«Abstract This paper revisits the debate on the units of Content Analysis (CA) for the purposes of Corporate Social Reporting (CSR) research and also ...»
A number of CSR studies explicitly or implicitly adopt the approach to data analysis suggested by Miles and Huberman (1994), which Ritchie and Lewis (2003) have adapted and graphically represented as an analytical hierarchy of the stages and processes in qualitative analysis. This „quantising‟ approach of Miles and Huberman (1994) involves primarily three forms of activity: data management in which the raw data are reviewed, labelled-coded, sorted and synthesised; descriptive accounts in which the analyst makes use of the ordered data to identify key dimensions, map the range and diversity of each phenomenon and develop classifications and typologies;
and explanatory accounts in which the analyst builds explanations about why the data take the forms that are found and presented (Ritchie and Lewis, 2003).
CSR authors have adopted this analytical perspective with variations regarding the precision with which they conducted each stage of the analysis. Owen et al. (2000), Woodward et al. (2001), Adams (2002) and Roslender and Fincham (2004) presented their findings by set preposition, or under interest topic, implying at least the use of the identification of initial themes and sorting data by theme or concepts steps of the hierarchy, and then moved straight to develop explanations. O‟Donovan (2002) identified themes and patterns, detected cross patterns with his quantitative data set and moved to develop explanations, applying rather loosely the analytical hierarchy,
- 29 although he followed a systematic approach to combine the qualitative with the quantitative data in the analysis stage. O‟Dwyer (1999; 2002; 2003; 2004) on the other hand, explicitly adopted the Miles and Huberman‟s (1994) approach by identifying underlying themes, developing a coding scheme, summarising and synthesising data, identifying cross case patterns in the data and detecting regularities and developing explanations in the evidence collected. He was also cautious in the last-generalisation-step to avoid presenting a “smoothed set of generalisations that may not apply to a single „interview‟” (Huberman and Miles, 1994, p. 435) and made efforts to preserve the uniqueness of certain individual interviews (see particularly O‟Dwyer, 2004, for a more detailed and focused description of his approach).
The distinct benefits of this approach include that it offers a simple, grounded and therefore quite valid approach to qualitative analysis, which allows for all variation in themes and topics to be revealed and captured. This is particularly useful when exploratory research is conducted and the widest possible variety of themes is sought.
Further, although this method of data analysis is primarily qualitative, as EasterbySmith et al. (2002), note “it is still possible to introduce some element of quantification into the process” (p. 119), particularly when employing some computer aided qualitative analysis software. However, even more structured approaches to thematic analysis may be adopted, as discussed in the next section.
The variation of Bebbington and Gray (2000)
Bebbington and Gray‟s (2000) methodological approach was similar to that of Miles and Huberman (1994) in a number of ways: all three forms of activity identified by Miles and Huberman (1994) were undertaken; following data management, some descriptive categories were created; and, following the synthesis of the data, explanatory accounts were developed. With regards to data management, though, Bebbington and Gray (2000), implicitly drawing on Yin (1989), follow a three-step approach: the authors firstly describe their research questions and explain what data need to be collected to address them: e.g. to investigate who appears to be educating corporations about sustainable development, the authors explain that this issue “is addressed by examining the various definitions of sustainability which are used by
- 30 corporations and by studying which organisations are influencing companies‟ understanding of sustainable development (Bebbington and Gray, 2000, p. 20). Then, some so-called „semiotic‟ categories are developed, based on the research questions and the literature, by identifying various sustainability definitions from major organisations that might have possibly influenced the examined companies‟ stance.
“an examination of the disclosures using these categories was then undertaken and an initial identification and classification of these disclosures attempted.
These initial categories, however did not prove sufficient for analysis… as a result, the categories were further refined drawing again from the relevant literature… [and] were also added inductively from the analysis of the environmental reports themselves” (ibid., pp. 21-20).
Thus, the data management approach adopted is in accord to both „pattern matching‟ (where “an empirical pattern is compared with a predicted pattern, following the theoretical propositions of the framework”) and „explanation building‟ (where the objective is to build a general explanation that fits each of the individual cases) qualitative analysis techniques, dictated by Yin (1989, pp. 108-109) for multi-case explanatory research designs. Evidently, following „pattern-matching”, by noticing that some data could not have been explained by their initial categories, Bebbington and Gray (2000) revisited those, and thus, modified their theory, in an attempt to explain all the data.
In contrast to the Miles and Huberman (1994), this approach employs originally theory-driven „pragmatic‟ codes (see also Unerman  for a similar approach), and thus, despite the subsequent attempts to explain all text, this still damages the method‟s qualitative orientation. Further, it should be noted that undertaking this analysis is time consuming, albeit considerably more time efficient than the Miles and Huberman approach. An additional limitation may be that this approach is not as easily quantified as that of Miles and Huberman, since usually a smaller number of codes is generated. Still, this approach is in accord to Holsti‟s (1969b) suggestion for “continual moving back and forth between data and theory” (p. 116) and even when not coupled with quantitative analysis, it can still provide the research with a
- 31 particularly useful qualitative perspective. Mainly for the reasons of being a more „pragmatic‟ and time-economic approach than that of Miles and Huberman, it was also employed in the BA study.
Conclusion The conclusions that may be drawn from this review are related to the discussed three areas of concern. Firstly, with regards to the index vs. amount/volume approaches: it seems that nowadays, with so much CSR information disclosed, volumetric studies may contribute more to the analysis than index ones. Index measures, however, do have some distinct advantages over volumetric ones in that, to the extent that the presence or absence of specific information is sought, particularly when “what is not disclosed…[is] seen as important as that which is” (Adams and Harte, 1998, p. 783), they are not significantly affected by contextual issues, such as repetition or grammar and since they further have clearly defined measurement units they are more reliable.
