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Research Design and Method

Research Design and Method

by Patricia Marlette Black BA, MEd.

from Women’s Leadership in Community-Profit Organisations,
Doctoral Thesis , Queensland University of Technology, 1999, pp. 90-121.
Republished on our website with the necessary permissions

5.1 Introduction

This chapter outlines the way in which, in the context of this research, the symbolic interactionism perspective on methodology has been translated into a research design and method. Chapter I describes how the research problem evolved from a combination of contemporary, cultural and organisational issues. Also impinging on the research problem were the prior experience and interests of the researcher outlined in the previous chapter, and the issues identified in the review of the relevant literature in Chapter 3. Chapter 5 further discusses the identification of the research problem and the refining of the research questions during the data collection process. It outlines the concurrent research processes that occurred during the research, a continual sifting, resifting and clarification of concepts. The concurrent research processes discussed include selection of sites and participants, data collection procedures, managing, recording and protecting the data, data analysis procedures and procedures to maintain the integrity of the research.

The researcher, aware that the research design had to be flexible enough to both incorporate and transcend mechanistic approaches, sought to adopt a research design and method that would be faithful to the subjective experiences of the participants and free from the constraints of positivistic inquiry and at the same time be coherent, orderly and systematic in a way that would stand up to public inquiry. Figure 5.1 illustrates the research method used to address the research problem stated in chapter 1 of the thesis, that is, to what extent does women’s leadership in community-profit organisations exhibit new understandings and practices of leadership which are consonant with distinctive features of an emerging holistic world view and which have the potential to provide a creative response to discontinuous change? The use of interlocking curves in the figure highlights the overlapping, cyclical interaction of the research methods used to illuminate the research problem in order to arrive at new insights or understandings with regard to leadership in a postmodern world.

5.2 Cultural Review Process

This researcher found the cultural review process - one stage in the four stage process for the development and analysis of long interviews outlined by McCracken (1988) - useful as a way of clarifying the research questions and the selection of sites and participants. McCracken points out that the researcher’s familiarity with the culture under study has, potentially, the effect of dulling the researcher’s powers of observation and analysis while giving the researcher an extremely valuable acquaintance with the area of research. The cultural review process is one in which the researcher examines her experiences of the area of research, the incidents, the associations and the assumptions that surround the research topic in her mind. The three purposes of the cultural review process outlined by McCracken are to identify cultural categories and relationships not identified by the literature to form the basis of the interview guide, to examine the cultural categories and their interrelationship as a way of preparing the ‘templates’ with which the researcher will seek out ‘matches’ in the interview data, to assist the researcher to establish a critical distance from his or her vision of the topic to be researched.

Following McCracken’s suggestion, the researcher recalled several incidents in which the research topic, women’s leadership in community-profit organisations, was caught up in episodes dramatically at variance with her previous experiences. As McCracken (1988) points out, there is no better way to glimpse expectations and assumptions than when they are violated, and this exercise assisted the process of clarifying the assumptions which were discussed in the previous chapter. It is interesting that in some of these episodes from the past it was the researcher’s patriarchal and hierarchical assumptions that were challenged as she grew in understanding of partnership and mutuality as essential elements of the leadership interaction; in more recent episodes, it was her sense of outrage at the violation of the principles of partnership and mutuality which threw into relief her assumptions and expectations. The cultural review process undertaken by the researcher, combined with the review of relevant literature, highlighted her awareness of the extent of the field and of her own limited experience within it and understanding of it.

Aware of these limitations, the researcher extended the cultural review process by not only obtaining a more detailed and systematic appreciation of her own interest in the research topic, but by interviewing a range of women with experience in the community-profit sector in order to canvas their ideas about the issues involved in the research topic and to get their assistance in selecting sites and participants who would be appropriate for the research. The cultural review interviews were carried out in order to ensure that the researcher had a broad base on which to make decisions about selection of sites and sample, and a less idiosyncratic base against which to understand the data provided by the participants in the in-depth interviews.

Ten women were invited to participate in the research as cultural review participants. The criteria for choosing the cultural review participants were that they be women who had some experience of women’s community-profit organisations, and that they have knowledge of the field insofar as they could assist with a critical selection of sites and possible access to them. In some cases, the researcher had to rely on the judgement of others with regard to those who might meet these criteria. Of the ten cultural review participants approached by the researcher, four were academics who had published work on women’s leadership in general or in the community-profit sector in particular, or on the community-profit sector in general; one was the co-ordinator of a women’s community-profit organisation with networks with many women’s community-profit organisations; five were women who were active in community-profit organisations that the researcher considered as potential sites. Eight of these women agreed to participate in the cultural review process. Five of the interviews were taped interviews of one to one and a half hours, two of the interviews were long interviews of approximately three hours and were not taped. One interview was a one hour phone interview. The cultural review participants were located in two capital cities in Australia.

An outline of the interview guide which formed the basis of what were wide-ranging conversational interviews and the letter of invitation which was the basis for a personal letter to each of these women are included in Appendix A. The interview guide was used to provide the broad parameters of the conversation with participants. To some extent the concept of convergence (Guba 1978) guided the cultural review process, as the main points of one interview often provided a basis for conversation in the next interview and subsequent interviews built on the process of interview and summary to determine the main points of common agreement and points of idiosyncratic opinion, until no new information emerged. The Consent Form, the Aims and Objectives of the Program of Research, the statement on the Significance of the Research and the definition of leadership on which the research is based accompanied letters of invitation to the potential cultural review participants and the potential formal participants (see Appendix B). The cultural review interviews took place from July to October 1995.

The researcher had read some articles published by the academics and found interviews with them helped to clarify the main issues surrounding the research topic and to redefine the research problems and the research questions. These cultural review participants were also very helpful in directing the researcher to further literature that could be relevant for the research. The participant who was the designated leader of a women’s community-profit organisation which had networks with many of the organisations that were possible research sites helped the researcher to identify issues, as well as suggesting sites that could be of particular relevance for the research and the names of women who were gatekeepers in a number of the organisations. The five cultural review participants who were active members of organisations that the researcher considered as possible sites were women that the researcher had met at conferences or who were suggested by previous participants in the cultural review interviews. Because these women were members of community-profit organisations that had very different memberships and purposes, interviews with them gave the researcher a sense of the scope of sites that were available as well as an insight into both the common issues and some particular issues facing women-centred community-profit organisations. Two of the organisations in which these women worked were chosen as research sites.

