Broad project topic and approach
There is a consensus among researchers that contributing to the society as part of corporate social responsibility(CSR) is necessary for a commercial firm to improve its image and reputation (Ali, Danish & Asrar-ul-Haq, 2020). Thus more and more companies begin to pay attention on implementing CSR and how to do it better, leading to much research on it. After searching many literature about this field, I find that although numerous studies have investigated the involvement of managers in CSR decisions, few have found factors that influence managers’ decisions to participate in CSR activities which interests me a lot. After all, an organization’s ability to plan and perform CSR initiatives is largely determined by how its management perceives social responsibility(Carollo and Guerci, 2017). In other words, management plays a critical role in performing CSR for a firm. Therefore, it is crucial to have discussions that focus specifically on CSR decision-making among managers, and investigate the elements that influence managers’ CSR judgments. Besides, except for those well-known companies or large transnational corporations, it is worthy to draw attention on some small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), since implementing CSR is usually at the expense of economic benefit of itself. It is a difficult choice of whether to perform CSR even sacrifice its economy. This becomes more interesting, and I want to select it as my research question: investigating the factors that affect SMEs manager’s corporate social responsibility decision. I think this study can fill the gap in investigating the managers as an individual role in deciding and managing CSR to some extent. Moreover, my background in accounting, finance and management also shape my perspective on the choice of this topic since CSR is a kind of expression of management and now is also included in annual financial reporting.
Positivist research methodology is concerned with clarifying ‘somewhat’ stable causal relationships between variables of interest to find how things ‘really’ work. According to the definition of positivist research methodology, apparently, my research question is a positivistic one, which finds causal relationships between some variables, such as individual factors, organizational factors and external factors with management’s decision. And the qualitative method will be used in this research. In a qualitative study the researcher discovers meanings through interviews, observations, and analyzing documents that participants, in their natural settings, attach to a phenomenon (Denzin&Lincoln, 2018). The qualitative approach is consistent with this study, as it is also based on understanding about a phenomenon that managers in SMEs make decisions about CSR. Consistent with the objective of a qualitative research, the purpose of this study is to gain rich and in-depth understanding of the implementation of CSR focusing on management. Although learning from participants is vital in a qualitative study, it unfolds via the purview of the researcher (Chetty, 2014). Thus researcher is also important who is the measure of the study in a qualitative method of inquiry (Patton, 2015).
Proposed empirical context
When choosing the corporations, I would like to choose SMEs in manufacturing industry. Except for the reason that implementing CSR may be seen as a bigger sacrifice of the economic performance for SMEs, another one is that it is relatively easier to access the managers in SMEs, and it is impractical to interview a manager in large companies in this research. Besides, manufacturing companies are usually the focus by the whole society in terms of CSR because this kind of firms usually produce many environmental pollution like corporate fumes. One criteria to select sample is that choosing those have new products or methods of production introduced onto the market, finding new natural resource bases, and new and more efficient sources of supply and mechanisms of production (Dees, 2001). In this way, I can make sure that they must make some CSR decisions recently during the process and I can find some useful information to investigate the factors affecting them. An initial assessment is also necessary to be performed to assess their CSR report and their willingness to participate, so that I can increase the response rate and hence the efficiency.
In this study, identifying and reporting lived experiences of CSR is important to illuminate understanding in contrast to a numerical link between variables based on objectivity that a quantitative study would involve (Onwuegbuzie&Leech, 2005). Data collection should be delimited to managers with at least 5 years of experience relevant to CSR implementation, as the harmful consequences of their corporation activities may entail after 5 years (Bonsu, 2018). In terms of acquiring their contact, I plan to browse company’s website to find if there is any contact way like phone number or email address, visit their company or be recommended by others. Then I can use electronic mode like telephone, email or skype to contact them to acquire the permission and appoint interview time.
For this research question, I will do all data collection through semi structured interviews with open-ended questions. The semi-structured interview is flexible that allows the emergence of additional information provided by participants as I probe to gain rich and meaningful insights of this question which consistent with an inductive qualitative study (Patton, 2015). Regarding to the quantity of participants, I plan to collect data from 8 semi-structured interviews or until data saturation is achieved. Data saturation occurs when further information from new participants becomes repetitive(Mason, 2010), after all I ask the same questions to multiple participants. Data saturation ensures content validity and reliability of study (Bowen, 2008). They are selected based on their positions as managers or supervisors. After considering the working engagement of management, sometimes it may difficult to appoint a manager, then if possible, subordinates of corporations who work with mangers and know the decision process of managers can also provide the interviews. It should also be noticed that data collection should base on availability of participant and a consideration of their schedules to avoid any disruption in corporate production (Bonsu, 2018).
