The process of discovery has served as an antecedent to designing measures of leadership attributes (and indeed, all social scientific constructs). This process has first provided for the actual identification of the specific attributes. It has usually occurred as a culmination of literature review processes or as the result of qualitative studies that have yielded grounded theories or have identified particular phenomena that suggested the needs for further investigations. In that regard, de Vaus (2001) explained how research design actually begins one step before deciding whether to establish or test a theory. He described how the first step includes the researcher identifying whether to describe a phenomena or to explain why it happens (descriptive or explanatory research). He then further explained the importance of good descriptive research, in that it forms the foundation for good explanatory research. In the case of explanatory research or explaining the why, he specifically identified the distinction between correlation and causation, noting that although researchers may see a correlation, they cannot see the cause -- they can only infer it.
If theories have required establishment, researchers have typically used inductive reasoning, by observing the subjects and asking broad based, open-ended questions. These researchers have then established their theory post factum. If other researchers or theorists have already established a given theory, the following researchers have tested this theory by allowing the theory to dictate which observations they should make. In these cases, researchers have used deductive reasoning to develop a set of propositions that answer the “if, then” question. Ultimately, the design of any research should cause the data that researchers collect to answer the research question(s), with as little ambiguity as possible.
Issues to consider in explanatory research design include:
- Affirming the consequent -- Just because B event follows A event does not mean that A causes B... Correlation does not imply causation.
- Deterministic or probabilistic -- Social science research deals with human beings who, for our intents and purposes, have free will and who develop their own social constructs. Little presents as deterministic in this realm, regardless of the amount of control a researcher exercises.
- Falsification -- Researchers need to look to disprove their theories or at least frame their propositions in ways that allow others opportunities to disprove their theories.
- Internal and External Validity -- These apply to research design. Internal validity refers to how well the design promotes clarity in conclusions about results. External validity refers to the generalize-ability of the results.
- Indicator Validity and Reliability – Not only does the design require validity, the items for measuring the phenomenon do too. Indicator, measure, or item validity refers to determining if the indicator actually measures the concept the researcher says it does. It comes in three categories: (a) Criterion validity: how a new measure relates to an established measure or an expert group’s assessment, (b) content validity: how comprehensively the indicators measure the concept, and (c) construct validity: how well the results of the indicator fit the original theory. Reliability refers to the consistency of the indicator to repeat with the same results.
de Vaus, D. (2001). Research design in social research. London, UK: Sage.