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Background information on the companies was gathered through sources in public domain such as company websites, UK government’s business information service ‘company house’ and subsequently through interviewing. The understanding of the process of innovation in Scottish food industry was completed through fieldwork involving multiple cases where people directly responsible for new product development in eight Scottish food companies were interviewed. Data analysis was done both in terms of within case analysis as well as multiple case comparisons. A questionnaire to test for innovativeness of key people involved with new product development in investigated organisations was also served and analysed.
As stated above the data for this research is collected principally using the instrument of semi-structured interviews. The interview is widely accepted as an established data collection instrument and a primary source of information in qualitative research (Yin, 1989). The interviews were designed to capture ‘the process, content and context’ (Carter, 1999) of innovation in the Scottish food companies. The semi-structured and flexible nature of the interviewing allowed to incorporate in subsequent analysis fresh themes that surfaced during conversation with respondents. As a result, though most themes of sustentative inquiry were already shaped by the literature review and consequent thinking triggered by it, many new themes emerged as investigation progressed, an experience previously reported by other qualitative researchers (see for instance, Carter, 1999).
The first interview occurred in an open space at Napier University’s Craiglockhart campus. The experience was enlightening not merely from a learning perspective on food sector innovation in Scotland but also in terms of the broad prospects of this research and in shaping the future interview strategy.
The person interviewed had such a distinctive personality that it became obvious that the personality of entrepreneur dimension to the research must be added if all the forces that collectively shape innovation in the food industry in Scotland are ascertained. To confirm the existence or otherwise of a possible innovative trait in personalities of respondents, a questionnaire from Dr. Peterson (Peterson, 2000; Appendix 12.3) was obtained. This questionnaire is extensively validated to test the innovation potential of individuals. It was administered on people responsible for new product development in enterprises in the sample. Twelve individuals who had played crucial roles in the innovation process in these eight organisations were identified and provided the above questionnaire. Of these, six filled and useable questionnaires were returned.
It was also decided not to conduct any further interviews at public places as the background noise made conversation difficult. All subsequent interviews were attempted to be recorded on a digital tape recorder so as to listen to conversation many times over in order to ‘penetrate (the) internal logic’ and ‘interpret the subjective understanding of reality’ (Shaw, 1999) as narrated by the ‘key informants’.
All remaining interviews were thus conducted at the manufacturing sites of the companies. This had added advantage that the respondents did not have to spend time travelling to the venues of interviews and first-hand experience of the nature of organisations, their products and live illustrations of their innovations was gained, which indeed was quite instructive. All remaining interviews were digitally recorded except one, when the digital recorder failed to function at the last minute. On this occasion, detailed notes during the interview were taken and a report of the interview immediately afterwards was written down, which was corroborated by the supervisors who were present and was modified accordingly. All digitally recorded interviews were also transcribed. Depending on the needs of research, the style of transcription of interviews falls somewhere between two terminal types “naturalism, in which every utterance is transcribed in as much detail as possible and denaturalism, in which idiosyncratic elements of speech (e.g., stutters, pauses, nonverbals, involuntary vocalizations) are removed” (Oliver et al. 2005). As the interest was in ‘informational content’ (MacLean et al., 2004) of conversation, a denaturalistic transcription style was followed and ‘idiosyncratic elements’ were ignored.
This raises a question. Are the conclusions drawn from the information from six interviews that were recorded, listened to and transcribed and remaining two interviews that were written down from the notes taken during interviews, based on two different methods of data collection and therefore non-comparable in terms of conclusions drawn from them? This certainly is not the case. The interviews were semi-structured. In each interview, the same basic questions were asked, each modelled on an identified theme of investigation. These themes, in turn, sprang from a review of literature on business innovation. In answer to the questions, the respondents were allowed to speak uninterrupted and were interrupted only when it become necessary to gain further clarity on the issues being discussed. Even when respondents strayed way from the main theme to which the questions related, care was taken not to interrupt them in order to let them converse on the broad theme of innovation as they understood and practised it, to make this exploratory study appropriately revealing. This strategy paid off by highlighting many aspects of small business innovation not reported anywhere in literature. The interviews, thus, included some talk unrelated to innovation. the transcribed interviews were subsequently coded and arranged according to the broad themes of inquiry. each theme was then analysed in view of the totality of evidence from all investigated enterprises. In the case of non-recorded and non-transcribed interviews, detailed notes were during interviews. Therefore, exclusion of any substantive information is ruled out. the summary of non-transcribed interviews was written in as much detail as possible with a clear idea that only issues completely unrelated to the innovation process were omitted. In essence, all interviews were processed in identical manner. The only difference was that in six, the record was kept digitally and in two, it was kept as hand-written notes. After transcription when the details were coded, the noise in the data, in the form of text unrelated to any theme of substantive inquiry, was filtered out. The data thus purified went into analysis. In the second case, the noise was filtered out during the interview itself when the notes were taken. Thus despite being different at one stage, the nature and intent of data collection was identical in all the cases and so the findings emerging from each of these two processes are comparable. During the course of transcribing and writing of summary of interviews, it happened often that information available appeared somewhat incomplete or unclear. The respondents thus had to be contacted again to seek clarification. When summaries of all interviews were completed, a copy was made available to respondents to confirm that the record of investigation is consistent with the information that they believed they had provided.
Though, only eight companies are investigated, in transcribed and summarised form, the collective evidence provided a unique insight not merely into the process of innovation in these companies but also a look into the world of some exceptionally creative individuals and the functioning of their organisations. Though, the broad themes of this research came from the literature review and the consequent ‘enlightened speculation’ (Bygrave, 1989), many other themes emerged during the process of interviewing itself. The final set of themes became evident during the process of reading and rereading of this document. This is an experience previously reported by other qualitative researchers such as Bradley et al., (2007) who explain, “...reviewing data without coding helps identify emergent themes without losing the connection between concepts and their context”