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Purpose of the research

The purpose of this research is to understand if and if so to what extent the performance of a national football team can influence the external perception of a nation brand. If this would be the case it would give football a completely new dimension and importance, especially as it has a bigger audience than most other cultural and even political activities.  Sport, and in this case football, would transform from a substitute of war or entertainment and opium for the masses to an important communication tool on the international stage. If implemented into an overall nation brand strategy this could indirectly tip the balance in favour of a nation and its citizen and stimulate positive growth in all areas. First of all, the nature of the underlying problem needs to be explored and different specialist perspectives need to be taken into account.  Before outlining the rational and the actual research method used, the foundational methodology of researcher and topic will be discussed.

Two suns in the sunset – a perception of reality

Research methodology is basically divided into two camps: On one side the positivistic one, on the other side the nominalistic one.

In the positivistic approach a single apprehensible reality exists. Subject and object are seen as separate entities that are independent of each other and therefore exert no influence on each other– “the data and its analysis are value-free and data do not change because they are being observed (Healy and Perry, 2000, p.120).”  This worldview can be predominantly found in science, “however, a positivist approach is inappropriate when approaching a social science phenomenon like marketing networks which involve humans and their real-life experiences, for treating respondents as independent, non-reflective objects ‘ignores their ability to reflect on problem situations, and act on these’ in interdependent way” (Healy and Perry, 2000, p.120). Science is limiting when only using the traditional, reductionistic approach, but needs to “emphasis the complementary aspect: the assembling and the unifying” (Lutterer, 2005, p.498).  A brand and a nation – as discussed in the literature review – are successful when in repeated voluntary interaction with all stake-holders and are ultimately influenced and defined by this exchange, which is supported by Balmer’s AC²ID model outlining that several perceived identities exist at the same time.

Subsequently this research asks for an interpretivistic world view based in the camp of nominalism. Ken Wilber developed integral theory – “an overarching model of human and social development that attempts to incorporate as many approaches to development as possible into its explanatory framework” (Cacioppe and Edwards, 2005, p.89).  Integral theory is based on four quadrants that are “four perspectives of reality and are the foundational domains of development” (Cacioppe and Edwards, 2005, p.90). The quadrants are based along the axis of the interior-exterior dimension (inner-outer) and the interaction of the individual-communal dimension (I-we) and the interaction of these domains results into consciousness (I-inner), behaviour (I-outer), culture (We-inner) and social (We-outer). Any change or development in one of the dimensions leads to change and/or development in the others (Wilber, 2001). On top of the four quadrants lie levels and lines of development – “for the individual these include moral, interpersonal, cognitive, spiritual and affective lines” (Cacioppe and Edwards, 2005, p.92) – which represent a dynamic process of development to higher order consciousness due to changing life conditions.

Talja et al argue that within the nominalist camp three metatheories exist: cognitive constructivism, social constructivism (also called collectivism) and constructionism. All three share that “the mind constructs reality in its relationship to the world” (Talja et al, 2005, p.81). The difference between the first two being that social constructivism argues that “this mental process is significantly informed by influences received from societal convention, history and interaction with significant others” (Talja, et al, 2005, p.81), while cognitive constructivism does not accept any other outside influence, which in itself sums up all the critique levered against this metatheory. Talja et al cite Frohmann (1992, p.84) saying that cognitive constructivism is characterised by the “erasure of the social”, which ultimately would also render ethics meaningless (Andrew, 2004). For an individual “to operate effectively and to survive” (Andrew, 2004, p. 1393), the individual has to interact effectively with the external world. Pure cognitive constructivism also focuses only on two quadrants of Wilber’s integral map, the individual ones but neglects the communal dimension.

Constructionism argues that knowledge creation is mainly based on language, social constructivism, however, has a more convincing outlook in that “knowledge is constructed through – and embedded within – action, it provides an internal determinant for subsequent actions, which in turn modify the internal knowledge of the individual. In this way, the individual-as-actor constructs internal knowledge of facts, values and procedures through ongoing interaction between his or her internalised knowledge and his or her participation in the external world. Knowledge is both explicit in that it can be communicated through language and implicit or tacit in that it can be embedded within particular activities (Talja et al, 2005, p.87).” This seems to represent all four quadrants of Wilber’s integral theory and allows experience through action to form a nation brand which is line with the argument of crowd psychology and the element of style in a national football team’s performance as discussed in the critical literature review.