The cultural review process assisted the researcher to address the questions ‘How do you know what you know about the research focus?’ and ‘How can you best prepare yourself to understand what is really being said by participants in the interview interaction?’ The cultural review process also assisted the researcher to explore some of the realities of women’s leadership in community-profit organisations as perceived by the cultural review participants in the light of the literature on leadership. The process enhanced the researcher’s confidence in her ability to interact effectively with research participants, and helped her to hone the organisational and technical aspects of the interview situation.

Research Questions

As is characteristic of qualitative research methodology, the research questions in this thesis evolved prior to and during the data collection and data analysis processes. Although Chapter 3 presents the review of relevant literature and uses that as a basis for refining research questions, the culture review process and formal data collection processes were occurring concurrently with the literature review. Therefore, the research questions were clarified and refined from the perspectives within the literature review as well as through understandings gained through interactions with the cultural review participants and the formal participants. The original research questions outlined in Table 5.1(a) were generated by the researcher’s interest in the topic and were very broad and they sharpened in focus during the cultural review process and the data collection and data analysis processses as illustrated in Table 5.1(b).

Table 5.1(a) Original research questions

  • What are the challenges facing women as leaders in nonprofit organisations?
  • What behaviours do women exhibit in their exercise of leadership?
  • How do women perceive and describe the nonprofit organisations in which they work?
  • What conflicts do women in nonprofit organisations have about what they want to do and what they are able to do in their exercise of leadership in nonprofit organisations?

Table 5.1(b) Final research questions

  • How do women understand and experience leadership in community-profit organisations?
  • What are the major issues that women face in their exercise of leadership in community-profit organisations?
  • How do women exercise leadership in community-profit organisations?
  • What do women hope to achieve through their exercise of leadership in community-profit organisations?
  • What conflict do women experience in their exercise of leadership in community-profit organisations?
  • How do women experience and understand power in their exercise of leadership in community-profit organisations?

Selection of Sites

The cultural review process made it quite clear to the researcher that the community-profit sector is a diverse and complex organisational context. The researcher was interested in a purposive rather than a representative selection of sites, and her main concern was to study a range of sites in order to get as holistic a picture as possible of women’s understanding of leadership in community-profit organisations. The criteria for the selection of sites are listed in Table 5.2.

Table 5.2 Criteria for the selection of sites

  • Organisations chosen are small and/or marginal community-profit organisations, either bureaucratic control organisations or participatory democracy organisations (See Figure 1.1).
  • Organisations chosen are characterised by having the exercise of leadership predominantly in the hands of women.
  • Organisations chosen are characterised by a democratic leadership style as compared to an autocratic leadership style (see Figure 1.1).
  • A wide range of community-profit organisations are chosen as sites. To ensure this the International Classification of Nonprofit Organisations developed by Salamon and Anheier (1992a; 1992b) is used.
  • Organisations chosen are experiencing discontinuous change.
  • Organisations chosen are those in which the researcher is not directly involved.
  • Organisations chosen provide an easy and welcome access.

The International Classification of Nonprofit Organisations (ICNPO) developed by Salamon and Anheier (1992a, 1992b) was found to be a useful classification system for this research, in order to ensure that a range of sites was chosen for the exploration of the research problem. It identifies twelve broad groups of organisations that comprise the nonprofit sector as defined by Salamon and Anheier (1992a) and there is, therefore, a consistency between their definition of nonprofit organisations adopted in this research and the classification of organisations adopted for the research. Although the twelve major groups (Table 5.3) are classified according to their primary economic activity, the classification also scores high in terms of criteria such as significance, organising power and richness.

Table 5.3 International Classification of Nonprofit Organizations (ICNPO)



  • 100 Culture and Arts
  • 200 Recreation
  • 300 Service Clubs


  • 100 Primary and Secondary Education
  • 200 Higher Education
  • 300 Other Education
  • 400 Research


  • 100 Hospitals and Rehabilitation
  • 200 Nursing Homes
  • 300 Mental Health and Crisis Intervention
  • 400 Other Health Services


  • 100 Social Services
  • 200 Emergency and Relief
  • 300 Income Support and Maintenance


  • 100 Environment
  • 200 Animal Protection


  • 100 Economic, Social, and Community Development
  • 200 Housing
  • 300 Employment and Training


  • 100 Civic and Advocacy Organisations
  • 200 Law and Legal Services 200 Law and Legal Services
  • 300 Political Parties






Source: Salamon, L.M. and Anheier, H.K. (1992). “In Search of the Nonprofit Sector 1: The Question of Definitions.” Voluntas 3(2): 125-153.

The subgroups of the twelve major groups as outlined by Salamon and Anheier (1992b, pp. 289-297) are found in Appendix C. Table 5.4 shows the spread of organisations used as the research sites for this thesis across the ICNPO developed by Salamon and Anheier. A total of fourteen organisations constituted the sites for this research.

Table 5.4 Research sites at a glance (all in the private sector)

Research Organisation Acronym





Labour Force


Culture and Recreation

Incorporated Association

Members’ Dues

Predominantly Public-benefit



Culture and Recreation

Incorporated Association


Predominantly Member-benefit


Paid Coordinator


Education and Research

Incorporated as a Company Limited by Guarantee



Predominantly Public-benefit


Paid Staff



Incorporated Association



Predominantly Public-benefit


Paid Staff


Social Services

International Movement

Members’ Dues


Predominantly Member-benefit



Business, Professional Associations and Unions


Members’ Dues

Predominantly Member-benefit




Incorporated Association

Members’ Dues



Predominantly Public-benefit




International Movement

Members’ Dues



Predominantly Public-benefit





Members’ Dues

Predominantly Public-benefit


Paid Staff


Development and Housing

Incorporated Association



Predominantly Public-benefit


Paid Staff


Civil Rights, Advocacy and Political

Registered Organisation

Members’ Dues


Predominantly Public-benefit



Philanthropic Intermediaries and Volunteerism Promotion

Registered Organisation



Predominantly Public-benefit


Paid Staff



International Movement


Members’ Dues


Predominantly Public-benefit



Not Elsewhere Classified

Incorporated Cooperative

Members’ Dues

Predominantly Member-benefit


The success of the cross-national component of the initial tests of the ICNPO is one of its most positive features for Australian research in the community-profit sector. In Australia there is no readily available, reliable data on community-profit organisations and, unlike the United States, Australia does not have a single source for capturing data about all, or almost all, community-profit organisations (Lyons 1991, p. 8). One of the impediments to data collection and analysis is the lack of appropriate common accounting and auditing standards upon which to base statistics of the sector in Australia (McDonald & McGregor-Lowndes 1994, p. 9). In the absence of such data a crossnational definition and classification system is valuable, since so many classification systems are American in origin and in orientation.

