Our investigation approach

The purpose of this brief write-up is to provide a standard answer to questions forwarded via email by visitors and readers at “Tax Payer Rambling”. We are proud to say that most of the inquiries were legitimate and serious minded people that believed in what we are doing. Due to the requests, we wish to share the investigation approach adopted by us based on ‘Action Research’ Methodology.

”Action research is inquiry or research in the context of focused efforts to improve the quality of an organization and its performance. It typically is designed and conducted by practitioners who analyze the data to improve their own practice. Action research can be done by individuals or by teams of colleagues. The team approach is called collaborative inquiry.”

Firstly, the success of any approach adopted to resolve complex problem will require an understanding of the environment and studying the targeted issues at hand within a short span of time. Secondly, a set of guidelines must be followed to maintain the consistency and quality of the information gathered or received from secondary sources or third party. Thirdly, the need to focus on the subject matter or issues through a systematic checklist of questions ranging from a set of questions to identify a problem to a set of questions to determine the practical solution to the problem. Finally, a lot of common sense and personal judgment needed during the analysis to identify practical and achievable options as an outcome for the final decision.

We will comment briefly about each of four stages of the research process:
1. Identifying questions to guide the research
2. Collecting information to answer the questions
3. Analyzing the information that has been collected
4. Sharing results with others.

What makes a good research question? We think there are probably three major characteristics.

First, the issue you have chosen to explore must be important – to you, to your team members or participants. In most cases, the issue will either be a problem that needs to be solved or an issue (abuse of power) that needs to be investigated. In either case, the “important” criterion applies. After all, research involves some extra time and effort. It makes no sense to devote time and exert effort to work on something that is not important.

A second quality of good research questions is that they are directly related to the issue or problem that you have chosen to explore. If you develop more than one question, each needs to be related to the others, and together they need to be related to the overall issue or problem. Especially if the issue you have chosen to focus upon is complex i.e. Abuse of power, this may mean thinking about a long-term project that focuses on a few related questions each day, so that eventually the entire issue or problem can be addressed. A project currently undertaken by ‘Tax Payer Rambling’ team is a good example of this long-term planning. The overall issue of interest relates to the impact of field trips (e.g., to visit the ministry, listening to lectures and attending seminar or conferences) on attitudes, and practices. Of course this is an enormous issue, far more than can be addressed by an individual, so the team have adopted a “first things first” attitude. Each day, they frame one or two questions related to the overall issue; they know that over time within days, their larger question will be answered.

A third characteristic of good research questions is that they are answerable. To some extent, this criterion relates to the “largeness” issue described above. But it also has to do with the type of information that is available to you. For example, it would be very hard to investigate a targeted character if he or she is not a public figure! Yes, a VIP, due to the fact that very little public domain information available.

A good way to develop answerable questions is to brainstorm about the larger problem or issue. You can ask, “What intrigues me?“, “Why Dr Nor Shahidah so close with Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican?” or “What do I want to know more about?” Rule out “yes or no” questions. Good questions usually begin with “why,” “how,” or “what.” We recommend that you pose your questions so that the answers will be based on descriptions or observations.

Any information that can help you answer your questions is data. “Good” data are directly related to the questions; that is, they provide direct answers. We recommend that you use more than one strategy or source of information for each question because this helps to ensure that the results will be valid. For example, suppose you were interested in motorists’ attitudes towards toll concession companies. You could certainly ask them questions, but you would probably want to observe their verbal remarks, expressed anger and driving behaviors as well. If answers to your interview questions match the picture you see from observation, you can be more certain that you have answered your question adequately.

We also recommend that you look for readily available information that can serve as data to answer your questions. This is not only efficient, but it also lends validity to the findings. For example, if you wish to gather information about kickback transaction with your targeted character, then your access to business people is a must. A better alternative might be to think of a way setting up an opportunity to interact with the same circle of people as your targeted character. No time is wasted, no extra cost is involved, and the information collected or leads given are likely to match your interests exactly.
As is apparent from the above, data can come from almost anywhere. Tallies (e.g., lists of newspaper clips, magazines, announcements, and websites) can be data, demographic information can be data, and surveys can be data. Observations, interviews, and documents can also be data. If you record your observations somehow and keep track of them over time, they could help you determine the impact of the investigation. Remembering what you have seen is the hardest part of using observations as data. Consequently, you will either need to keep a daily journal or make and save on-the-spot notes about your observations. Interviews or conversations with groups or individuals are another good source of data. These can be either planned or spontaneous. In addition, you can either develop questions beforehand or simply invite conversation about an issue. In any event, you will need to decide how you will remember what people have said. If you decide to take notes, try to make them as complete as possible and reread them immediately so that you can add your own insights and any missing information. You can also tape record interviews or conversations and then later make notes from the tapes or transcribe them word-for-word.

Finally, documents can be data. You might collect letters, reports and publications relating to your targeted character over a period of time so as to avoid detection.

Research method must be considered as projects are planned and data are collected. If you seek information from or about a civil servant, you need to first seek their permission to use the information. Because public servant are bound by the Official Secret Act and various General Orders (GO), perhaps, you need to take the extra effort explaining that you are doing a research project, describing the information you want to use, underscoring that their participation is voluntary, and promising confidentiality – that you will not use the person’s actual name or any other identifying information in reports of the project.

You will know that you have gathered enough information when new data bring no surprises.
Researchers call this “redundancy” or “data saturation.” In practical terms, when you are no longer learning anything new about your questions, it’s time to stop collecting and start analyzing.
Data analysis involves examination of the data in order to answer your questions. To prepare, you will want to make sure all your data are on paper (better digital), and you will probably want to read everything over at least twice. If you have asked more than one question, you will want to sort the data according to question. And you may want to discard (or at least set aside) data that do not directly relate to the questions you have posed.

In most cases, analysis involves creating categories or themes or “types of.” One way to find these is to sort data into piles such that each pile shares some broader characteristic. You can then write a summary that captures the essence of each broader characteristic. Together, these summaries should answer your questions.

Research can lead to more research, as in the case of the Tax Payer Rambling project described above.
Or research can suggest refinements in your investigation. Or research results can lead to more questions about the problem or issue under study. In any event, the last stage of the research process is to share your findings with others. You NEED to decide the timing and sharing will be informal – planned or spontaneous conversations or discussions. But more formal sharing is also important.
You can write about your research, with or without assistance. Writing serves at least two critical purposes. First, as we write, additional insights often occur to us. So in a way, the act of writing can lead to further analysis or interpretation. And second, writing leaves a permanent record of the research that can be used by others.

You can also make presentations through internet via websites, online forums or blogs about your research findings. Whether you share through writing, speaking or online, this final stage in the research process is important because others can benefit and learn from your efforts and provide an opportunity to comment and participate.

Some people have preconceived and negative notions about their ability to do research and about the usefulness of research to resolve daily life issues. They think that the research process is difficult and highly technical; they feel unqualified to engage in this sort of scientific endeavor. And they wouldn’t even want to because they believe that researchers are sterile and esoteric with little to offer those in the “real world.”

It doesn’t have to be that way. The research process is basically the inquiry process -posing questions and searching systematically for their answers. This type of research is pertinent to issues facing you as an adult, businessman or civil servant. This type of research can enable you to explore issues or problems, and it can also serve as a model for evaluating learners, curriculum, or some aspect of program delivery. It has everything to offer those in the “real world.”

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