engage with others, including research participants. Then there are also more personal characteristics which should be considered. The way researchers engage with research participants varies depending on whether they are perceived to be shy, confident, arrogant, intimidating, defensive, nervous, reluctant or bored. It is therefore important to reflect on how we tend to come across when we meet others in a self-critical way. It can be helpful to discuss this issue with a friend who can provide some feedback on our appearance. This might not turn out to be a particularly pleasurable discussion – but is certainly one worth having!

In some fields it is essential to exhibit a sense of fashion or to follow a particular dress code. While researchers should always behave in a polite and respectful manner, some research participants expect a very formal and ‘professional’ behaviour whereas others could feel rejected or ridiculed when confronted with the same appearance. We are not trying to encourage researchers to be inauthentic or to attempt to always blend in come what may, as in some cases it could be a useful strategy to stand out. What is important, however, is to be aware of the reasons as to why one would (not) like to stand out, and whether it is within our abilities to make a choice in this regard.

Individual/Group – Read the Research in Action box below and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the Systematic and Reflexive Interviewing and Reporting (SRIR) method. What are the underling philosophical assumptions of this method? In what ‘quadrant’ (as defined in Chapter 3) would you position it?

The SRIR method is an inductive, grounded, and socially constructionist approach to collecting and analysing data. The method is ‘transactional’ in that data emerges from collaborative interactions between researchers and research participants. For this reason, the SRIR method is philosophically underpinned by an epistemology that sees knowledge as contextually embedded, dynamic, and co-produced through dialogue, rather than something that is concrete, static, and self-contained outside the research process. Therefore, we would position the SRIR method in quadrant C.


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