Although D.H. Smith (1996) suggests three important and substantial changes to improve the ICNPO scheme, he also emphasises its usefulness to researchers and practitioners because of its theoretical value to the field. Gronbjerg (1995) and D.H. Smith (1996) highlight the limitations of the other major classification system for community-profit organisations - the National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities (NTEE). These critiques reinforced the researcher’s decision to use the ICNPO scheme.

Selection of Participants

Theoretical sampling was used to determine the participants; the purpose of the sampling was to obtain a wide range of women whose perceptions would illuminate and provide insight on the research question. The participants were grouped in five categories - the researcher, cultural review participants, formal participants, a critical dialogue group and other voices (see Figure 5.2).

The researcher identified the research problem, designed the research method and is responsible for the final articulation of the hermeneutic understandings which flow from the data. The eight cultural review participants educated the researcher, helped her to clarify the research questions and gave invaluable assistance in identifying sites and possible formal participants. The 57 formal participants offered their subjective experiences of leadership in community-profit organisations and their interpretations of the meanings they attached to those experiences. They became the text for analysis and the source of the understandings that evolved during the data collection and data analysis processes. The critical dialogue group consisted of two of the researcher’s colleagues who were also involved in doctoral research in similar areas. They met regularly with the researcher during the course of the research process to share literature resources, to provide feedback on the ongoing development of methodology, research methods and insights and to provide support and encouragement. The literature review was the source of certain ‘voices’ from the wider cultural and social community; these ‘voices’ were to some extent participants in the research process and not merely passive contributors. Issues raised in the media and casual interactions with other people during the period of the research process also provided the researcher with other ‘voices’ that acted as informal participants in the research.

The selection of participants depended on their manner of participating in the research process. The selection of cultural review participants has already been discussed in this section. The aim in selecting the formal participants was similar to that in selecting the sites - that a wide range of types be chosen in order to provide a more holistic understanding of the meanings women in community-profit organisations attach to the exercise of leadership, rather than a representative sample as such. Thirty-five of the formal participants were in designated leadership roles in their organisations; 22 considered themselves to be non-positional leaders in their organisations. The members of the critical dialogue group were selected because of their ability to critique the processes and to articulate insights from the point of view of understanding both content and method. The criteria for choosing the sample (a term which is used to refer to the formal participants only) are listed in Table 5.5.

Table 5.5 Criteria for selecting the sample (formal participants)

  • Participants are women from the wide range of sites selected for the research.
  • A minimum of three and a maximum of five women from each chosen site are selected as participants in order to provide a wide range of experiences and interpretations of the leadership experience from a variety of community-profit settings.
  • Participants include both women in designated leadership positions and women who exercise non-positional leadership in their organisations.
  • Those selected as participants are keen to participate in the research.
  • The participants are ‘information-rich cases’ (Patton 1990).

Reseacher’s Role Management

The researcher has many roles in the research process (Glesne & Peshkin 1992; Marshall & Rossman 1995). These roles are ‘predispositions that all qualitative researchers should carry with them into research situations’ (Glesne & Peshkin 1992, p. 35). The roles that the researcher adopts depend on the context of the research, the participants and on the researcher’s own personality and background. Within the context of this research, the researcher did not find herself in roles such as exploiter, reformer, advocate or friend (Glesne & Peshkin 1992). Nor did she adopt ‘infiltration approaches’ as a model of entry (Patton 1990, p. 253). She did have to manage the role of learner, in the technical sense a difficult task for a mature age student who had not been involved in formal study for many years. In another sense, the role of learner was easy for the researcher because of a keen interest in the research topic, curiosity about other people’s experiences and ideas and the enthusiasm and generosity of the research participants. Adopting the role of learner in interaction with the research participants seemed to create an environment in which they were anxious to help and to share as much information as they could.

The main role adopted by the researcher in this research process was that of researcher. Patton (1990) develops a series of continua along which the researcher can think about her role in conducting qualitative research. These continua include the degree of participation, the extent to which the participants know that research is taking place and the intensity and extent of the researcher’s role. In the context of this research, only brief periods of time were spent participating in the daily life of the organisations which were the sites for the research. Participation ranged from being shown around the premises, to having a cup of tea with the participants and sometimes other staff members, to being the guest speaker at a monthly dinner or an inservice provider for the staff of the organisation. Participation in the ongoing life of the organisations chosen as research sites was limited because the focus of the research was on the subjective experiences and perceptions of the individual participants. When the researcher was asked by an organisation to be a guest speaker or an inservice provider, she felt a sense of responsibility to reciprocate some of the generosity and enthusiasm shown by the participants of those organisations. The researcher also tried to reciprocate by ensuring that each participant received a copy of a summary of the research findings and by empathetic communication in the interview process.

With regard to the researcher’s role in the extent to which the participants were aware of the research process, the choice was made for full disclosure. The researcher introduced herself to each gatekeeper and participant as a doctoral student in the letter inviting them to participate (see Appendix D), and each gatekeeper and participant received a copy of the Aims and Objectives of the research (See Appendix B(ii)). In terms of the intensity and extent of the researcher’s role, she opted to be as unobtrusive as possible in order not to disturb the natural setting and was present for only a short time on the premises of each organisation. Because the focus was the subjective perceptions of the individual participants, the intensity of the role was focused on building a trusting and mutual relationship with each participant in the brief time that was available for the in-depth interviews. Because the letter of invitation to participants had been followed up by a phone call by the researcher, some initial rapport had already been established between the researcher and the participant before the interview. Developing a relationship of trust and mutuality quickly was especially important, given the fact that there were several participants from each organisation who were interviewed at different times and who were likely to share their impressions of the researcher and the research process with each other between interviews.