Another characteristic of social constructivism is the “view of professional groups and domains as thought-collectives” (Talja, et al, 2005, p.89) – while the communication between members of the same thought-collective flow, communication between members of different thought collectives proves difficult.

The author’s knowledge creation and interpretation of reality is based and founded on social constructivism. Several consequences subsequently arise from the discussion about knowledge creation:

  1. Individuals are actors and objectivity does not exist nor does the subject-object division.
  2. The observer is part of the observing system and therefore influences all observations. This needs to be taken into account, as discussed by second order cybernetics (Beyes, 2005, Julià, 2000)
  3. There is an underlying order of the world (one reality) and many perceptions of reality (Similar to the third world in Popper’s realism as described by Healy and Perry, 2000).
  4. The individual interprets actions based on culture, up-bringing and previous decisions.
  5. The human being is not static but constantly evolving, hence perceptions of reality and interpretations change depending on the change in their life conditions.
  6. There is a need for self-reflection and self-referencing (Julià, 2000), as constructivism is only relevant when in relationship to the external world.
  7. The ethical imperative of acting is such as the number of choices increases (Von Foerster, 1993), as it also reflects the movement to higher order consciousness, however, it needs to be taken into account that lower value systems will not understand and therefore disagree with this consequence.
  8. Therefore, decisions are being made precisely because of the increasing number of choices and the arising uncertainties.

The underlying foundation of this dissertation is based on the work of Professor Clare Graves and the subsequently developed Spiral Dynamics approach by Beck and Cowan (1996), which integrates the eight  consequences above and is used by Wilber to “elucidate various aspects of his integral approach” (Cacioppe and Edwards, 2005, p.92). Spiral Dynamics helps to draw attention to the different stage of personal subjective as well as social/cultural developments as “cultures, as well as countries” are formed by the emergence of value systems (social stages) in response to life conditions” (Beck, 2006). The critical literature review has shown that culture is an important factor in the definition and the distinction of a nation brand.

In this bio-psycho-socio model the individual is moving up and down through various stages of development, influenced by the external environment – culture and life conditions. Even though individuals at the same stage share certain aspects and criteria and are categorised in value systems, the manifestation itself and the interpretation there of are – based on the dynamism and the multi-dimensions – individual. There are many different perspectives of reality and every action always needs to be contextualised against the cultural backdrop. The individual ultimately creates his/her own reality and different value systems often do not understand the perceptions of reality by other value systems. Cowan and Todorovic (2000, p.6) argue that Spiral Dynamics is “the study of emergence and patterns of deep values that …structure leader/follower relationships, establish decision structures and define reality”, those deep values influencing the more visible layers of hidden values – “a small set of timeless guiding principles that require no external justification” (Collins and Poras as cited in Cowan and Todorovic, 2000, p.6) – and surface values – “openly stated, moral positions and behavioural rules” (Cowan and Todorovic, 2000, p.6). The similarities and relationship between social constructivism and spiral dynamics becomes apparent.

To summarise:

The topic of this dissertation lends itself generally to an interpretivist method, as a positivist method would struggle with the following five problems:

“1. The problems are inherently complex

2. Problems cross discipline boundaries

3. Technical matters are rarely at the root of the problem

4. Problems don’t have an independent life of their own

5. Problems are culturally relative” (Jankowicz, 2005, p.114-115)

Knowledge creation is based on the metatheory of social constructivism and uses Spiral Dynamics as a framework to illustrate the different stages of development, its influences on perceptions of reality and its consequences on the research topic.

Research method and research technique

Based on the position above, the nature of the research is exploratory and follows an inductive approach instead of the positivistic approach (Hines, 2000).

