A Study of Systems Research Design: An Examination of Systemic and Systematic Methods used to Study Chinese Women's Decision to Study Abroad
Keywords:systems research, systemic research, systematic research, Chinese students, studying abroad, ethics
In this paper we examine the systemic methodological choices involved in studying the ethical decision space within which Chinese women come to decide to attend an American university in pursuit of a business education. In the research we wished to develop insight about the role of the student herself in the decision-making process in relation to others involved. Insofar as the decision-making process involves a multitude of interacting influences, the researchers conceived of this space as a system of people and ideas that contribute a sense of the “rightness” of studying abroad in a young adult Chinese woman’s life.
From a research design perspective, exploring a decision space like this was not straightforward. We were studying what we conceived as a systemic ethical decision-making phenomenon, fraught with the difficulties inherent in cross-cultural data collection. This research was not designed to critique the complex decision-making processes that study participants had engaged in before coming to study in the U.S. Nonetheless, we faced the very real potential that women participating in the research could perceive themselves as having to hide certain information, or conversely, display their idea of favorable responses to the researchers’ questions. We needed to overcome differences of both language and culture between members of the research team and research subjects. Further, we set for ourselves the challenge to formulate a design that would be both systemic and systematic.
No extant theories existed on the ethics of decision-making processes resulting in Chinese women coming to study abroad. Consequently, we used grounded theory methods to inductively illuminate the emergent meaning-making processes involved in such a decision, given this method’s systematic and rigorous set of procedures and techniques for theory building. Along with grounded theory-informed interviews, we facilitated each study participant in developing a rich picture of the systems of people, processes, and meaning-making that exerted influence on her decision to study abroad. Together, interviews and rich pictures enabled our participants to make explicit the contextual complexities of their decisions and to communicate those complexities to us. Importantly, the research techniques we used helped participants to explore ethical complexities of their decision in a safe way.