The researcher adopted the role of expert only in the interaction with the gatekeepers who expressed concern about the pressures under which people in their organisations were working. Gatekeepers are defined by Burgess (1984, p. 39) as ‘those individuals in an organization who have the power to withhold access to people or situations for the purposes of research’. Most gatekeepers were positive about participating when they realised that the whole process was organised, focused and acknowledged the time and energy constraints of the potential participants. As mentioned earlier, the only gatekeepers who were unable to give a positive response to the invitation for interested people in their organisations to participate were the gatekeepers of the aboriginal and migrant organisations which were approached by the researcher, organisations which were in constant flux at the time because of political pressures and staff changes.

On the whole, the researcher found little difficulty in managing the researcher roles required of her in the conduct of the research. In large part this is due to the generosity, interest and hospitality of the gatekeepers and the research participants in the organisations chosen for the research sites. It is also due to the wise advice given to the researcher by the cultural review participants who assisted the researcher in the selection of sites and participants.

5.3 Data Collection Process

It is important to emphasise, again, that there was a simultaneous research process which included the literature review, the cultural review process, the data collection process, the data analysis process and the ongoing generation of insights (See Figure 5.1). The process of data collection was itself influenced by the ongoing reflection and analysis that continually occurred through frequent contact with the literature and the incoming data. The basic data-collection method in this research is the in-depth interview, although to a lesser degree some participant observation and some analysis of organisational documents have also been employed as means of collecting data.

In-Depth Interviewing

In-depth interviewing was chosen as the means of data collection in this research because a primary focus of this kind of interviewing is ‘to understand the significance of human experiences as described from the actor’s perspective and interpreted by the researcher’ (Minichiello et al 1990, p. 8). The focus of this method reflects the emphases of the methodology chosen to guide this research as it is described in Chapter 4 of this thesis. Denzin (1989a p. 103) describes the interview as an instance of ongoing interaction, a focused face-to-face encounter, and thus a suitable method when the methodology of symbolic interactionism is chosen. In-depth interviewing was considered to be the most appropriate method for research which aimed to give access to the knowledge of meanings and interpretations that women give to their experiences of leadership. It was also considered an appropriate data collection method, given the women-centred focus of the research. Reinharz (1992, p. 20) believes that interviewing ‘draws on skills in the traditional female role’ and is a useful method when conducted by a woman, because if a woman’s perspective on reality is to be fully understood it may be necessary for her to be interviewed by a woman (Reinharz 1992, p. 23).

In-depth interviewing is a form of conversation with the specific purpose of gathering information (Taylor & Bogdan 1984; Berg 1989; Denzin 1989b; Minichiello et al 1990). Taylor and Bogdan (1984, p. 77) define the in-depth interview as ‘repeated face-to-face encounters between the researcher and informants directed toward understanding informants’ perspectives on their lives, experiences or situations as expressed in their own words’. This definition encapsulates the three ways of knowing identified as flowing from the symbolic interactionist perspective - knowing based on experience, on empathy and on interaction. The definition assumes that there is a mutual interaction between persons, that the focus is on the participants’ experiences and perspectives and that it allows participants to communicate their perspectives in a language and a setting that is natural to them. Because the methodology adopted in this research assumes that social reality exists as meaningful interaction between individuals that can only be accessed by understanding people’s perspectives, meanings and interpretations, in-depth interviewing is seen as an effective way to gain access to these subjective perspectives, interpretations and meanings which are not able to be known to the researcher in any other way. Minichiello et al (1990, p. 94) emphasise that ‘when we are engaged in in-depth interviewing, what we are actually interested in is people’s experience of social reality through their routinely constructed interpretations of it’. In this research, repeated face-to-face encounters were replaced by lengthy interviews involving an in-depth examination of the meanings women attach to their experiences of leadership in community-profit organisations.

Many sources identify three major categories of interviewing structures: the standardised or formal interview, the unstructured or informal interview and the semi-structured or guided interview ( Berg 1989; Denzin 1989a; Minichiello et al 1990; Patton 1990; Robson 1993). Minichiello et al (1990) identify two ways of doing in-depth interviewing - unstructured and semi-structured or focused interviewing. The particular method of in-depth interviewing used in this research is semi-structured or focused interviewing.

Semi-structured or focused interviewing is focused on the issues that are central to the research problem on which participants are asked to give their perspectives. It entails the use of an interview guide which not only focuses the interview interaction but also ‘constitutes a descriptive analytical framework for analysis’ (Patton 1990, p. 376). Focused interviewing consists of a number of predetermined question areas which are asked of each participant in a fairly systematic way but at the same time participants are allowed the freedom to digress, especially through the use of unscheduled probes, in order to understand the varying perspectives of each participant on each question area. Although the interview guide gives direction to the interview, the semi-structured or focused interview remains more a conversation between equals than a question- and-answer interrogation.

Denzin (1989a, p. 105) emphasises that ‘certain types of information are required from all respondents but the particular phrasing of questions and their order are redefined to fit the characteristics of each respondent’. This researcher was aware that each participant had a unique perspective on women’s leadership in community-profit organisations, and that no fixed and rigid sequence of questions would satisfactorily encourage all participants to communicate their unique perspective. The purpose of the interview guide is not to ‘abolish the characteristic abundance and “messiness” of qualitative data’ (McCracken 1988, p. 25); it is, rather, to encourage each participant to talk about her perspectives on leadership and to articulate the meaning she attaches to her experience of leadership ‘without overspecifying the substance or the perspective of this talk’ (McCracken 1988, p. 34). Taylor and Bogdan (1984, p. 77) remind researchers that ‘far from being a robotlike data collector, the interviewer, not an interview schedule or protocol, is the research tool’. Berg (1989, p. 17) and May (1993, p. 93) agree that interviewers are not only permitted but are expected to probe far beyond the answers to their prepared questions. The value of the interview guide is that it ensures that the researcher makes best use of the limited time available in an interview interaction.

It was with this understanding of the combined focusing power and flexibility of the semi-structured or focused interview that the researcher, as a result of her contact with the literature and the cultural review participants, devised the interview guide which was used in this research (See Appendix E). The interview guide highlights the main issues around which information is to be gathered as well as some sample probe questions. A degree of systematisation in questioning was considered appropriate in this research because of the large number of participants interviewed.

