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Comparative epistemologies and research psrsdigms rating MP's

By Paul T. Shipale
Indeed, efficient and effective public service delivery is measured, by among others, the accessibility of the leaders by the public and the launching of an Official Website of the Office of the President, including the conclusion of this Office’s Annual Plan, to consolidate its long term strategies identified in the 2010-2015 Strategic Plan, especially in its strategic themes and objectives of institutional image to enhance a positive image of the President with the primary objective to communicate and reaffirm the office’s functions and identity, to improve the office’s relationship with stakeholders, to effectively use the electronic media and ICT, to deliver timely, accurate, effective communication and support the Office’s Vision, Mission Statement, and Strategic Plan, the launching of the website is clear testimony that the Office of the President is keeping with the values of accountability and transparency and is determined to become an institution of excellence in service delivery as per its stated Vision but that is not my topic for today.

Last week, a local thinktank, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), issued its latest democracy report (No. 5, 2011) in which it has rated the Namibian MPs according to their performances and what individual lawmakers had contributed to debates in Parliament as indicated in the Hansard over a threemonth period from February to April 2011. According to the report, being pro-active is one of the Hallmarks of conduct for leaders of opposition parties but this is not what is happening in parliament, when two opposition leaders, namely, Jesaya Nyamu, RDP’s Secretary General and SWANU’s President Usutuaije Maamberua, are the only ones involved and engaged in debates while the rest are not providing alternative arguments within the framework of Parliamentary discourse, concluded the report.

Back in 2009 an assessment report on the performance of MPs, over a two year period, from September 2005 to October 2007, indicated that during that time some MPs had hardly uttered a word in the chambers.

This time around, among the top ten worst performers, seven did not record a single line in the Hansard while three others recorded a single entry-line, seven and fourteen lines each. Meanwhile, the top ten performers had an average of 450 entry-lines compared to only twenty-two recorded lines between the worst performers.

The difference in activeness is stark and raises questions about some MPs’ fitness to be in the legislature because, according to the report again, if MPs do not contribute to key debates around crucial issues affecting society, then their representation has little meaning.

As MPs activeness declines even further, people demand answers as to why some are mute in the chambers and some of these lawmakers now want to play the blame game. Of all the current angst and frustration, everyday working men and women are not about to be fooled twice by slick talk, well-packaged doublespeak and smooth progressive rhetoric.

Nevertheless, I would like to question the veracity of the report when it indicated who the top performers are.

How did they arrive at that conclusion, which criteria, research paradigms, and methods did they use? And how accurate are their findings or should we conclude that this report is just another tool to sideline some MPs or depict them in bad light while seeking to promote others and sell them as future presidential and Prime Ministers? After all, is not long ago, when a certain American University decided to give an award to one of its alumni to boost his standing in the then Congressional Presidential contest. To start with, Epistemology poses the following questions: What is the relationship between the knower and what is known?

How do we know what we know? What counts as knowledge? Understanding the differences in epistemology among research paradigms begins primarily as a philosophical exercise. The ability of qualitative data analysis to generate meaning makes it a unique and powerful epistemological tool for understanding even seemingly mundane experiences.

According to Becker (1996, The Everyday World: Making Room for the Unanticipated section, para. 2), the general idea is that we act in the world on the basis of assumptions we never inspect but just act on, secure in the belief that when we do others will react as we expect them to. Leadership scholars seeking to answer questions about culture and meaning have found experimental and quantitative methods to be insufficient on their own in explaining the phenomenon they wish to study. As a result, qualitative research has gained momentum as a mode of inquiry.

This trend has roots in the development of the New Leadership School, (Conger, 1999; Hunt, 1999), on the recent emergence of an approach to leadership that views it as a relational phenomenon (Fletcher, 2002), and on the increased recognition of the strengths of qualitative inquiry generally.

Shank (2002) defines qualitative research as “a form of systematic empirical inquiry into meaning” (p. 5). By systematic he means “planned, ordered and public”, following rules agreed upon by members of the qualitative research community. By empirical, he means that this type of inquiry is grounded in the world of experience.

Inquiry into meaning says researchers try to understand how others make sense of their experience.

With the observation method used by the IPPR, we are far from this truth or do they mean to tell us that one can simply choose a leader by direct observation or listening to their smooth slick talks? The advantages of doing qualitative research on leadership include (Conger, 1998; Bryman et al, 1988; Alvesson, 1996): flexibility to follow unexpected ideas during research and explore processes effectively;

sensitivity to contextual factors;

ability to study symbolic dimensions and social meaning; increased opportunities to develop empirically supported new ideas and theories; for in-depth and longitudinal explorations of leadership phenomena; and for more relevance and interest for practitioners. Since, from our own point of view, each of us experiences a different reality, as such, the phenomenon of “multiple realities” exists. Thus, different modes of research allow us to understand different phenomena and for different reasons (Deetz, 1996). The methodology chosen depends on what one is trying to do rather than a commitment to a particular paradigm (Cavaye, 1996).

