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RESEARCH METHOD

CHAPTER SEVEN: RESEARCH METHOD

7.1 Introduction This chapter describes the research method adopted in this study. To begin with, it discusses the design of the survey questionnaire and the selection of sample respondents for the postal questionnaire survey. Next, statistical tools for data analysis and the rationale behind the selection of various methods for data analysis are discussed. Lastly, the method of case study approach for verifying the proposed model is described.

The research design comprises: Questionnaire survey Case study.

7.2 Questionnaire survey The goal of the questionnaire survey was to test the Construction Waste Minimization model (see Figure 6.2). It also attempted to capture an overview of the current level of waste generation within construction projects carried out by local contractors. A survey provides a fast and efficient means of gathering information with regards to the respondents perception about the industry in this aspect.

There are several ways to collect data. These include personal interviews, on site observation and postal surveys. Site observation was not adopted because this method was time consuming. It was also difficult to carry out as site workers may be suspicious

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of an onlooker. Furthermore, the presence of an observer on site may cause biasness (Tan, 2002). Most importantly, the findings of site observation need to be validated through interviews which make this method not feasible (Fowler, 2002). Personal interview was not adopted because the selection of informants may be biased (Holt, 1997). The method was not used as it requires trained interviewers who understand the purpose of the research and can probe without being directive (Hussey and Hussey, 1997). In addition, it is rather subjective, which makes data interpretation difficult and the findings difficult to generalise (Fowler, 2002). There also exists a temptation to use only data that fits the researchers explanatory framework (Holt, 1997). Personal interview was not used due to limited reliability and repeatability of the study, and much depends on the researchers focus and skill (Tan, 2002). Postal survey is a form of an impersonal method of data collection, it involves a self-administered questionnaire in which access and return is through the post (Fowler, 2002). This made data processing and analysis cheaper (Fowler, 2002). Moreover, this method makes costs relating to access much lower.

There are altogether several different types of data collection instruments, each with its own specific attributes, thereby acquiring specific uses. The variety of data collection methods that can be used range from questionnaires, interviews, observations to interviews. Questionnaires are adopted in this study due to its suitability. Postal questionnaires survey is a form of an impersonal method of data collection, it involves a self-administered questionnaire in which access and return is through the post (Fowler,

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2002). This made data processing and analysis cheaper (Fowler, 2002). Moreover, this method makes costs relating to access much lower.

Notwithstanding the limitations, this research adopted the postal survey method to collect data because: a) the population of interest is geographically dispersed (Hussey and Hussey, 1997), b) this method reduces biasing error since the postal survey is impersonal whereby there is no face-to-face interaction involved that might result from the personal characteristics of the interviewers and the variability in their skills (Holt, 1997), c) anonymity would be achieved as there is an absence of an interviewer (Holt, 1997), d) it allows the respondents to have greater time to respond to the questionnaires, consider a question or to consult documents (Tan, 2002).

There are several disadvantages associated with the postal survey. This method requires simple questions, thus a postal survey can be used to gather data only when the questions are straightforward enough to be understood and answered on the basis of printed instructions and definitions (Holt, 1997). The questions need to be closed and quantitative (Tan, 2002). The postal survey also gives no opportunity to probe beyond the given answer, to clarify ambiguous answers, and to appraise the non-verbal behaviour of respondents (Hussey and Hussey, 1997). Another drawback of this instrument is that there exists no control over who fills out the questionnaire. It might turn out that someone other than the intended respondent may have done so (Holt, 1997). This data collection method also produces one of the lowest response rates (Tan, 2002).

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7.2.1 Questionnaire design Two questionnaires were designed for the purpose of identifying waste minimization strategies for both main contractors and subcontractors. The main contractors questionnaire survey consisted of five sections. Section A required the respondents to provide broad information about themselves, and the companys background. Section B was related to the waste minimization policies of the particular construction firm. Section C aimed at gathering more details on the benefits and difficulties in the implementation of waste minimization strategies. Section D was designed with the intention of obtaining information on the various causes of waste generation among subcontractors. In addition, it also looked at how relevant the waste minimization strategies were. Section E explored the relevance of each of the methods to minimize wastage in a construction project. A copy of the questionnaire is shown in Appendix B.

Similarly, the subcontractor questionnaire was divided into five parts. Section A was made up of introductory questions such as the type of subcontracting system provided and the main area in which the company specialized. Section B comprised statements regarding the waste minimization policies of the particular construction firm. Section C invited respondents to comment on the relevance of the reasons and various limitations that influence subcontractors decisions to implement waste minimization strategies on site. Section C examined the relevance of each of the methods to minimize wastage in a construction project. The questionnaire can be found in Appendix C.

