Grounding this work in inductive-abductive approach and qualitative research has consequences for the research process (Fig. 4.1). It should be stated clearly from the very outset that the seemingly linear research process was in fact iterative in nature, which is typical of qualitative research (Eisenhard & Graebner, 2007).
At the beginning of the research process, comprehensive literature studies were performed with a view to establishing the current state of knowledge (in the scope of the concepts of a cluster and a CO), as well as providing broad context for the planned research. This enabled the authors to avoid the effect of “reinventing the wheel” (by identifying research gaps) and to better prepare themselves to conducting the research. Research gaps identified on the basis of subject literature have justified the need to broaden our knowledge in the scope of the development of cooperation in COs and served as a point of departure toward defining both the research problem, as well as the research objectives and the main research questions. The performed literature analysis has enabled us to
Figure 4.1 The research process. Source: Authors’ own elaboration.
derive three key issues (i.e. forms of cooperation, benefits, and commitment) which - in the first step - have been used to develop supplementary research questions and later, have formed the basis for designing the research tools. Prior knowledge and experience have enabled the authors to develop a broad perspective of looking at the “cluster reality”, as well as enabled them to analyze the condition of the emergence and development of COs in Poland. In this case, prior knowledge was not a considerable “burden”, as in contrast with the concept of a cluster, the concept of a CO is relatively poorly developed in scholarship to date, and the lack of any knowledge in this respect could have negatively influenced not only the quality of the collected empirical data, but, first and foremost, the level of the generated theoretical concepts.
Nevertheless, in the desire to lower the influence of prior knowledge on subsequent stages of the research process (in order for the knowledge to have limited influence with regard to disturbing the act of “pure” cognition - which is postulated in the case of induction and abduction alike), the authors attempted to adopt the approach of an “ignoramus”, i.e. attempted to set aside their knowledge and experience to the largest possible degree. This was attempted with a view to at least partly counteracting the limitations tied to becoming influenced by the issues undertaken within the research area in question. Such an approach was reflected in the method of formulating the research questions, the sequence of work, as well as the adopted procedure of collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data.
At the stage of formulating research questions, theoretical knowledge was essential to be able to ask the correct questions in the correct sequence. The general questions have been tied to the general objective of the work, formulated in the context of the identified research gaps (the first two questions), or have emerged in the course of conducting empirical research (the third question). The secondary questions have been formulated on the basis of key issues pertaining to the development of industrial agglomerations as well as the COs supporting them. Both the general and secondary questions refer to subject literature in a minimal way, which was meant to weaken the influence of theoretical preparation to the largest possible degree. The questions were also formulated very broadly so as to allow for the widest possible exploration of the research area.
The adopted sequence of executing the stages of the research process allowed the authors to fully open themselves up to new ideas, without falling victim to suggestions pertaining to existing concepts. Qualitative resource based on the methodology of grounded theory (stage 1) have allowed the authors to generate core categories, from which they formed (by applying the abductive method, i.e. with the use of the selective and creative approach) a theoretical concept regarding the trajectory of the development of cooperative relationships in COs. Upon generating this concept, in order to confront it with the current state of knowledge, the authors have performed another overview of the subject literature (this time, strictly limited to the substantive boundaries of the created concept). At this stage, having to ignore prior knowledge has also been forced during the process of collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data. As previously noted, at this stage of the research process, the authors have rooted their research in the methodology of grounded theory and the procedures developed within classic grounded theory.3 In accordance with its principles, it is data that should fit the theory and not vice versa (Glaser & Strauss, 1967), while terms (created on the basis of the collected data), not source data, are the fundamental unit of analysis (Corbin & Strauss, 1990). To use Glaser’s and Strauss’s words, grounded theory should “fit” (the research areas), as well as “work” (by adequately explaining the research phenomena), as its fundamental elements - the categories - are derived from data instead of deduced from the current state of knowledge or logical assumptions (Glaser & Strauss, 1967).
In order to evaluate the accuracy and usefulness of the generated theoretical concept with respect to its inclusion within an objectivized knowledge system, in the second stage, the concept had undergone an empirical test with the use of the monographic method and the case study method. The priority of this measure was not to obtain results which would enable the authors to generalize their conclusions over the entire population of COs, but rather, to check the usefulness of the constructed concept on a relatively small, deliberately selected sample, which in the future would provide grounds for performing quantitative research on a representative sample. At this stage (stage 2), the research was targeted at objectives which were more tied to its descriptive- verificatory function, rather than - as was the case at stage 1 - the exploratory-explanatory function. The result of this stage was the preparation of three case studies, on the example of which particular elements of the generated theoretical concepts were discussed.