In recent years, however, methodology has been increasingly used as a pretentious substitute for method in scientific and a technical context. People may have taken to this practice by influence of the adjective methodological to mean “pertaining to methods.”

Methodological may have acquired this meaning because people had already been using the more ordinary adjective methodical to mean “orderly, systematic.” But the misuse of methodology obscures an important conceptual distinction between the tools of scientific investigation (properly methods) and the principles.

Generally speaking, methodology, unlike method (which systematically details a given procedure or process), does not describe specific methods despite the attention given to the nature and kinds of processes to be followed in a given procedure or in attaining an objective. It is for this reason that unless the IPPR shed more light on the method used and their paradigm of research as well as the criteria used, their report stands to be rejected as inaccurate, unreliable and thus invalid.

Nevertheless, the most fundamental aspect of a human social setting is that of meanings. These are the linguistic categories that make up a participant’s view of reality and with which actions are defined. Meanings are also referred to by social analysts as culture, norms, understandings, social reality, and definitions of the situation, typifications, ideology, beliefs, worldview, perspective or stereotypes (Lofland & Lofland, 1996). Meanings vary in terms of the breadth or range of situations to which they apply.

There are those that are lifeencompassing in scope, claiming to encompass virtually any topic that might arise. Such schemes are often called “ideologies,” “ w o r l d v i e w s , ” “Weltanschauungs,” or “philosophies” (Lofland & Lofland, 1996). From these, Epistemological and ontological assumptions are then translated into distinct methodological strategies. The goal of a qualitative investigation is to understand the complex world of human experience and behaviour from the point-of-view of those involved in the situation of interest. Therefore, the investigator is expected not to have an a priori, welld e l i n e a t e d conceptualization of the phenomenon; rather, this conceptualization is to emerge from the interaction between participants and investigator.

Flexibility in design, data collection, and analysis of research is strongly recommended to gain “deep” understanding and valid representation of the participants’ viewpoints (Sidani & Sechrest, 1996). One doubts if this is what transpired with the IPPR report.

Within the data analysis process itself, although subjective understanding is expected to be reached through the exchange of ideas, interaction, and agreement between the researcher and participant, the researcher avoids imposing his or her views, sets aside any preconceived knowledge, and is open, sensitive, and empathetic to the participants’ responses. Qualitative investigators are also encouraged to record their own biases, feelings, and thoughts and to state them explicitly in the research report (Creswell, 1994). According to Becker (1996), all social scientists, implicitly or explicitly, attribute a pointof- view and interpretations to the people whose actions are analyzed. That is, qualitative researchers always describe how they interpret the events their respondents participate in, so the only question is not whether it should be interpreted, but how it is done.

Now here is where I take issues and beg to differ with the IPPR because, on one hand, they did not seem to have set aside their pre-conceived views if any nor did they, on the other hand, indicate or record their biases and thoughts if any, yet went on to implicitly and explicitly state their own conclusions.

The question that comes to mind therefore is; How do we know that the IPPR ‘thinktank’ is actually not seeking to promote some people on the expense of others for political convenience? In other words, how do we know they are not biased in their findings? Is three months, enough time to conduct such a research?

What if some MPS were on IPS, PAP, and some other committees? Did the IPPR expect the speaker, who is supposed to be neutrally presiding, to be rated? How about, the internal mechanisms of caucusing and assigning some MPs to speak on behalf of a party? What about the seniors who are expected to speak only on some issues of utmost importance?

I don’t think the IPPR considered all these facts before concluding who the top performers are. Unless, they come up with a more reliable and accurate method different from their direct observation, I doubt the accuracy of their findings.

I still remember how some people were called at the last minute before some newly formed parties were formally instituted at their congress while dressed up in one party’s attires with a head gear from another party which clearly showed that they waved and are now suspected to be nominated as future PMs yet again. We shouldn’t try to sell the good image of some leaders on the expense of others by PR exercises. Individuals will come and go and principles should survive individuals’ ambitions.

We should therefore also not pre-empt the outcome of the highest decision making organs of the Parties by having some anointed leaders and contextualising the debate on tribal tentacles but perhaps one way to dissipate the fears of some of these politicians is to guarantee that they get retirement packages?

Disclaimer: These views do not necessarily represent the views of my employer nor am I paid to write them.





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