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The questionnaires comprised close-ended questions and were constructed using the Likert scale. This mode of preference indication was deemed most preferable as compared to other modes of attitude scales, such as the Thurstone scale or the Sematicdifferential scale. The Likert scale was easy to construct and could be easily understood by the respondents. It allowed the respondents a wider range of choices as compared to the Thurstone scale, thus enabling the collection of more information. Moreover, it is easier to contemplate than the Sematic-differential scale when answering the questions (Berdie et al., 1986).

For the purpose of statistical analysis, numbers were assigned to each anchor. The anchors used in Sections C, D and E were: Not relevant at all (=1); Not so relevant (=2); Neutral (=3); Relevant (=4); Very relevant (=5).

In the Singapore construction industry, the key players are often encounter construction waste in one way or another. Therefore there is common knowledge among practitioners of what constitutes construction waste. Thus, the respondents to the questionnaire survey were not provided with a definition of waste.

Again, under such circumstances, the respondents were not asked for their views on the definition of construction waste, thus the definitions of waste covered in the literature review were not tested in the questionnaire.

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The questionnaires were self-administered. Detailed instructions on how to fill up the questionnaires were given at the beginning. A survey of this nature suffers from the possibility that the respondents would not think seriously through the questions before answering them and the possibility of bias (Nkado, 1995). Before sending out the questionnaires, telephone enquiries were made with the selected construction companies and the names of the managing director of the firm were recorded.

7.2.2 Survey package Each of the questionnaires was accompanied by a cover letter (see Appendix A), introducing the theme and objectives of the study. The complete survey package

comprised the cover letter, questionnaire, as well as a pre-stamped reply envelope. It was addressed to the managing director of the firm indicating the objectives of the study. The letter provided an option for the respondent to have a copy of the results. The respondents were asked to return the completed questionnaire as early as possible, but no deadline was specified.

Oppenheim (1983) expresses the opinion that data obtained by means of interviews and questionnaires should always be regarded as confidential. The cover letter that accompanied the questionnaire assured confidentiality and all of the informal contacts over the phone with potential respondents confirmed this.

7.2.3 Pilot testing A pilot survey is usually carried out among a small sample before a full-scale industrywide survey is implemented (Lim and Low, 1992). Walker (1997) suggested that pilot
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studies help to clarify research question boundaries, and make the research more focused. Before the actual survey for the study was carried out, the questionnaire was pre-tested by distributing it to 30 construction professionals. These selected candidates varied in age, gender, educational level and experience in using waste minimization strategies. The purposes of the pilot survey were to test the questionnaire to ensure that it is coherent and comprehensible; that the data collected would be accurate; and that meaningful data analysis can be carried out subsequently (Kometa, 1995; Ling, 1998). Furthermore, the pre-test was to obtain feedback on any difficulties encountered in doing the survey.

Altogether 18 completed questionnaires were collected from the pilot survey. Common comments on the questionnaire were that certain questions were repetitive and respondents faced difficulties in understanding the requirements of some questions. The sentences were reworded to improve upon the initial questionnaire. Many respondents also suggested rearranging the layout of the questionnaire to make it shorter and more appealing.

7.2.4 Sampling The selection of construction companies for the survey was based on probability sampling, using the simple random sampling technique. In this technique, every unit had an equal chance of selection (Silver, 1997). The limitation of this sampling method was that members of a subgroup of interest may not be included in appropriate proportions (Silver, 1997). In probability sampling, it is important to distinguish between three groups: the population, the sampling frame and the sample. The population refers to the

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group from which the sample was drawn and to which the findings were to be generalized. The sampling frame is a listing or operational definition of all of the population elements. The sample referred to the subset of the population that was selected as respondents (Babbie, 1986). The analyzed data was then generalized to the population. The target sample size was set at 200 for the main contractors in order to obtain an adequate number of responses so that the findings are generalizable. The research plan was also to survey 200 subcontractors. However, only 100 subcontractors could be contacted because the addresses of some of the registered subcontractors and the database maintained by the Singapore Contractors Association Limited (SCAL) of the Singapore List of Trade Subcontractors (SLOTS) were out of date.

As the questionnaire survey was carried out before the implementation of the revised contractor registration system, the old Building and Construction Authority (BCA) financial classification (G1 to G8) was used to determine main contractor samples.

The BCA maintains the registry of contractors under the different work heads of General Building, Civil Engineering, and Piling. Besides being categorized under the relevant workheads, contractors are further graded under appropriate financial classifications, based on their turnover, financial capacity, track records and professional manpower. A contractors financial classification determines his tendering capacity. Financial classifications and respective tendering capacities defined by BCA in 2001 are shown in Table 7.1.

