Data Collection Techniques

The main data collection techniques at stage I of the qualitative research consisted of interviews and data analysis. The study adopted two forms of interviews: direct in-depth interviews and group interviews. Direct in- depth interviews (the first applied interview form) were intended to - in principle - lead to the generation of a theoretical concept. The interviews were held with individuals representing coordinators and selected members of the studied COs. A total of 35 interviews were held with individuals representing: coordinators (7 interviews), cluster companies (20 interviews), institutions from the R&D sector (4 interviews), educational institutions (3 interviews) and business environment institutions (1 interview). The interviews were held over the course of 3 months (February-April 2016). The study was iterative in nature - when necessary, the authors requested additional (or more specific) information from the interviewed respondents (in one case, wanting to supplement the empirical material with crucial information - from the perspective of the generated theoretical concept - a second interview was held with the same person). The interviews were held in the coordinators’ and cluster members’ places of business, which offered considerable study opportunities - as they gave the authors of the study the opportunity to observe respondents in their natural environment, which in turn allowed them to gain a better understanding of the context in which the studied entities functioned. All of the respondents agreed (in writing as well) to participate in the study and were granted anonymity. The length of the interviews was dependent on the availability of the respondent and their willingness to participate - average interview time was about 75 minutes

(the shortest interview lasted about 40 minutes, while the longest - about 2 hours). Upon transcription, the interviews amounted to over 390 pages’ worth of manuscript (over 710 thousand characters, including spaces). The gathered empirical material was also supplemented with field notes made in the course of the interviews (with additional remarks and insights), as well as summaries of the contents provided by each respondent, made following each interview.

The interviews were semi-categorized, as the authors made use of a list of main discussion topics (which were to be addressed during each interview) resulting from the adopted research objective, as well as the research questions (Table 4.2). The main question: “What are the stages of the development of cooperative relationships (levels of cooperation) in COs?” was defined following a literature study and the identification of research gaps. The work also defined supplementary questions, which did not derive directly from the objective of the work itself, albeit which supplemented the main research question, allowing for a better exploration of the research area. They were formulated with regard to the key topics essential from the perspective of each of the afore-discussed theories of regional development, starting with industrial districts and ending with business ecosystems, including the concept of clusters: forms of cooperation between companies characterized by geographical proximity, as well as the benefits thereof (with particular focus on the benefits of the flow of knowledge and information). The above issues were approached in the context of the specific nature of COs. They were supplemented with another element, which is strongly present in such organizations: the commitment of the cluster members to activities undertaken within them. Such thematic areas have formed the basis for the design of the research tools.

The first topic pertained to the general characteristics of a given entity, the CO or a member of a CO. The authors prepared two different lists of discussion topics, one for coordinators, another for cluster members (regardless of their type). The subsequent four topics were intended for all participants of the study and pertained to the forms of cooperation existing in the studied COs, the creation of opportunities and receiving benefits from membership in COs, the flow of knowledge and information among cluster members, and the commitment of the cluster members.

Because of the sequence and the form of asking questions, the interviews may be considered to be partly standardized and unstructured. The topics followed a predetermined sequence, while the sequence of issues addressed within each of the topics resulted from the context of the conversation. Because the authors wanted to ensure that the research area is explored as broadly as possible, the interviews consisted of open- ended questions, to which the respondents could provide their answers freely in a form of their choosing. This allowed them to fully express

Topics

Research questions (prompts)

General information on the CO and membership therein

What is the specific nature of the analyzed COs?

  • • The process of the formalization of the CO
  • • The features of the CO, the strategy of the CO and the specific nature of the member organization and its market position
  • • The length of membership in the CO, the motives of joining the CO, and the objectives of membership in the CO

Forms of cooperation undertaken in the CO

What are the main forms of cooperation among companies in COs?

  • • Forms of cooperation undertaken in the CO
  • • The development of relationships and trust in the CO

Creating opportunities and receiving benefits in the CO

What benefits are available to companies which participate in COs?

  • • The opportunities created in the CO (the level of the CO) and the capability of a given cluster member to use them (the level of the participant)
  • • Key success factors tied to creating opportunities (and receiving benefits) in the CO
  • • The main problems tied to creating opportunities (and receiving benefits) in the CO

The flow of knowledge and information in the CO

What benefits are available to companies which participate in COs (accounting for knowledge and information flow)?