As the research topic crosses discipline boundaries, key informant interviews were chosen, with interviewees being chosen “on the basis of their idiosyncratic, specialised knowledge rather than being randomly chosen” (Jankowicz, 2005, p.276). Social constructivism refers to thought-collectives, so the sample of the expert interviewees will be based on representatives of four thought-collectives with a perceived influence on the dissertation topic:

  1. Expertise: football across different cultures
  2. Expertise: nation branding
  3. Expertise: government’s position on destination branding
  4. Expertise: participant in a World Cup and international football player

It was decided to use interviews instead of focus groups for three reasons. The first one is a practical one, it would be very difficult due to location and time constraints to assemble all four experts in one room. The other two reasons are from a methodological nature as interviews:

  • cater best for the heterogeneous nature of the interviewees and their beliefs and values (Kvale, 1996; Hines, 2000)
  • controversial views can be expressed while focus group lead to general consensus (Stokes and Bergin, 2006)

Based on the underlying hypothesis, some broad questions and a rough idea of the content were kept in mind and used as a loose structure. This enables the researcher to detect patterns and keep the interview on track (Jones, 1985), while at the same benefiting from the interviewees’ expertise and knowledge and allowing the expression of opinions and beliefs. Using open questions thought to minimise the intrusion of the researcher’s own views into the outcome (Hines, 2000).

Personal interviews also allow for the flexibility, clarity, quality of the data that are needed to discuss such a wide ranging topic, and – if necessary – can be followed up for further questioning as the respondents are identifiable. The disadvantages listed by Toon (1999) are outweighed due to the possibility of using electronic communication as well as the researcher being the author and therefore having no interest in cheating and no need in supervising other researchers.  Nevertheless, special consideration has to be given to the interviewer bias.

In interviews the risk of bias is considered higher than in any other approach (Zikmund, 2000), the researcher therefore intended to follow – as far as possible – the guidelines and skills for conducting qualitative research by Strauss and Corbin (1990). Nevertheless a certain interviewer bias is possible as a result from the discussion of the research topic in the critical literature review as well as through new insights gained during or at the end of the individual interviews (Jones, 1985) as the researcher becomes part of what is being observed (Hines, 2000). At the same time his dominant value system will influence the interpretation as he will be “affected by the coloured lenses of their own deep values glasses – we all are” (Cowan and Todorovic, 2000, p.10). The author himself has also filled out a questionnaire (which can be accessed at to establish his own dominant value system (“yellow”), which therefore allows for self-reflection which is necessary to observe the observer.

Another limitation of an interview is the danger of people adjusting to “what they tell another person according to what they think that person wants or expects to hear” (Smith and Fletcher, 2001, p.119), this is perceived as of little concern as all participants are seasoned professionals with own opinions, who are unlikely to change and adapt to the interviewers’ expectations. Once the dominant value system of the interviewees is established, this likelihood can be taken into account.

The Participants

As discussed above experts from four fields of influence on the dissertation topic have been recruited. Below are listed details about each participant.

Expertise Football across different cultures Nation Branding Government’s position on destination branding Participant in football world cup
Profession Member of coaching staff of a European club Consultant Brand Manager for a nation International football player
Gender Male Male Male Male
Nationality Swedish British British British
Interviewed By phone By phone By phone By Phone

The Process

Before the interview, the participants received a pre-notification communication, explaining the purpose of the study and the interview. It also includes an assurance of confidentiality, which was repeated again at the beginning of the actual interviews.

As time constraints and locations needed to be considered the participants were given a choice between a face-to-face, phone or email interview. A face-to-face interview obviously is preferable as also non-verbal clues can be detected (Burgess, 1982), nevertheless it was more important to gain access to the participants, especially given the time constraint. As the interviews were not seen as a comparative analysis, the different modi operandi were seen as acceptable, especially as the interviews were those of key informants with specialised knowledge. All experts chose a telephone interview, which meant that no recordings were possible but notes were taken during the interview. Time constraints and difficult access outweighs any concerns about accuracy. The experts all gave their consent for further contact via email if further clarification should be needed.

The trust of interviewees towards the interviewer is seen as an important factor for the effectiveness of the interview (Easterby-Smith et al., 1991). This factor was overcome to a certain extent by the fact that both parties were introduced via trusted third parties or already had an established relationship.

The researcher used the probing technique with its seven varieties (Easterby-Smith et al., 1997) to elicit a more focused response and to clarify others. At the same time the interviewer made sure that the interviewer bias was kept to a minimum.

Once the primary data has been collected it has be used to establish common themes across all four expert fields by way of triangulation, in this way a synthesis of the different perceived realities and perspectives can be achieved while at the same time highlighting the differences.

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