Other Sources of Data

The analysis of documents is an unobtrusive method of data collection. Documents are a useful way of understanding the setting of the participants and their values and beliefs in the setting (Marshall & Rossman 1995, p. 85). The gatekeepers of each organisation were asked to provide the researcher with relevant documentation about the organisation, particularly with regard to its governance, in order to achieve triangulation in the data sources. Very little documentation existed beyond the pamphlet-style documentation outlining the purpose of the organisation, its history and its services and the Constitutions or Articles of Association of the organisation. Analysis of the documentation indicated that four of the organisations could be classified as bureaucratic control organisations with a democratic leadership style characterised by human relations management, and ten of the organisations as participatory democracy organisations with a democratic leadership style characterised by mutual facilitation (See Figure 1.2). The members of two of the organisations were engaged in ongoing reflection and discussion on exercising leadership and developing leadership structures that were guided by feminist principles, and these organisations were able to provide some documentation that was used to assist that reflection and discussion. Documentation provided by the research organisations also indicated the status of the organisation as incorporated association, incorporated co-operative or other (See Table 5.4). Such documentation supported the claims of several of the participants that newly acquired status and the resulting legal and reporting requirements were impacting governance structures and issues in the community-profit sector. Documentation in the form of newsletters and flyers gave some indication of the wide range of activities carried out by the organisations and of the varied attempts to involve their membership in decision-making processes.

Participant observation allows the researcher to move beyond the selective perceptions of the participants and to enter into and understand the physical and social environments of the participants (Patton 1990, p. 202; Glesne & Peshkin 1992, p. 42). Jorgensen (1989, p. 14) states that what is to be described by participant observation is ‘the world of everyday life as viewed from the standpoint of insiders’. The researcher had discussed the possibility of some form of participant observation with the gatekeepers of each organisation. It was very obvious that each gatekeeper felt that participant observation would be unnatural and intrusive if conducted in a sustained and ongoing way in the organisation. In response to this, the researcher decided to invite three or four people from each organisation to be formal participants in the research process in an attempt to get as wide a range of perspectives on women’s leadership in the organisation as possible. The researcher was able, however, to be a marginal participant who was an onlooker engaged in covert observations by becoming a member of two of the organisations, by attending a conference sponsored by another organisation and by agreeing to be guest speaker or to provide inservice at another three organisations. Background observation of a non-participant kind was also a characteristic of this research. No attempt was made to systematise these observations by using traditional techniques such as observational notebooks. The researcher did, however, record impressions in analytic memos during the course of the research. An example of one such memo is the following:

Nov. 1995
Am struck by the cramped and crowded nature of the premises of many of the sites visited and by the lack of bureaucratic pomp and status. Accessibility to the premises by public transport seems to be a feature of many of these organisations which indicates something about their clients. Many of the premises are converted houses in suburban streets. This is not true for the four bureaucratic control organisations. As guest speaker at a dinner given by one of these four I was struck by the elegant surroundings, the waiters, the fact that we all arrived by car.

The sensitising concepts that oriented the observation were context, patterns of interaction, decision-making patterns and dress. Personal knowledge of women’s leadership in community-profit organisations gained through participant observation includes how hard the participants work and the resultant fatigue evident in their faces, postures and interactions with other staff members; the lack of ego displayed by these women in leadership, evident in terms of the lack of external signs and symbols of status, in the regular asking of feedback from staff and in the priority of team work evident in the number of groups involved in team meetings when the researcher arrived at premises to conduct interviews; the conscious effort made by the participants and their co-workers not to exercise leadership from a bureaucratic-managerial model, evidenced in the number of discussions held by staff and management about collaborative decision-making and in the writing of reflections on collaborative structures and processes; the poverty and lack of sufficient resources in the community-profit organisations studied to meet the widespread needs they encounter, evidenced in unobtrusive indicators such as worn furniture, run-down and cramped premises, the constant ringing of phones and the difficulty of the participants in finding sufficient time for the interviews which were often held in the participants’ lunch hours or after work; and, finally, the unfailing hospitality and sense of community in the organisations studied, evidenced by the number of times the researcher and others were invited to sit and chat over a cup of tea. The collaborative nature of decision-making in the organisations was evident, too, in the fact that each participant related that she had been invited to participate by the gate-keeper, not ordered to participate.

The Literature Review provided a valuable source of data, especially in the final stages of data analysis when it was used to confirm or challenge the insights emerging from the data. McCracken (1988, p. 31) believes that a thorough review of the literature is ‘a way to manufacture distance ... a way to let the data of one’s research project take issue with the theory of one’s field’.

Number of Interviews

The verbal agreement made between the researcher and the participants was for one interview of one to one and a half hours. Each participant also agreed that the interview be tape recorded. There were at least six interactions with each participant. The first was by means of a letter of invitation and information. This letter was followed up a few days later with a phone call to clarify any questions and concerns that the participants might have and to organise the arrangements for the interview. The third interaction was the interview itself. A fourth interaction occurred with the sending of the transcript of the interview to each participant and its subsequent return to the researcher. The fifth interaction was the sending of a letter to each participant when the researcher took a leave of absence, in order to explain to participants the stage that the research process was at and when they could expect to receive the summary of research findings. The final interaction was the letter summarising the research findings and asking for feedback on them from the participants.

With several of the participants there were further interactions to reschedule interview times because of unforeseen circumstances in daily life which affected the participants. With those groups where the researcher was engaged in more formal participant observation there were a range of interactions at meetings, staff inservices, business dinners and so on. Those participants who did not return their transcripts as requested received follow-up letters and phone calls to remind them to return the transcripts if they were amended or to sign a form permitting the transcript to be used.

Timing of Interviews

McCracken’s (1988, p. 10) comment about participants’ available time accurately portrays the reality of the participants in this research:

The difficulty is that respondents lead hectic, deeply segmented and privacy-centred lives. Even the most willing of them have only limited time and attention to give the investigator. Qualitative methods may have the power to take the investigator into the minds and lives of the respondents, to capture them warts and all. But few respondents are willing to sit for all the hours it takes to complete the portrait.

Because of the focused nature of the in-depth interview it was possible to get access to participants while respecting their realities of lack of time and concern for privacy. When the interviews occurred was determined by the participants. The 57 focused interviews were conducted from 5 September 1995 to 16 April 1997.

Location of Interviews

This researcher was aware of Denzin’s (1989a, p. 109) comments about the interview conversation being a gift of time and information given by the participants, and she therefore gave the participants the choice of where as well as when the interview would take place. Table 5.6 shows the number of interviews conducted in a variety of locations.

