Utilizing Exploratory Qualitative Data Collection in Small Organizations: Consulting for the Multicultural Community Connections

Abstract

The Multicultural Community Connections (MMC) was founded by Olivia Johansen, a first-generation immigrant, to help new-coming immigrants and their children adapt and socialize in the Lakeland community of the United States. The organization's latest project, Bridges, is a six week summer camp for elementary school students that primarily functions in helping migrants (mostly Latinos) adjust to the culture of the United States. The project aims to increase cultural awareness among members of the community, teachers, and students. However, due to disagreements among employees on the management of the camp, the director and founder of MMC turns to a local consulting firm, Integrated Solutions (IS), which helps MCC re-establish their initial mission and goals and creates a management plan for the successful operation of the summer camp.

Case

Learning Objectives

  • To help you understand how to gather and use exploratory qualitative methods.
  • To help you understand how to incorporate people's cultural worldviews into case study analyses.
  • To practice addressing numerous stakeholders' perspectives when preparing recommendations for a client.

Introduction

Olivia Johansen is the current program director of a nonprofit agency called The Multicultural Community Connections, or what is affectionately referred to as the MCC by students, employees, parents, and community members. As a first-generation immigrant, Olivia is committed to making sure newly located immigrant individuals are adequately socialized in the community of Lakeland, but more importantly, they become aware of the resources and opportunities that are available to their families during their stay in Lakeland. As a highly touted program innovator, Olivia is excited to debut her latest project, Bridges—a summer camp to help build ties between children, teachers, and community members of diverse backgrounds. Bridges helps the Lakeland community in three tangible ways. First, it provides a fun, safe environment for children in the summer. Next, it promotes awareness of diversity for teachers while helping them fulfill their continuing education requirements, and finally, the camp provides local college students with “hands-on” experiences as they work with teachers and children.

Although Olivia is competent and heavily involved in the daily operations of MCC, she is growing frustrated with her employees working at Bridges. The employees have difficulty working together and cannot agree on how to properly run the camp. Worse yet, some students have begun to tell their parents about the lack of organization at the camp. Since Bridges is relatively new, Olivia believes she has time to turn things around. She does not have time to oversee the regular operations at both MCC and Bridges, but she is committed to the success of the program because she strongly believes in the intent of the camp. In light of this commitment, Olivia hires a small consulting team from Integrated Solutions (IS), a local consulting firm, to diagnose and fix the problem immediately.

Multicultural Community Connections

The MCC is a nonprofit organization working to foster community building among diverse populations in Lakeland, a large metropolitan area in the southeastern region of the United States. The primary goal of MCC is to help diverse immigrant populations adjust to the culture of the United States, but mainly southern culture. MCC primarily works with Latino populations, but assists members of other migrant populations as well. MCC's current initiative, Bridges, seeks to improve the educational experiences of migrant elementary school students. MCC strategically attempts to build positive relationships with the students, their families, their elementary school teachers, and other members of their local community. MCC is comprised of a small number of bilingual Latin American staff members who oversee the daily operations of the agency. Throughout the building, MCC's mission is posted on bulletin boards in the break room, above the time sheet, and in the bathrooms, as if to remind the staff of the goals of the organization and why MCC exists. The agency's mission is as follows:

  • Understand and influence students' and teachers' perceptions, tolerance, knowledge, and empathy about diverse populations to help increase students' successful integration into American educational settings;
  • Help teachers develop and implement tools and strategies in the classroom that encourage effective communication and understanding of and between members of diverse cultural backgrounds;
  • Build and maintain collaborations between students, families, teachers, and other community members to assist diverse populations.

The staff often comment on their wish that the organization actually “lived up” to the ever-present bulletin boards.

Bridges Summer Camp

Bridges Purpose and Overview

In light of the current initiative of working with elementary schools, MCC developed a summer camp named Bridges for elementary school-aged children to help achieve its broad mission and goals. Bridges is a six-week summer program to help build connections between local school teachers and the children that reside in the neighborhoods surrounding these schools. Bridges has four objectives: (1) help teachers understand the cultural backgrounds of their students, (2) help teachers develop teaching strategies for diverse groups of students, (3) help students build connections and trust with their teachers, and (4) help build stronger connections between families, schools, and surrounding communities. The camp operates at a local community center in Lakeland from Monday to Thursday. It also exposes the children to resources and activities in the area outside of their neighborhoods on “Friday Fun Days.”