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There were 1638 BCA-registered General Building contractors (CW01) within all financial categories of G1 to G8. After considering the type of questions and type of responses needed for the intended study, it was decided that the postal survey should be conducted by sending the survey package only to large contractors consisting of G5, G6 G7 and G8 BCA registered General Building contractors because it would be much easier to get valid respond from them as they have a high turnover, superior financial capacity, good track records and professional manpower to give a reliable response.

Table 7.1 BCA registered contractor category and tendering limit Financial category Tendering capacity ($ million)
Source: BCA (2001)

G1 0.5

G2 1

G3 3

G4 5

G5 10

G6 30

G7 50

G8 Above 50

As for the subcontractors, the sampling frame was made up of Singapore Contractors Association Limited (SCAL) registered subcontractors under the Singapore List of Trade Subcontractors (SLOTS).

7.3 Data processing for questionnaire survey Collection of information was carried out via two methods. Firstly, a mail survey was conducted among general building contractors who were registered with the BCA and subcontractors in SLOTS.

The response rate from a postal survey may be low and this will lead to the results being biased towards those who were selected to respond (Silver, 1997). One way to increase
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the response rate was to send personal mail to the person who was most likely to answer the questionnaire. Finding the required persons name and obtaining his willingness to answer the questionnaire before mailing it was difficult and time-consuming, but it was more effective as compared to mailing to the company address. It increased the control over who actually completed the questionnaire. In this research, all the selected construction companies were contacted by telephone before posting the survey package. However, some companies offered to give the questionnaires to the suitable persons after they received them. In that case, those packages were mailed to the company address. Another step adopted to increase the response rate was by visiting construction sites and getting the respective project managers to fill up the questionnaire-based survey forms. Furthermore, all steps were taken to simplify the questionnaire and maintain the same answer pattern throughout the questionnaire.

After the answered survey forms were returned to the author, the responses were edited to ensure completeness, consistency and readability. Once the data had been checked, they were arranged in a form that enabled it to be analyzed. Quantifiable data from the questionnaires was coded into the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS 10.0) for analysis. SPSS 10.0 was selected because it was considered to be user-friendly. Statistical techniques were then employed to analyze the data collected from the survey.

Both descriptive and inferential statistics were used as tools of evaluation in the data analysis. The sample frequency was used to make statistical inferences about the main contractor and subcontractor populations on issues related to the study. A brief discussion

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on the statistical techniques chosen for this research and the rationale behind them is presented below.

7.3.1 Mean relevance rating The mean is utilized as a measure of central tendency. A high mean relevance rating would mean that the factor under consideration is important (Sprinthall, 1987).

The mean of the n numbers x1, x2,...,xn is X = (x1 + x2 + + xn )/ n Equation 7.1

7.3.2 Standard deviation The standard deviation is defined as a measure of variability that indicates how much all the values in a distribution typically deviate or vary from the mean (Sprinthall, 1987). Standard deviation is computed by taking the square root of the variance, that is, the mean of the squared differences between the value of each case in the distribution and the value of the mean. It provides information on the dispersion or spread of values around the mean in the sample (Babbie, 1986).

The standard deviation of a set of n numbers, x1, x2, xn , with mean X is given by S, where

S=

( x

- X)

k = 1, 2, , n

Equation 7.2

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where xk= the value of each response, X = the sample mean, n= the sample size.

7.3.3 One-sample t-test T-tests are used in testing the hypothesis about means of quantitative variables. They include two-sample (independent), paired (dependent), and one-sample t-tests (Sirkin, 1995). In this study, the one-sample t-test is used.

Performing a one-tailed test at 95% confidence interval determines whether variables are statistically significant. If the value of the t-statistic lies in the critical region, the null hypothesis is rejected and the t-statistic is said to be statistically insignificant. On the other hand, if the value of the t-statistic lies in the acceptance region, the null hypothesis is not rejected and the statistic is said to be statistically insignificant. A hypothesis that is not rejected does not mean that it is true. Its acceptance is only relative to the evidence provided by the sample (Sirkin, 1995).

T-test Formula:

t=

X S n

Equation 7.3

The goal in a one-sample t-test is to determine if the mean of a single variable deviates from a hypothetical population value. The one-sample test is used to test the null hypothesis (Babbie, 1986). The test is based on a normal distribution, because the

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populations standard deviation is unknown. In order to use a normal distribution, the populations mean () and standard deviation (), must be known (Sirkin, 1995).

For the statistical test associated with a t-test to be valid, the following assumptions must be made (Silver, 1997): The variable x is measured on an interval or ratio scale. The sample measurements represent a random sample from a normal population.

A one-tailed test was performed to test each of the variables in the survey form. The following hypothesis was set up. H0: 3 (variable is not significant) H1: > 3 (variable is significant).