Table 5.6 Location of interviews and number of interviews conducted in each location

Location of interviews Number of interviews in that location

Participants’ Homes


‘Organisational Homes’


Researcher’s Home


Coffee Shops/Cafes




Total 57

The majority of participants chose their homes or their organisational ‘homes’ as the locations that were most convenient for them. The majority of the interviews took place in Brisbane. Seven interviews took place in Sydney, five in the North Coast area around Maroochydore and the hinterland, one in Townsville and one in Toowoomba. The participants controlled the physical arrangements for the interview unless they were held in the researcher’s home or a neutral place. Every interview conversation took place over a cup of tea and the cafe interviews took place over a meal. Usually the locations were quiet, but the interviews conducted in cafes were characterised by a lot of background noise which made transcription of the tape recorded interview difficult. Some of the interviews in participants’ homes were also accompanied by background noise which made transcription difficult. For example, one participant chose her back yard for the interview and her pet peacocks punctuated the conversation with their screeches. Sometimes there were interruptions by staff, clients, partners or children, but these tended to be brief and none responded to the invitation to join in the conversation.

Preparing for Interviews and Interview Format

In order to prepare for the interviews, the researcher read about developing an interview schedule and about the variety of interview techniques available ( McCracken 1988, pp. 34-41; Berg 1989, pp. 13-49; Denzin 1989a, pp. 95-102; Minichiello et al 1990, pp. 107-140; Patton 1990, pp. 290-340; May 1993, pp. 95-102). This background reading helped the researcher to maximise the opportunity for in-depth and accurate interaction between the participant and herself, and to ensure that the interviewing was done as nondirectively as possible so that the responses were entirely those of the participants. The researcher also prepared by studying the documentation provided on each organisation so that she had some basic knowledge of the organisational context of the participants. The development of the interview guide (Appendix E) was also part of the researcher’s preparation for the interviews.

In general, the interview format was similar for each interview. The researcher usually was welcomed by the participant and, if on the premises of the organisation, she was introduced to staff and invited to share a cup of tea with them. Whatever the location of the interviews they began with organising a cup of tea for the researcher and the participant before beginning the interview. The researcher usually started the interview by disclosing something about herself and the research project, usually in response to questions from the participant. This disclosure seemed to establish rapport and reciprocity very quickly. After a general chat, the interviewer led the participant into a conversation about herself, her job and the organisation in which she worked. From there on the interview was directed by the interview guide and by the interests of the participant. The interview always concluded with the participant being asked if there were anything she would like to add about the topic of women’s leadership in the community-profit sector and by thanking her for her time and her insights on the research problem.

Approaching Potential Participants

Approaching the participants was preceded by a number of steps. First, the cultural review participants indicated possible research sites, and in some cases, the names of gatekeepers in those organisations. The researcher finalised the selection of sites and identified gatekeepers for each organisation. The next step involved the researcher negotiating with the gatekeepers. This took place through a letter of invitation and information being sent to the gatekeepers (See Appendix D (i)) and then a phone call to each of the gatekeepers some days after they received the letter. The phone call clarified any aspects of the research that gatekeepers were not sure of and sought their response to the invitation. All but the gatekeepers from the aboriginal and migrant organisations approached were happy to participate themselves and to invite two or three other members of their organisation to be participants. The gatekeepers had usually gained the acceptance of the other members of their organisations to participate in the interviews and they were able to give the researcher their names, addresses and phone numbers. The possible participants suggested by the gatekeepers were then sent a letter of information and invitation (see Appendix D (ii)); this was followed by a phone call several days later to arrange the time and location of the interview.

The researcher adopted a variety of roles during these phone calls (for example, student, expert) in order to develop a relationship of trust and reciprocity before the face-to-face interaction of the interview. It was important to develop this relationship as early as possible because of the limited time of face-to-face interaction with each participant. Most participants were keen to know more about the research and how the researcher became interested in the topic of women’s leadership in community-profit organisations. Establishing rapport with the participants was not difficult. Like Finch (1984) this researcher was amazed at the readiness with which the women responded and at their keenness to participate.

Managing, Recording and Protecting Data

All the interviews were tape recorded. This was convenient, reliable and non-intrusive in the interview interaction. Each interview was transcribed verbatim. While this was resource intensive, it ensured that all interview data were systematically recorded and stored and enabled the NUDIST (Qualitative Solutions & Research Pty Ltd 1995) computer program to be used to systematically account for all data. Realising the enormous amount of time it would take to transcribe the taped interviews herself, the researcher employed two women who did word processing to assist her and gave them a sheet of detailed instructions for transcribing the interviews. Unfortunately, one of the women was a bad speller and the other woman did not transcribe verbatim from the tapes as she was requested to do because she thought it was incoherent! These women transcribed eleven of the 57 interviews before the researcher decided that she would have better control over the final product if she did the transcribing herself. Although it took three to four hours to transcribe each taped interview, it was found to be an advantage to become familiar with the interview texts again and to ensure that the transcripts were clear and accurate especially with regard to some of the specialist terms used by the participants which had been almost impossible for the employed transcribers to pick up.

Each participant received a copy of her transcribed interview and was asked to read the transcription and to make any changes that she wished to make. It was the amended transcriptions that were used as the data for analysis. Many of the participants amended the text of the interview after further reflection. Some of the first participants to receive their transcripts expressed concern at what they perceived to be the bad grammar and the incoherence of their speech. The researcher either wrote to these participants or phoned them to reassure them that the transcribed spoken word was different from the written word and that there was nothing to be concerned about. As a result of these expressions of concern, the researcher warned subsequent participants during their interviews that the transcribed interview would not read as smoothly as the written word.

The researcher was aware of how important it is to protect data for further reference and verification. All tapes of the interviews have been named and dated and retained. In only two instances was there a difficulty with the tape and a half hour of each of the interview conversations was lost. The tapes were checked after each interview to ensure that the interview had been recorded correctly and notes were taken about the portions of the interviews that had not been captured on two of the tapes. The amended transcripts are available on computer and back-up files were made of all of them. As well, the printed copies of the amended transcripts returned by the participants have been retained. The Consent Forms signed by the participants have been retained as well as any communications from any of the participants. Analytic memos were recorded in a notebook by the researcher and it too has been retained after use for further scrutiny in the process of analysing the data.

