AN EXPLORATION OF THE IMPACT OF TECHNOLOGY AND DIGITIZATION ON COMMERCIAL QUALITATIVE RESEARCH IN GHANA.

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Abstract

Over the last few decades the world has witnessed an increase in the use of technology across industries and brought along with it digitization. The qualitative market research space has not been an exception. Ghana, which like many other African countries lacks bodies of knowledge on this branch of research which depends heavily on the interventions of human researchers and subjects has also witnessed increased technology use. This research paper therefore explored how technology and digitization has impacted the commercial qualitative market research industry in Ghana by answering the following research questions;

  1. What forms of technology are available to qualitative market researchers in Ghana, and how have they been used?
  2. In what ways has technology impacted the commercial qualitative research space in Ghana?
  3. How can market research personnel in Ghana successfully moderate the impact of technology and digitization to better their work outcomes?

A review of literature from different authors was done to build a conceptual framework for the study, with the final stage of the ICT4D value chain developed in 2009 being settled on. Three skilled qualitative researchers from three commercial market research firms in Ghana, were interviewed to get a sense of their perceptions of technology’s impact on their work, with one of the firms was observed closely as well. The data collected was then analyzed and themes identified as; access to respondents, duration of projects, roles of researchers and data management. By analyzing the unique experiences and perceptions of the researchers, lessons were drawn on how researchers could sustainably improve the qualitative research process in the presence of new technology and recommendations made for industry as well as for future research.

Table of Contents

CHAPTER 1-INTRODUCTION……………………………………………………………………………………… 7

CHAPTER 2- LITERATURE REVIEW…………………………………………………………………………. 16

CHAPTER 3-METHODOLOGY…………………………………………………………………………………… 27

CHAPTER 4- RESULTS AND FINDINGS……………………………………………………………………. 36

Firm A……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 37

Firm B……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 37

Firm C……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 39

  1. Identified Themes…………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 40
    1. Researcher Roles and Expertise……………………………………………………………………………………. 40
    1. Data Management………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 41
    1. Project Duration…………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 42
    1. Access to respondents………………………………………………………………………………………………… 43
    1. Observational Studies……………………………………………………………………………………………. 43
    1. Discussions………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 44

CHAPTER 5-CONCLUSION AND RECOMENDATIONS………………………………………… 47

CHAPTER 1-INTRODUCTION

         Background

A 2020 global research study of the global business environment spearheaded by Kantar TNS, a leading research firm, showed that of all the features a firm needed to sustain good business growth, its insights engine was the most crucial. An insights engine describes a firm’s coffer of market and consumer intelligence supported by technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning. The study concluded by outlining specific building blocks that had been identified to assist firms successfully create and sustain growth for all key parties especially their customers. These blocks when combined ideally focused on; being human-centric, recognizing and addressing the needs of all stakeholders, delivering ever-evolving experiences for customers and tapping into the limitless power of the combined force of creativity, data and technology.

Bill Gates, the founder of the world’s leading software manufacturer, Microsoft, once described information technology and business as inextricably interwoven, with each being almost ineffective when considered without the other. Information technology is a term coined to describe the use of any form of technology to process, store and communicate any type of information (Terashima,2002). Technology has been defined widely by different entities, and one such definition described it as a two-fold resource consisting of both a physical and an informational aspect. The physical aspect according to this definition is made up of things such as products, processes, blueprints and machines, while the informational aspect consists of ‘knowledge’ in the form of insights or capabilities in different aspects of work (Kumar et al, 1999, as cited in Wahab, 2012). Other definitions by Lovell (1998) and Bozeman (2000) describe technology as not only the expertise encompassed in a product but the application of this expertise in other forms as well. Technology in its different forms has been described as an indispensable tool that the success of

every business depends on whether heavily or otherwise and allows them to get and possibly maintain a competitive edge over competitors (Kolaski, 2018).

Data, which also moves hand in hand in with technology encompasses little different pieces of information, some of which may or may not be relevant for a certain cause (Sanders, 2016). As the definition suggests, data is vast and can come in many different forms, thus leaving the decision to the user as to what they consider relevant or useful. This brings up the discussion of how much data is available to businesses globally and how they can successfully navigate through the plethora of data. Data is growing at rapid rates as new forms of technology are being created and together are spearheading change in economies globally (Kagermann, 2014). As a result, data credibility is has become an issue, forcing firms to become more intentional and strategic about their use of technology and all that comes with it. Unavoidably, this weighs heavily on firms’ monetary resources and time therefore increasing the need for commercially generated reliable firm or industry-specific data especially for entities that cannot afford to manage independent research departments.

With technology came the creation of a ‘virtual universe’ made up of platforms such as the Internet, where data and information is made available to people online. This availability of information on such channels has largely been facilitated by digitization, which is the conversion of data and information into digital form such that it can be read, processed, stored and shared by computers (Bloomberg, 2018). Kagermann (2014) also described digitization as the convergence of real and virtual worlds made possible by Information and Communication Technology, and in addition the connecting of people regardless of geographic location or scope. A study ranking the most important qualities of service delivery to consumers showed that 82% placed high value on speed (Guta, 2018). This estimate may increase further owing to the now fast-paced nature of the

‘digital era’, which makes consumers demand more from their service providers. Similarly, users of data have become keener on getting access to useful and quality data in the shortest possible time.