As mentioned earlier, each anchor was assigned a number for statistical analysis purposes. The mean = 3 is taken as the testing point as it represents the neutral point on the measuring scale of 5. Comparing either the t-statistic with the critical value or probability value (p-value) with 0.05, a decision can be made to reject or accept the null hypothesis.

To find the critical value, the t-distribution table is used. The number of respondents who are main contractors and subcontractors are 56 and 22 respectively (see Sections 8.3.1 and 8.4.1 respectively). With the degree of freedom at n-1 and significance level at 5%, the critical value is found to be 1.674 when the degree of freedom is 55 (main

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contractors) and 1.721 when the degree of freedom is 21 (subcontractors). Hence the null hypothesis is accepted if t 1.674/1.721; and is rejected if t >1.674/1.721.

Alternatively, the null hypothesis is accepted if p-value 0.05 and is rejected if p-value < 0.05. On the other hand, at the 5% level of significance, the null hypothesis is rejected if the significance level of the one-tailed t-test is less than 0.05, which concludes that the variable is statistically significant. Finally, only variables with a one-tailed significance level < 0.05 and a t-value falling within the critical region at the lower end are selected.

As the statistical software only provides the p-value of the two-tailed t-test, the values obtained need to be further processed to obtain the p-value of the one-tailed t-test which is required for this study. The procedure is dependent on the direction of the hypothesis. In the event that the entire rejection region is contained in the upper tail of the sampling distribution of the test statistic, the p-value provided by the software would either be divided by 2, if the sample mean X is greater than the test value for the population mean ; or divided by 2 and then deducted from 1, if the sample mean X is not greater than the test value for the population mean . On the other hand, if the entire rejection region is contained in the lower tail of the sampling distribution of the test statistic, the reverse procedure should be carried out (Sprinthall, 1987).

7.3.4 Pearson Correlation Coefficient Correlation studies are performed to examine association between two or more variables (Sliver, 1997) . In this case, the study first assessed the association between the need for

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waste minimization strategies and the eight key waste minimization strategies. Secondly, it analyzes the association between the four perceive causes of construction waste generation and the level of construction waste generation on site. In this study, Pearson Correlation analysis was undertaken. The Pearson Correlation Coefficient is a measure of linear association between 2 variables (Sirkin, 1995). It is useful when attempting to determine if there is a significant relationship between two variables (Babbie, 1986). Values of the correlation coefficient (r) range from -1 to +1. The absolute value of the correlation coefficient indicates the strength of the linear relationship between the variables, with larger absolute values indicating stronger relationships. The sign of the coefficient indicates the direction of the relationship (Sprinthall, 1987).

The Pearson Correlation Coefficient is calculated from two variables (X and Y), usually with interval or ratio level data. Each variable is assigned a score based on its distance from the mean and these scores are then cross multiplied for each subject, and then summed (Sliver, 1997). Pearson Correlation Coefficient r:
r = S xy / S xx S yy

Equation 7.4 Equation 7.5 Equation 7.6

where

S xy = XY (X )(Y ) / n

S xx = X 2 (X ) / n
2

and S yy = Y 2 (Y ) / n
2

Equation 7.7

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7.4 Case study After the Construction Waste Minimization model was tested quantitatively with the data from the survey, it was validated qualitatively to ensure that it will work in a real life project. The purpose of the case study was also to test that the links (+,-) are correctly designed (see Section 6.2.3). Cusack (1984) highlighted that models are not expected to be perfectly correct and it is highly unlikely that complete accuracy will ever be achieved. He stressed that a model can never be true and at best can only represent a logical deduction drawn from an imperfect set of assumptions.

Several methods are available to validate models. This research adopted the case study approach (Stake, 1995) to verify the model. Site observations and interviews with contractors of three projects, were undertaken in order to collect data for model verification. A number of researchers have adopted the case study approach in their research (Chan, 2000; Rowlinson, 2001; Awakul and Ogunlana, 2002). Whilst a survey is used to collect information from a much larger number of respondents, a case study aims mainly to probe intensively using a small number of cases (Tan, 2002).

The case studies were used to illustrate the effectiveness of the proposed Construction Waste Minimization model. In the case studies, special attention was paid to the causes of construction waste generation and how the model encourages a self-actuating learning process. Most importantly, the validating process showed that the model could be used to determine waste generation situations and minimization methods in a typical construction project.

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7.5 Summary The research methodology of this study was discussed in this chapter. A description of how the survey was administered and the various sections in the questionnaire were highlighted. Subsequently, the statistical tools for data analysis and the rationale behind the selection of various methods for data analysis were discussed. With this background, statistical results obtained from the raw data are discussed in Chapter 8. The case study approach adopted has also been discussed in this chapter.

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