Positivism METHODOLOGY 1000 words




This research will make use of the positivist research method as applied in a case study setting. Positivism in research is aimed at building knowledge from ‘positive’ information or data gathered through observable and measurable phenomenon. This research method originated from the French Enlightenment, with Auguste Comte as one of its main proponents. The ‘universality of method’ proposed by Comte has been developed to suggest that the same logic of enquiry can be applied across all of the sciences, and this has led to the influence of the Positivist approach on the social sciences. Walliman summarises the Positivist approach in this context:

The positivist social scientist believes that the methodological procedures of natural science may appropriately be applied to the social sciences, and its results can be expressed as laws or empirical generalizations. (Walliman, 2005, p.203)

The key figure in this context is Emile Durkheim, who although he defined himself as a ‘rational empiricist’ rather than ‘positivist metaphysician’ (Baert, 2005, p.13), can be seen as adopting the Positivist approach to a social realm, acting as Giddens suggests, as the filter of Comte’s views (Giddens, 1982, p.69). Baert for example, has highlighted Durkheim’s claim that “sociology ought to adopt a similar objectivity to the natural sciences and aim at law-like generalizations” (Baert, 2005, p.13), and that the social sciences can be based on “finding relationships of cause and effect based on observations to steer society effectively” (Baert, 2005, p.13).

Case study research is consistent with positivism because it is also aimed at testing theory through the specification of theoretical propositions and relevant testable hypotheses that are taken from an existing theory. Results from the case study research are then compared with the projected outcomes that have been taken from the hypotheses. In the end, the theory can be validated or proven false, or even found to be lacking in some aspects. This means that the theory is further refined with the use of the case study approach.


Thus, we can see that narrowing down the current research to a specific industry (the health care industry), a specific area (The Adults of Working Age Division of the BSMHFT) and a specific intervention (measurement of risk management capabilities by means of an adjusted balanced scorecard) makes doing a case study research more aligned to the set research objectives.


Moreover, by laying down firm goals for the research, we already have a definite idea of what to look for or observe in the phenomenon’s many facets in order to find possible solutions.


In this case, the evaluation and intervention proceeds on two phases:


(1) A study of the current risk management program implemented by the BSMHFT Adults of Working Age Division and

(2) Applying the developed balanced scorecard as a measure of the said variable. Instead of the four performance areas mentioned above, we will look at health determinants and status, community engagement, resources and services, and integration and responsiveness as the four quadrants of the balanced scorecard for risk management. This is adopted from the study of other scholars who have applied BSC to public health performance (Weir, et al., 2009, p. 10).


The data that will be obtained for this study will come in the form of both qualitative and quantitative data. In order to understand and analyze the data, descriptive research method will be used to organise the findings. According to Key (1997), descriptive research is utilized if a researcher wants to obtain data about the current status of particular phenomenon in order to describe “what exists” with respect to the variables or conditions that it involves. The descriptive research is analytical in nature, with a view to test (and not generate) hypotheses that already exist. As with positivist research, descriptive research does not aim to control the variables in the study; therefore it is non-intrusive and deals with naturally occurring phenomena.

Methods employed here will be applicable to the descriptive/positivist approach. The research will use survey forms and statistical measures to determine the perception of risks from both junior and senior divisional staff. A stratified purposeful sampling method will be used to select respondents (Onwuegbuzie et al., 2004, p.147). This allows for a full and focused analysis of the cascading of risk assessment throughout the organization.


The survey will also tackle awareness of the Balanced Scorecard and determine the viability of the scorecard from the viewpoint of respondents.  The questionnaire will be pre-tested among some members of the division. Questionnaires provide a particularly cost-effective and time-efficient method of data-collection (Onwuegbuzie et al., 2004, p.90), important for this research. They also allow for the collection of data from a large sample of staff. The questions must necessarily be open, in order to accurately assess the perceptions and experiences of risk management, but closed questions are also included to allow for accurate organization of data (Schensul et al., 1999, p.198). The questionnaire is also used as a means of assessing risk among staff in the key areas of demands, relationships, control, role, support, environment and change.


Interviews will also be conducted with some respondents in order to capture narrative detail of the respondent’s working experience and risk management. For the case study method, two to four respondents from the sample will be interviewed. Detailed and narrative responses will be elicited by having interviewees relate their experience of working in the division and their experience/perception with regard to the evaluation and management of risk. The semi-structured interview will be used as the most effective method of gathering this data from a small sample (two to four) of respondents from senior and middle-management. The objective of this interview is to obtain views on strategic objectives around corporate risk management and how it is cascaded through the levels below them. As has been proposed by Flick, the respondents’ viewpoints are more likely to be thoroughly expressed in this form, employing discussion organized around open questions (as opposed to a questionnaire), as they have more scope for elaboration (Flick, 2009, p.74). On the other hand, as has been discussed by Schensul, Schensul and LeCompte, the interview can be directed around the key research concepts through ‘probes’ and exploration (1999, p.149). Adopting a conversational tone and listening effectively should allow for effective gathering of research data (Morse and Field, 1995, p.94). While Flick points out problems with issues of over-steering in the semi-structured interview (2009, p.92), this can be balanced with the unmediated open answers from the questionnaire research. A separate section for the case studies will be allotted in my 12000 word dissertation in order to illustrate the actual experiences of some respondents.


The combination of quantitative and qualitative approaches would help draw out the perspectives of the divisional staff and managers regarding risk management. The approaches will be linked into an integrated research design (Flick, 2009, p.25; Merna and Al-Thani, 2008, p.68). In addition this study would help elucidate further need to broaden the BSC scope by adopting recommendations which may be suggested by respondents.




Baert, P. (2005) Philosophy of the Social Sciences. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Crotty, M. J. (2004) The Foundations of Social Research: Meaning and Perspective in the Research Process. London: SAGE.

Flick, U. (2009) An Introduction to Qualitative Research. London: Sage.


Giddens, A. (1982) Profiles and Critiques in Social Theory. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Key, J. Descriptive Research. (1997). [Online] Available at http://www.okstate.edu/ag/agedcm4h/academic/aged5980a/5980/newpage110.htm (Accessed 29 October 2009).


Merna, T. and Al-Thani, F.F. (2008) Corporate Risk Management. Chichester: Wiley.


Morse, J.M. and Field, P (2005) Qualitative Research Methods for Health Professionals. London: Sage.


Onwuegbuzie, A., Qun, J and Bostick, S. (2004) Library Anxiety: Theory, Research and Applications. Maryland: Scarecrow Press.


Schensul, S.L, Schensul, J.J, and Le Compte, M.D. (1999) Essential Ethnographic Methods: Observations, Interviews and Questionnaires. Walnut Creek, CA: Alta Mira Press.

Walliman, N. S. R. (2005) Your Research project: A Step-By-Step Guide for the First Time Researcher. London: SAGE.


Weir, Erica et al. (2009). ‘Applying the balanced scorecard to local public health performance measurement: deliberations and decisions’ BioMed Central Public Health Vol 9 Number 127.