Issues in Data Collection

The major issue which confronted the researcher during the data collection process was the large quantity of data rendered by the in-depth interviewing process. Because of the use of focused interviews the data was focused on the research problem, but given the conversational nature of the interviews there was data that had to be carefully rummaged through and reflected on in order to determine its relevance to the research topic. An aspect of this issue was deciding when saturation point was reached and making the decision to terminate the data collection.

A related issue was the amount of time spent by the researcher in transcribing the interviews after her decision to avoid the inaccuracies and adaptations made by employed transcribers by doing the transcriptions herself. Although this was very time and resource intensive, it did give the researcher a familiarity with the content of the interviews and a chance to do some initial reflection on their content, a familiarity which was valuable during the data analysis process.

A further issue was the time spent learning the NUDIST (Qualitative Solutions & Research Pty Ltd 1995) software program and making best use of it during the data analysis process. The amount of time taken using NUDIST was largely due to the researcher’s inexperience with using a computer. Persistent application to the use of NUDIST proved to be a valuable learning experience in spite of the time involved.

5.4 Data Analysis Process

The analysis aims to generate a greater interpretive understanding of the meanings women in community-profit organisations attach to their experiences of leadership. The choice of a theoretical framework, of the research questions, of an interview guide, of the research sites and the research participants was an essential aspect of the data analysis (Patton 1990; Huberman & Miles 1994). Four forms of analysis were undertaken simultaneously with the data collection process in a cyclical and continuous process of focusing and reducing, organising and classifying the data. These were immersion in the texts, rummaging, categorising and coding using a computer software package titled NUDIST (Qualitative Solutions & Research Pty Ltd 1995) and critical dialogue and writing.

Immersion in the Texts

Familiarity with the texts was achieved by immersion in them. This immersion was achieved in five ways. Listening to the tapes and transcribing them was one way. The researcher personally transcribed 45 of the 57 formal participant interviews. Since she was a poor typist, this meant that the transcribing was a slow process and one in which every word had to be listened to carefully. While this posed some problems with the usage of time in the data collection process, it was an advantage with regard to having the opportunity to reflect on and become familiar with the texts. A second way was the process of reading the transcripts amended by the participants and recording the amendments on the computer. This provided an opportunity for reflection on why the changes may have occurred and for beginning to identify and note emerging themes, issues and questions. Reading each transcript line by line in order to create index categories in NUDIST (Qualitative Solutions & Research Pty Ltd 1995) provided a third way of becoming immersed in the texts. The transcripts were read and reflected on in light of the clusters of questions around each research question (see interview guide, Appendix E). The index system in NUDIST was largely designed around the analysis of responses to these clusters of questions. A listing of all the nodes generated in the course of the data analysis process are found in Appendix F. A fourth way was reading the full text of text units referenced at each node in the Reports about each node generated in the Index system in an attempt to identify recurring regularities and themes and to prioritise categories (see Appendix F). Another reading of these full texts to highlight texts that could best illustrate the findings of the research was a fifth way.

Although the large number of interviews made it impossible to listen more than once to the tape recordings of the interviews, the researcher believes that these five ways of being immersed in the texts made it possible to become familiar with each participants’ responses. The researcher’s understanding of the participants’ responses and the themes, questions and issues stimulated by immersion in the texts are subjective. The critical thinking involved in the concurrent processes of coding and categorising and critical dialogue and writing enabled the researcher to move beyond the subjectivity of preconceptions to a broader understanding and appreciation of the participants’ responses.


The subjective aspect of data analysis is highlighted by McCracken (1988) in a process he refers to as rummaging. In this process the qualitative researcher is a kind of instrument in the analysis of the data, sorting the data and searching out patterns of association. This researcher used the self-as-instrument process to search out matches in her own experience for the ideas and insights that the participants described in their interviews. The researcher’s own experience of leadership in community-profit organisations provided a ‘bundle of possibilities, pointers, and suggestions that can be used to plumb the remarks’ (McCracken 1988, p. 19) of the participants.

An example of the way in which this researcher used her experience to find a match for the patterns evidenced by the data was by rummaging through her own contradictory feelings about being in designated leadership positions. This matching activity helped the researcher to understand that the participants’ apparently contradictory stances on not seeing themselves as leaders but having positive feelings about the experience of leadership grew from their discomfort with the dominant understanding of leadership, not with the experience of leadership itself. As McCracken (1988, p. 20) points out, such matches require substantiation and confirmation from the remainder of the interview analysis, but they are helpful in identifying emerging patterns in the data.

Categorising and Coding

Coding was carried out using NUDIST (Qualitative Solutions & Research Pty Ltd 1995). The researcher found NUDIST a useful and effective way of utilising computer technology to enhance her ability to handle the large amount of qualitative data generated in the interviews of 57 formal participants. It also provided a level of rigour in analysing such a large quantity of data.

All of the interview transcripts were prepared in the word-processing package Microsoft Word 6.0.1, a file was generated for each transcript, converted and transferred to the NUDIST files as On-line documents. As each transcript was entered into the NUDIST system each sentence of the transcript was allocated a number which was reported on the right-hand side of the hard copy of the transcript. Relevant data were thus determined by sentence allocation. Ample space was left on the right-hand side of the page to make notes.

The NUDIST program then assisted the researcher to manage, explore and search the text of the transcribed interviews, to manage and explore ideas about the data, to write and edit memos and to manage and modify categories of data in an index system. Memo writing was an important aspect of the coding and categorising process. It involved experimenting, playing and questioning the coding and categorising of the data to date through the use of diagrams, personal notations and creative writing to explore possible patterns and parallels in the data.

NUDIST operates on the linear logic of progressive coding, which the researcher found useful but of limited value in an analysis which sought an interpretive explanation based on illumination and understanding rather than causal determination. While NUDIST was invaluable in systematically converting the raw material of the interviews into useable data for analysis, the researcher found it essential to use the processes of critical dialogue and writing in order to allow patterns and themes to emerge from the data.

Critical Dialogue and Writing

The exploration of the questions and themes raised by immersion in the texts, rummaging and coding and categorising was carried out through the processes of critical dialogue and writing. Opportunities for critical dialogue and writing occurred in several ways. One opportunity was a monthly meeting of PhD students and their supervisors over an eighteen month period. Papers and summaries written for these meetings on a range of topics were presented to the group for critique and comment. Clarification and illumination occurred in the process of writing for presentation, in listening to the insights of the group and in grappling with questions raised by the group about one’s own and others’ presentations. A similar process occurred in the regular meetings between the researcher and the critical dialogue group referred to in Section 5.2. The researcher was also invited many times over the period of writing this thesis to present papers or lead workshops on women’s leadership, and this provided opportunities for writing and critical dialogue with a wide variety of people. Critical dialogue also occurred in discussion with the formal participants, especially those in later interviews, and with colleagues in professional and social interactions.