Bridges teaches neighborhood children, primarily African American and Latino, pride in their cultures and respect for other cultures. Although this is the summer camp's first year, MCC has been pleasantly surprised to have 45 students enroll in the program. They believe that the families are interested in helping their children be more successful at school, but some of the staff members also believe the large response is due to their success in raising funds to make the camp free for the students. The students come from a variety of nations, including Guatemala, Mexico, Nigeria, and Peru, and have various religious and cultural backgrounds.

Bridges Personnel

To build continuity and institutional success, two MCC staff members, Laura and Isabel, are assigned to the Bridges summer camp full time. The other staff members visit the summer camp to check in and help the children adjust to the teachers on an “as needed” basis. The camp moderators are full-time teachers in the local area who receive continuing education credit for participating in the program. Five elementary school teachers from local communities have been hired to moderate the summer camp. Although the teachers bring an average of 8 years of teaching experience to the Bridges program, they are having instructional and relational difficulties with the migrant children and members of their families. The experienced teachers want to learn strategies to assist the students to perform better in the classroom and they believe that learning more about their students' backgrounds will help the students feel more included in the classroom to become successful students. The teachers self-identify as socioeconomically middle class. There are four female teachers and one male teacher. Three of them are European American (including the male) and the other two are African American women. The teachers will receive continuing education credit and a stipend for their participation. Undergraduate students have also been hired as teaching assistants for the teachers to help them oversee activities and supervise the students. They were hired because they plan to become elementary school teachers after completing college or are fluent in Spanish.

Bridges Summer Camp Training

The five teachers and teaching assistants participate in a week-long orientation and training program prior to the six-week summer camp. The training program primarily focuses on cultural dynamics associated with teaching a diverse group of students. The students are diverse in their race/ethnicity, gender, class/socioeconomic status, age, nationality, and religion. The main reading text for the week is about language barriers and poverty for migrant populations. Additionally, the faculty members and their assistants are required to attend interactive workshops with speakers from Latin American and African nations.

MCC's Program Director Hires Integrated Solutions

The Bridges camp has been running for a week and is having several problems. The problems range from inexperienced staff running the program, lack of organizational structure for the children, translation problems between the Latino and American staff and students, lack of administrative processes to achieve summer camps goals, lack of day-to-day operational plans for staff and students, poor communication between the Bridges staff and the main MCC office, lack of a point of contact for the summer camp, among a number of other issues. In light of these problems, the program director, Olivia Johansen, decides to contact Integrated Solutions (IS), a local consultant firm with expertise in nonprofit organization development, to see if they can offer guidance to her on these emerging issues. Olivia met the executive director of IS, Gloria Stephens, a year prior at a local chamber luncheon and remembers she still has Gloria's card in her Rolodex. Gloria is happy to hear from Olivia and about the project. She assigns four dedicated, experienced IS members to meet with Olivia to discuss the project.

The four-member team is excited to offer Olivia usable solutions to her organizational problems. Two of the team members, Brock and Jessica, have backgrounds in organizational and intercultural communication. The other two, Jamie and Nicole, have backgrounds in educational leadership and curriculum development. All of the team members are fluent or at least conversational in Spanish. Quite an impressive group! During the initial phone interview, Olivia expresses the need for the agency to have “fresh eyes” on the Bridges program to better understand the communication and teamwork problems occurring with the program. She candidly explains that she needs the IS team to “fix the damn problem.” The 3:15 conference call with Olivia and the IS team proceeds as follows.

Olivia: I'm so pleased that you are interested in this project. I am at my wit's end trying to manage two offices and the problems arising are fixable, but I prefer to have another set of eyes on this.

Brock: We are happy to help. Gloria spoke highly about your energy and the things that you are doing at MCC, so we're thrilled that you called us and we will certainly see what we can do. First, what do you see as the problems?

