The study objectives were achieved through a combination of qualitative and quantitative research, as methodological triangulation is recommended for management studies (Stanczyk 2011). Methodological plurality is warranted for the identification and evaluation of a novel concept, i.e., individual networking competence, and for testing correlations (Sulkowski 2005). Focus group interviews (FGI) were performed in each of the selected groups: physicians, IT professionals, and teachers, and complemented as needed with individual in-depth interviews (IDI). Their purpose was to provide an “understanding and in-depth insight” (Gawlik 2012) regarding networking competence among knowledge workers. The group process typical of the FGI method enhanced the information exchange dynamics among participants, and favored the confrontation and clarification of opinions, which is an important part of an exploration of a novel, poorly understood topic. Free, though moderated, discussion around the selected areas of study aimed at identifying the behavioral manifestations of networking competence.
The quantitative part of the study, representing a positivist approach, included two rounds of surveys, a pilot study, and the main study with the use of computer-assisted web interviews (CAWI). Surveys were used to support the development of scales for networking competence and the other latent variables in the dependency model. The purpose of the pilot study was to collect information on study performance (access to appropriate respondents, respondents’ ability to complete the questionnaire, functioning of the system used for distributing the questionnaire and collecting data) using the selected method and technique, in preparation for the main quantitative study, which allowed for validating the latent variable scales used in the study and testing the hypotheses included in the dependency model (Figure 5.3).
Figure 5.3 Empirical study plan.
Development of Focus Group Interviews
Three FGIs were held in June 2016, one for each field from which knowledge workers were recruited. Participants for FGIs were selected based on their occupation, i.e., IT professional, physician, or teacher/educator, and fulfillment of at least two out of the following selection criteria: at least 10 years of professional experience; work for at least two employers or clients; publishing articles, comments, opinions, or tutorials in professional periodicals or websites; providing education or trainings in or outside of the workplace; writing a blog about one’s professional activity; having at least one social media account. These selection criteria were introduced in order to recruit respondents who are knowledge workers and have knowledge on networking competence. Most respondents met the criterion of providing education or trainings to others (22 respondents), due in part to the fact that the group included 8 teachers. Out of all the respondents, 15 had social media accounts, 13 had at least 10 years of experience, 6 work for at least two employers or clients, 13 published articles, comments, opinions, or tutorials, and 6 writing a blog about one’s professional activity.
The interview scenario comprised a sequence of modules devoted to specific topics, i.e., introduction (including knowledge workers’ characteristics), the characteristics of networking, establishing contacts, maintaining contacts, and the characteristics of professional contact networks in the context of work and career. For each module, an objective was set, guiding questions and definitions of key terms were provided, and time for discussion was planned.
Each 120-minute FGI was planned for eight participants. During the IT FGI (no. 1), seven participants were actually present (despite previous confirmation); during the medical FGI (no. 2)—nine, and during the educational FGI (no. 3)—eight. To complement the empirical material, additional in-depth interviews were conducted with five more respondents. Overall, this portion of the study included 29 participants. Each interview was transcribed and subsequently subjected to content analysis by keywords.
Due to their exploratory nature, the FGIs were used in two ways, namely (1) to identify differences between representatives of the three fields, and (2) to identify the manifestations of networking competence in different professional groups. As the empirical material was collected over a short period, analyses could be performed at the same time. The word count of FGI transcripts was between 8400 and 9300, and that of IDIs was approx. 3200, providing extensive material for analyses. The decision was made against using computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software (CAQDAS) (Seale 2009), due to a lack of full access to such software, as well as the fact that the required analyses could be performed without the use of CAQDAS. First, statements made by the respondents were analyzed using selective coding relevant to the research areas. Then, content confirming or contradicting the adopted networking competence concept was sought, using coding based on the concept as well as open coding for new topics. Once all the findings were collected, conclusions were formulated on their basis—these are discussed in Section 6.1.