  • • The flow of knowledge and information in the CO
  • • Key success factors tied to creating conditions for the flow of knowledge and information in the CO

(Continued)

Topics

Research questions (prompts)

• The main barriers to information and knowledge flow in the CO

Commitment in the CO

How would you describe the commitment of cluster members?

  • • The commitment of coordinators and cluster members in activities undertaken within the CO
  • • The level of development of the CO in the specific areas

Source: Authors’ own elaboration.

their opinions and attitudes with respect to the problems, as well as allowed for more flexibility during the interviews and; enabled the authors of the study to unify the data (by comparing all the obtained data and creating higher cognitive categories therefrom).

The above method of interviewing resulted from the principles underlying qualitative interviews. Interviews used in the course of qualitative research are not just an information-collecting technique, but first and foremost a “flexible tool in the hands of the researcher, drawn to the richness of the discovered material” (Kaufmann, 1999). In light of the above, a qualitative interview should be treated as “an interaction between an interviewer and a respondent” (Babbie, 2012), which is made possible through the informal conversation among the interviewer and the studied subject. The researcher holds the conversation in accordance with a predetermined plan, albeit without resorting to a predetermined set of questions - setting the general trajectory of the conversation in result of the topics and in reaction to the issues volunteered by the respondent (Babbie, 2012). In the case of qualitative research, the interview plan is flexible enough to allow the researcher to divert from the course in order to gain a better understanding of the brought-up issues. The goal of the interviewer is to actively participate in asking questions in order to fully engage the respondent in the conversation, as - to refer to Kaufmann’s statements - the aim is to arrive at a conversational dynamics which would be more complex than simple answers to questions, albeit still within the bounds of any given topic (Kaufmann, 1999).

The second conversational form - a focus group interview - has been used to collect qualitative data, which would enable the initial verification of the formulated general assumption. The focus group interview was held in the MWEC.7 The meeting with the interviewee was held on May 22, 2017, in the place of business of the coordinator of MWEC (in Lublin in the Regional Club of Technology and Rationalization). The interview lasted about 1.5 hours. A total of 10 people participated in the discussion: one representative of the coordinator, eight representatives of cluster companies, and one university employee. To start with, the participants were informed of the goal of the meeting, i.e. to present the results of the study and to make their opinions heard on the generated theoretical concept. The meeting consisted of three parts. First, the authors presented the principles of the concept of the trajectory of development of cooperative relationships. Second, the authors discussed the results of the study held in the MWEC. The third part was applicable in nature and referred to the possibility of using the generated concept, accounting for the realities of the functioning of MWEC. Each part of the meeting was planned and organized in a similar fashion: beginning with a presentation of the results of the study and ending with a moderated discussion among the participants, who - within the bounds of the objective of the study were given complete freedom to make their opinions and evaluations heard.

The application of the above interview form (non-categorized, non- standardized and unstructured) allowed the authors to enrich the collected research material. The specific nature of a focus group proved to be beneficial in this regard as well, as it forced the participants to confront their views and attitudes with one another, especially since in the group of invited participants consisted of representatives from three categories of entities within the CO: coordinators, representatives of the business sector (companies of different sizes, with different duration of membership in the CO), as well as representatives from the R&D sector, which were able to confront their points of view. Despite the indicated differences, the respondents were in agreement with respect to the presented concepts. Discrepancies only appeared in the context of the evaluation of the value of particular levels of cooperation, but such differences - paradoxically - only confirmed the assumptions made for the generated concept. Companies with a stronger market position and a higher level of innovativeness were more interested in developing cooperation within a CO (cooperation level IV), while companies with lower market potential were more interested in fulfilling individual goal (cooperation levels I and II). The fact that the interview was held in the place of business of the coordinator (which also holds regular meetings among the members of the CO) provided the authors with the additional opportunity to observe the behaviors of the participants in their natural “cluster” environment. All insights collected thanks to the focus group interview (on the realities of functioning in a CO, communication among the participants and their mutual relationships) were accounted for in the theoretical concept which will be discussed later herein.