The critical dialogue and writing process was a continuous aspect of the research process from the selection of the research problem to the final draft of this thesis. This process was especially helpful in assisting the researcher to explore questions, issues and themes conceptually in a way that illuminated the texts themselves.

5.5 Integrity of the Research

All research must attend to issues of credibility, applicability, consistency and neutrality of the research in order to establish its ‘truth value’ (Lincoln & Guba 1985, p. 290). The criteria established in the positivistic tradition with its emphasis on reliability and generalisability have dominated research methodology. In quantitative research these criteria are termed internal validity, external validity, reliability and objectivity. The dominance of these criteria are questioned by Gummeson (1991, p. 164) who states:

Positivistic researchers are ‘reliability freaks’ but their methods of establishing reliability in the study of human behavior are more based on academic consensus - intersubjectivity - than on objectivity; validity can seldom be ascertained at all using so-called rigorous research designs.

Whatever the status of these criteria in quantitative research, it is questionable whether the concepts of reliability, validity and objectivity as used conventionally in quantitative methodology are of much use in ensuring the integrity of qualitative research. Lincoln and Guba (1985) propose four alternative criteria that more accurately reflect the assumptions of qualitative research such as are outlined in Chapter 4 of the thesis. They propose the criteria of credibility, transferability, dependability and confirmability. Marshall (Marshall & Rossman 1995, pp. 146-148) recommends 20 standards for assessing the value and trustworthiness of qualitative research, standards that ensure the goodness or effectiveness of the research. The integrity of this research is discussed in terms of the goodness criteria proposed by Marshall and the four criteria for qualitative research proposed by Lincoln and Guba (1985).

The credibility of this research can be ascertained by examining the research design and method outlined in this chapter to assess whether the research problem was accurately identified and comprehensively explored. This exploration of the research problem and the subsequent outcomes of the research are bounded by the particular research methodology adopted, a qualitative interpretive methodology outlined in Chapter 4 of the thesis. Within these boundaries, the focus is on the participants’ descriptions and understandings of their experience of leadership in community-profit organisations.

The second criterion proposed by Lincoln and Guba (1985) is transferability. In qualitative research external validity is based more on comparability and transferabilty than on generalisability. As was stressed in Chapter 4 of the thesis, rather than striving for absolute truth and generalisability this research seeks greater understanding through the experiences of the particular participants involved in the research process. While the generalisability of the insights gained from the research is limited, ‘modest speculations on the likely applicability of findings to other situations under similar but not identical conditions’ (Patton 1990, p. 489) are possible. For example, it is likely that understandings from this research could be extrapolated to a study of women’s leadership in Women’s Health Centres. Triangulation of data from different sources also strengthens the usefulness of this research for similar studies in other settings with other participants. For example, this research provides perspectives on women’s leadership in community-profit organisations from both designated leaders and non-positional leaders. This provides the possibility of transferability or comparability of findings to research in areas such as the relationship between designated leaders and non-positional leaders in community-profit organisations with both male and female leaders, or the understanding of leadership of female non-positional leaders in private sector or government organisations.

The third criterion proposed by Lincoln and Guba (1985) is dependability. Conventional notions of reliability are not appropriate in qualitative research where the assumption is that the social world is constantly being constructed and therefore is constantly changing. Such an assumption throws into doubt whether repetitions of the methodology would achieve exactly identical results. The dependability criteria demands that the researcher attempt to account for changes in both the research setting and the research design. This researcher has attempted to meet this criteria in a number of ways. The research process has been carefully documented so that it can be examined to determine that it is both professional and dependable. Data collection and analysis procedures have been fully documented in this chapter within the constraints of the non-linear nature of qualitative research. Data has been kept in a well-organised and easily accessible form for retrieval and re-analysis if required.

The final criterion proposed by Lincoln and Guba (1985) is confirmability, which attempts to ensure that the data help to confirm the general findings and lead to the implications. Immersion in the texts, continuously deducing possibilities for categories and memo writing as discussed in Section 5.4 of the thesis ensures familiarity with and fidelity to the perceptions of the participants as the basis for understanding which is the purpose of the research. Extensive quotations from the interviews are used to support the interpretations made. Reciprocity is a central element of the research process through the use of interactive interviews and through negotiating and confirming interpretations with the participants by means of written summaries inviting feedback. This reciprocity helped the researcher to ensure that the categories were meaningful to the participants, reflected their experiences of leadership and were actually supported by the data. Ethical standards were maintained throughout the research process. The research was concerned to protect the participants through confidentiality of the data collected and through the protection of the participants through the mutual understanding signed by the researcher and each participant in a consent form prior to each interview. Through a process of critical self-reflection the researcher identified her assumptions and biases. These are acknowledged in Chapter 4 of the thesis. The researcher attempted to see beyond these assumptions by presenting the multiple realities that emerged in the data and by deliberately searching for negative instances to disconfirm her own interpretations. Thus some guarantee of confirmability was provided through the components of reciprocity and reflexivity.

5.6 Conclusion

This chapter outlines the concurrent research processes of data collection and data analysis, as well as the researcher’s attempts to preserve the integrity of the research. The chapter describes how the research was conducted, thus explaining the processes through which the texts, the findings, the interpretations and the understandings were arrived at. A qualitative research design and method was adopted that was faithful to the symbolic interactionist perspective described in Chapter 4 of the thesis and which provided the necessary rigour for public scrutiny.

At the heart of the research design and method is the research problem that was stated in chapter 1 of the thesis, that is, to what extent does women’s leadership in community-profit organisations exhibit new understandings and practices of leadership which are consonant with distinctive features of an emerging holistic world view and which have the potential to provide a creative response to discontinuous change? The research methods outlined in this chapter were chosen as those most appropriate to illuminate the research problem in order to arrive at new insights or understandings with regard to leadership in an emerging postmodern world. The next three chapters present the patterns of results that emerged in the research process and analyse them for their relevance to the research questions listed in section 1.2 of the thesis.

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