Monday, 28 June 2021

What is operationalisation?

When thinking through a research project, we first need to come up with a sound research question: an overarching question that our research sets out to answer. Then we divide our research question up into several aims, which are goals that we need to achieve in order to answer our research question. Aims are what we need to achieve, or broader, general statements. 

Under each aim we will have objectives, or the operationalisation of our aims (Jones, 2015).  Operationalisation is what we have to do to achieve our aims. Operationalisation contains specific statements of the learning which will occur as we work through our project.

Operationalisation can be thought of as a quantitative tool, but I find it useful in determining WHY, HOW, WHEN, WHERE, and from WHOM we will collect our data, regardless of what inquiry strategy we will be adopting in our method. Operationalisation helps us to convert "abstract concepts into measurable observations" (Bhandari, 2020). Some concepts can be easily measured (i.e. age), while others are much more difficult (i.e. motivation). By operationalising our aims, we can set up our early thinking on how to systematically and carefully collect our data where we can't 'see it happening' (i.e. field data) (Bhandari, 2020).

Initially our research question feeds our aims. The flow is down from the top, so to speak. As we find our base information, and we start populating our concept map. However, the process becomes iterative, as over time, the research on each of our aims, and in coming to understand the limits and constraints of our operationalisation, will feed back up the chain to modify our research question. 

Back and forth, until we have thoroughly clarified what our project is setting out to achieve. Once we are clear in this space, then we can move on to methodology and methods.

The video below contains an example research question, with one supporting aim, and the related operationalisation from a student project. 

  • The overarching research question is in the HR field: “How can local SMEs improve staff retention?” The concept map is showing one of the aims required in order to answer the research question will need to be “Are there common HR strategies being used by SMEs to improve/maintain staff retention?”. 
  • To operationalise the aim (or the objective), we will need to “identify international best practice SME HR retention strategies in high performing nations (we are going to pick these based on OECD rankings) using databases, periodicals, journals and government websites. Then through the Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce, we are going to survey the local member SMEs. Then we are going to compare the local results to the international staff best practice retention strategies, and find out what the gap is. Then we will report on that.” 

Operationalisation effectively forms the embryonic beginning to our method. 

Please note that in the video the example is missing the mission critical data, which might be what happens if the NTCC – the Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce - won’t or can’t participate? In that case we would approach the local Institute of Directors, and the Nelson Small Business Group, to ask if either would be interested in participating. This is shown in the image accompanying this post, where there is an overarching research question; Aim one; Operationalisation one, including – in red – alternative plans for mission-critical data. 

I hope this helps!



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