The second applied data collection technique - document analysis - served to supplement the interviews. Its goal was to familiarize the authors with the stage of development of COs in Poland. The primary document analysis was held prior to the empirical research within the first of the defined stages. Nevertheless, with the appearance of newer publications, the publications were included in the document base and studied with a view to expanding the authors’ knowledge. This means the period of document analysis essentially covers the entire period of the research process (i.e. 2015-2018). Initially, the analysis covered widely available popular science publications on the functioning of COs from the last 10 years (i.e. from the period when the concepts of a cluster and a CO were beginning to be popularized in Poland). The analyzed publications could be divided into three groups: reports from studies on COs in Poland (such as benchmarking and evaluation studies, inventories), publications on cluster politics in Poland and; publications with practical guidelines on the management of COs. Subsequently, the analysis focused on those COs which were included in the research sample. In this case, the authors considered reports, expertise and promotional material pertaining to the studied COs, as well as internal documents (such as developmental strategies). The document analysis also covered information available on websites connected to the studied COs: private websites of COs (as well as their coordinators and particular cluster members) and social media sites (such as Facebook, Linkedln) created with a view to promoting COs and their members and popularizing their activities. In order to arrive at the broader context in which the studied COs functioned and compare official information published on them with the realities of their functioning, the authors also analyzed documents and notes created in the course of the COs ongoing operations (such as rules and regulations, newsletters, tasklists, etc.).

Data Analysis and Interpretation Techniques

The empirical material collected at stage 1 was analyzed and interpreted in parts on the basis of theoretical sampling and the constant comparative method. The main analysis and comparison techniques used for the collected qualitative data consisted of substantive analysis and coding, which is the fundamental method of conceptualizing data in the methodology of grounded theory. In accordance with this methodology, data collected in the course of research (describing specific events) are analyzed and codified in a process called the constant comparative method. The process distinguishes between two types of coding: substantive coding, which leads to the generation of substantive codes conceptualizing the empirical subject matter of the researched area (giving names or terms to the collected empirical material), as well as theoretical coding, which enables researchers to derive theoretical codes conceptualizing hypotheses (or generalized relationships) pertaining to substantive codes which - in the next step - are integrated into a cohesive theory (Glaser, 1978; Glaser & Holton, 2010). In the course of analysis, raw data are transformed into substantive categories, which in turn are transformed into abstract categories.

The coding process was based on open coding and selective coding, thanks to which all of the categories derived in the study emerge from data itself, which are embedded in the terrain. In practice, different methods of coding may be applied (Charmaz, 2006).8 “Line-by-line” coding was applied with a view to identifying the largest possible number of substantive codes emerging from the data. As a result of open coding, a total of 106 codes were derived, while in the next step - with the application of the constant comparative method - the core categories were derived, which to the fullest degree explained the variables present in the studied area, while being connected to the other derived categories. Subsequently, the study focused on the core categories, which became a point of departure toward selective coding - limited only to those variables which were tied to the derived core categories. The selective collection and analysis of data continued up to the moment of the theoretical saturation of the core categories and the full integration of relationships between them, while taking into account their properties. The derived core categories (6 in total, i.e. levels of cooperation, general objectives, cooperation markers, roles, specific objectives and commitment) have formed the framework for the generated concept of the trajectory of development of cooperative relationships in COs. In the course of the conceptual analysis, theoretical memos were made on an ongoing basis, in which the authors wrote down their thoughts on the coded categories and their relationships (present in specific contexts and under specific conditions). Theoretical notes are an inseparable stage of the process of generating grounded theory and are meant to “[record] generated theoretical substantive ideas grounded in data” (Glaser & Holton, 2010). The creation of theoretical notes facilitated the derivation of theoretical codes and, first and foremost, allowed the authors to arrive at a higher conceptual level of abstraction. Upon sorting, the theoretical notes have served to integrate the identified relationships among the derived categories (and their properties) with a view to generating a general theoretical scheme. The generated theoretical concept consists of - in accordance with the guidelines of Glaser and Strauss (1967) - conceptual categories and their substantive properties and generalized relationships.

 
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