Firstly, I plan that data will be collected during two weeks time. I interview the participant of one corporation daily and spend around 30 to 45 minutes with each participant to ensure the collection of rich and in-depth data. During the interview, I should verify the personal information with interviewees because this research also need to collect the personal information of management like age, education background and ethnicity so that I can analyze whether there are some personal factors existing. However, sometimes it may be challenging to collect those information or those are wrong since they are SMEs’s manager and are not famous enough to collect full and correct information. In case of any memory gaps occur, an audio recording device will be used to help in data collecting. After interviewing them, I will also conduct member checking, a procedure to verify from participants the accuracy of the conclusions drawn (Miles,Huberman&Saldana, 2014). Within three days of the data collection being completed, each participant will be given a full narrative of the interview transcript for verification. If participants have some request, I will make a change. I also seek further validation and approval of reports and conclusions obtained from participants after formal data analysis is completed (Bonsu, 2018). With the limited money, I choose to transcribe the interviews on my own. The advantages are that I am more familiar with the content leading to less errors and it allows further reflections and understanding of data.
The next step is data analysis. Data analysis is a process of summarizing information gathered from a field of study and creating a narrative that explains what it means (Patton, 2015). I will use NVivo, a data management software, to do a more accurate and faster data analysis of qualitative data. There are two cycle coding. First one is the initial words, phrases or sentences attached to interview responses which is generated based on NVivo. The second one is used to identify patterns derived from first cycle coding. Themes from pattern codes will be analyzed and reported in a narrative form (Miles,Huberman&Saldana, 2014).
Ethical issues in this study are focused on to address treatment of participants, and confidential problem to conform to the standards of qualitative research. There is no obvious ethical violation. Because the study’s goal is to increase stakeholders’ well-being, no one will be physically or mentally harmed. I am just a student and do not work for any corporations so there are no conflicts of interest either. Prior to starting the interview, consent of participants will be sought and the purpose of the study should be explained in writing and verbally. Responses by participants is also held in confidence. Without their permission, names of participants and corporations are anonymous to protect their privacy (Bonsu, 2018).
Below is the interview protocol
Hi, firstly thank you for your participation. The purpose of this study is to learn how you make the decisions about CSR. We will do that by going through a series of questions, which will take approximately 30 minutes. Also, this interview is completely voluntary, and if for any reason you want to stop, please just let me know. Then, let’s get started.
Q1. What CSR implementation you did within your organization?
Q2. During making the decision, what will be the most important and is placed the first priority when considering CSR issues?
Q3. How do you perceive the CSR strategy used within your corporation? What is the meaning to the society and employees’ well-being? (This question is focus on the perception to CSR combined with their background.)
Q4. How the extent that your organization’s internal condition affect you when you engaging in the CSR decision? After all, your company is not such a big size, so it may affect your company’s performance in a short term to some extent. (This one is focused on some internal factors.)
Q5. What external factors like policies, social economics or social voice will be put into your consideration? The change of those factors definitely have the large impact on your company. (This question is used to investigate any external factors.)
This is the final question. And Do you have anything want to share with me?
Finally, thank you again! Later I will send you the content if you have any question, please let me know.
Limitations and biases
Credibility refers to the coherent and organized presentation of findings of a study in a rich and thorough way to exude or convey clear meaning to readers (Miles, 2014). To ensure credibility, I follow strictly the ethical procedure, like explaining to participants the purpose of this study and the procedures involved and keeping participants’ information confidential. I will forward my reports to participants for verification of accuracy to ensure accurate and rich information gained. Participants and I all have some biases in this research. Participants may want to show a good image of themselves, which may have prompted them to exaggerate answers to questions concerning CSR implementation. Their answers can be really subjective. I also have biases due to lack of working in a corporation. However, my bias of experiential knowledge, theories, and findings from literature can be an advantage in questioning participants, understanding texts from interviews, and analysis of data (Bonsu, 2018). Because I am not funded by any organizations, any subjectivity is based on opinions from interviews, and only access to participants influence my selection of corporations.
 Ali, H.Y., Danish, R.Q., & Asrar-ul-Haq, M. (2019). How corporate social responsibility boosts firm financial performance: The mediating role of corporate image and customer satisfaction. Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management.
 Carollo, L., & Guerci, M. (2017). Between continuity and change: CSR managers’ occupational rhetorics. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 30, 632-646.
 Denzin, N.K., & Lincoln, Y.S. (2018). The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research.
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 Mason, M.D. (2010). Sample Size and Saturation in PhD Studies Using Qualitative Interviews.
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 Miles, M., Huberman, M., & Saldaña, J. (2014). Drawing and verifying conclusions. Qualitative data analysis: a methods sourcebook.