        Technology and Digitization in Ghana

This research study will cover technological changes and the impact of digitization in the country of Ghana, a West African nation with a population of an estimated 29 million (World Bank, 2019). The country runs under a democratic system of government and has been noted to be one of the most peaceful countries in the West African sub-region. It has chalked many economic successes and has also been described as one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, noting an estimated 6.7% growth in its GDP in the first quarter of 2019 alone (World Bank, 2019). Ghana was interestingly identified as the first African country to get access to internet after its initiation in the year 1994 (ICT Catalogue, 2020). It now houses over 140 ISPs in the country catering for users spread across the nation, and the need for access to reliable internet services has seen the growth in the telecommunications industry which is leading the digital revolution taking place in the nation (ICT Catalogue,2020). Kimura (2015) in an article highlighting the implications of digitization in Ghana, described the phenomenon as “more than just capturing paper records into a digital format”, but also encompassed the complete process of data identification, data accessibility, transformation and storage using technology. However, the proliferation of technology into the Ghanaian system and economy like many African countries has been slower compared to other parts of the world. However, in recent years many African governments including the government of Ghana have made it a point to be more intentional and strategic with the use of technology and embrace digitization in order to stay abreast with the rest of the world. The Finance Minister of Ghana, Mr. Ken Ofori-Atta for example expressed the government’s

intention to focus on digitization, to pave way for innovation and transformation in the nation’s economy (Ghana News Agency, 2019). The government has therefore over the year prioritized partnerships with the private sector, to facilitate the digitization of administrative systems across the country, like that at the ports and immigration offices. The introduction of the paperless port systems, digitized driver license registrations and mobile money interoperability are just a few examples of how the Ghanaian economy has been made digitized (Ghana News Agency,2019). These structures have reaped many benefits, for example increasing transparency in government institutions, easier revenue mobilization and increased financial inclusion across different social classes in the country.

For private businesses in the country as well, having to digitize some part of their business has been inevitable. To remain relevant, businesses must stay abreast of trends which also continue to change quickly in this era. They must also be well prepared for change to meet the needs of customers (Atigah, 2019).

        The State of Research in Ghana

Research shows that most of the data gathered in Ghana currently is neither mined or harvested for value-generation purposes, and often ends up as valueless, unstructured data (Kyerematen-Jimoh, 2018). As expected, data on the research industry is woefully lacking. For commercial research the last ten years has seen an influx of foreign research firms like Ipsos and Kantar into the country, to cater for the steady growing demand for commercial research data. These multinational firms have access to newer and more improved technologies and conduct private research work on their own as well.

Although the presence of such firms offer new opportunities for research to reach new heights in Ghana, their advantaged position puts them at a place that is almost out of the reach of

the typical business entities in Ghana, who may not be able to afford their services. To fill this gap, several indigenous commercial research firms have sprung up, but also face their unique challenges when it comes to expertise. Besides, a good number of trained local researchers either work as consultants to firms or work under research or marketing departments for corporate bodies as opposed to venturing off into private commercial practice which comes with a fair share of challenges. Till date, a unique body by which local researchers can be identified, has not been formally established in the country. This has made access to information about researchers difficult and has put the pooling of resources and expertise almost completely out of the reach of indigenous research practitioners who could have benefitted the most from unionization.

         Problem Statement

The primary role and purpose of research is to facilitate the discovery of ideas and creation of theories to contribute to the development of bodies of knowledge (Morse & Field, 1996). The qualitative branch of research caters for the conceptualization of real life and capturing of unique experiences of people in a manner that keeps this knowledge separate from that of the researcher’s beliefs (Morse & Field, 1996). With the help of technology, qualitative researchers can now not only reach out to more people, but collect, process and distribute findings from their research faster and easier. This has been manifested by the move from the use of analog systems like handwritten notes and tape recordings to collect data to the use of technologies such as transcription software and online meeting rooms now.

The proliferation of technology into qualitative research also brought about digitization, which changed the way and form of information storage and dispersal. Early qualitative researchers who witnessed the beginning of technology proliferation expressed fears about its use altering the known and established analytical and methodological structures in the field since technology came

with its own unique biases (Davidson & Di Gregorio,2007, as cited in Moylan, Derr, & Lindhorst, 2015). For quantitative research however, it has been evident that the correct application of technology has contributed greatly to increasing efficiency, speed and expanding the limits of the researcher without necessarily altering the key structures (National Academy Press, 1989). Owing to these changes, new problems have arisen in the research space that researchers must be aware of in order to preserve the quality of the research they conduct. One such example for qualitative research is the widened gap between the researcher and the subject, which can affect the depth of the research if not checked (Gibbs, Friese & Mangabeira, 2002). Another which could double as an advantage is the characterization of the research industry (qualitative research included) by speed and innovation. This development has increased client expectations of research they pay commercial research firms to provide them with. These commercial research firms now by all means, must find ways rise to the challenge in order to stay relevant and stay in business.