Secondly, with regards to the units of analysis: similarly to Unerman (2000), it should be noted that the selective use of information, relatively to both the sampling units (e.g. exclusive use of Annual Reports) and the recording units (e.g. exclusive consideration of narrative CSD) limit significantly the validity of the findings.
Further, with regards to volumetric recording units, it seems that at least in theory, page size data are superior than proportion of page data (particularly considering that the former count the narrative information in some textual unit whilst the latter measure it in essence, in terms of square centimetres). Future research should focus on monitoring the reliability and validity particularly of these two measures, given that they seem to be the only ones which can consider non-narrative CSD in the analysis. This however in view of the fact that tables, graphics, pictures and text are all different things and to attempt to develop an aggregate measure for all of these is highly subjective. Overall, it seems that the main causes for measurement errors and general discrepancies in validity and reliability of the studies are the misspecifications of the context units, which may be partially addressed by the employment of more meaningful approaches to definitions.
- 32 Thirdly, with regards to the ways to define CA units: it seems that traditional distinctions, such as monetary vs. declarative or even positive vs. negative need to be complemented with more meaningful approaches. These can either take the form of explicitly normative templates that could be included in a CA protocol and be quantified, such as the symbolic vs. substantive distinction, or take a more qualitative form, of a varying degree of structure, such as the two reviewed thematic approaches.
In either case, when conducting qualitative CA analysis it is equally important to follow a clearly justified and specified approach to the analysis, to enhance both validity and reliability of the findings.
Three main potential fruitful venues for further research may be identified. Firstly, a review focusing on the qualitative approaches subscribing to the broader CA view, including the distinct systematic ones, such as grounded theory and discourse analysis, could assist in clarifying their relationships and their potential contribution to CSR. Secondly, a review of contemporary CA studies in other fields and consideration of potential applicability to the CSR practice, as in e.g. the cases of Lasswell et al. (1949), Stone et al. (1966) and Gerbner et al. (1969), could save the field from reinventing wheels (Owen, 2004). Thirdly, a similar review of computer software (such as NUD*IST, as presented by Beattie et al ) in CA would be also of particular interest. With regards to the latter, it should be noted that qualitative analysis programmes do not only assist in the analysis in terms of speed in coding but also bring in a number of validity benefits. Cross-code analyses can be conducted;
data display matrices could be easily developed; further, since all the coded segments by a specific code can be retrieved, this means that more detailed and thorough coding decision rules can also be created through careful reviews; and perhaps more importantly, the program instantly measures the volume of textual information when the coding takes space, and it, therefore, assists in creating a sound basis for a mixed CA study, an approach generally absent from CSR research but which is theoretically sound.
- 33 Appendix A (I). The substantive and symbolic strategies employed in the Savage et al. (2000) study Substantive strategies
1. Role performance. This is perceived by Savage et al. as “the most obvious attempt at legitimation” (p. 48) and is where the organisation adapts its goals, methods or operation, and/or its output to conform to the performance expectations of the members of society on whom it depends for critical resources (Dowling & Pfeffer, 1975). These organisations would thus be expected to disclose more frequently quantitative and also at times negative CSD.
2. Coercive isomorphism. This is the basic tenet of institutional theory.
Organisations employ substantive legitimation to become isomorphic with their cultural environment, by employing substantive strategies or by shifting from symbolic strategies to substantive over time.
3. Altering socially institutionalised practices. Organisations could attempt, through communication, to alter the societal definition of legitimacy, so that
the amended definition reflects the organisation‟s activities (Lindblom, 1994):
the most difficult strategy to successfully implement (Savage et al., 2000).
4. Espousing socially acceptable goals. Organisations may do so while pursuing less acceptable ones. They may e.g. disclose ethical policies but fail to implement procedure to monitor compliance.
5. Denial and Concealment. Organisations may do so for activities that may undermine legitimacy (see e.g. Sutton and Calahan, 1987).
6. Identification with symbols, values or institutions. The organisation could attempt to become identified with symbols, values or institutions with a strong established base of social legitimacy (Dowling and Pfeffer, 1975; Lindblom, 1994).
7. Offering accounts. Organisations may offer explanations, including excuses and justifications or putting the blame to someone else (Paterson and
- 34 Woodward, 2006). This is still an attempt to shape perceptions of the organisation (O‟Donovan, 2002).
8. Offering apologies. By apologising, organisations may show some expression of remorse for a negative event (Savage et al., 2000).
9. Ceremonial conformity. Highly visible and salient practices that are consistent with social expectations may be adopted, while leaving the formal structure of the organisation intact. E.g. organisations may form a task force to study the environmental impacts of activities; this may provide the appearance of action without the substance (ibid.).
10. Admission of guilt. Organisations may acknowledge partial responsibility to create the impression and/or reality of honesty. Should be followed by increased negative CSD.
11. Misrepresentation or open to misinterpretation. The organisation may intentionally or unintentionally give a false impression or account or supply ambiguous information that could be misleading or open to misinterpretation (ibid.)
12. Avoiding, trivialising or skirting around the issue. The organisation may offer a partial explanation, trivialise of fail to directly address an issue. The information may not be clearly conveyed or may simply be implied (ibid., O‟Donovan, 2002) Appendix A (II). The substantive and symbolic strategies employed in the BA study Substantive strategies
1. Role performance [act as expected]: (Savage et al. strategy 1)
2. Coercive isomorphism [act as everybody does]: (strategy 2)
3. Altering socially institutionalised practices [Change what is expected]:
(strategy 3) Symbolic strategies [show acting as expected]
4. Espousing goals and symbols [change (improve) overall image]: (strategies 4, 6 and 9)