Olivia: Oh my gosh, where do I begin? [laughing, with a sigh] The teachers and their assistants are not getting along. The two full-time paid staff members are not doing a good job of overseeing the Bridge program, even after I found extra money to help them out to run this program; I'm feeling pulled in a million different directions. My main job is at MCC. Bridges was supposed to be an easy and impactful program, but things are not working out. I would just cancel the whole thing and start from scratch with new people, but we have lots of donors who support this program. Plus, I love the idea of this program. It's greatly needed. We need to keep our kids off the street and make them successful. It just seems that I'm the only one around here who cares. I need help now and fast! I cannot run this program by myself, and you would think that experienced teachers would take a leadership role. I'm starting to think that they are just here for a check too. I need help … fast!

Brock: Olivia, we are here to help you! We love your program and we will see what we can do!

Olivia: I'm glad to hear that. Gloria sent me the rates and the terms. Send over a contract now and I'll sign it and we can meet tomorrow.

Jessica: Wow, Olivia, you do mean business. I'll send you an electronic copy in an hour and you can send it back this evening. We will meet you tomorrow. We would love to see your space.

After accepting the challenge and contract, IS agrees to meet with Olivia again the next day to begin the process. After brief introductions, Olivia begins by telling the “real” story about the Bridges summer camp. To test the team in their Spanish, Olivia tells parts of the story in English and others in Spanish, her native language.

Olivia: I don't understand what's going on with the program. The teachers aren't doing what they are supposed to do. They keep calling me for every little thing. I have to manage this office and cannot fix every little problem. They refuse to work together as a team. I've heard from parents of the children that their kids are noticing how disorganized the program is. The teachers complain that they don't have clear instructions and the assistants aren't as helpful as they can be either. When I come to the camp, the assistants seem to be watching the kids, but they don't look happy. My staff has a hard time communicating with the teachers. One of them is learning English, but since Spanish is her native language she has a hard time interacting with them. When she tries to communicate, they get frustrated and send her to an assistant or try to translate through one of the kids who speak Spanish. At first I thought these problems would work themselves out over time, but after a week, and now with the parents' complaints… I don't know. This is turning into a messy situation and I need your help to fix it right now. You will have complete access to the entire Bridges program. Talk to whomever you want and let me know what information you will need. Oh, by the way, I need a report by next Friday. We don't have all summer to fix this program; it is a summer program!

This is all the information provided to the team. Olivia does not provide any more concrete directions. The team can start working on this immediately. Jessica requests that Olivia inform the Bridges staff that the IS team will be around regularly over the next week and needs their cooperation. Olivia readily agrees and the IS team plans to start visiting the camp the following day.

Data-Collection Options for Qualitative Evaluation

Due to the quick starting date, the exploratory nature of this project, and the small staff at Bridges, IS decides to use qualitative methods of data collection and organizational evaluation of the summer camp. Ideally, the team would take a multimethodological approach to this type of work, but given the short time window for their report, Brock believes that eliminating the quantitative component is necessary and will not impact the final results. Brock explains, “Look, there are a number of reasons to eliminate quantitative assessments. First, all of our quantitative instruments are in English and many members of the Bridges community are not fluent in English. Second, we really don't have time to translate and pilot the new survey in a week. Finally, it can help us build a little rapport with the folks at the summer camp by interviewing and talking with them.”

The IS team agrees that analyzing program documents, observing interactions at Bridges, and interviewing staff, students, and parents would give the client a robust picture of the organizational issues at hand without compromising the quality of the data, and eliminating the quantitative component that the IS organization generally uses. Each team member takes the lead on one or more aspects of the qualitative data collection.

Program Documents—Nicole and Brock

To obtain background information about Bridges, the team decides to start by collecting and reading existing program documents, such as staff job descriptions and policy manuals. Nicole and Brock are in charge of this aspect of the project. Document analysis is a critical component of understanding the story of an organization and its members. The way in which an organization documents its activities leaves an important “paper trail” that reflects the ways in which it produces, certifies, and codifies information for its personnel (Lindlof & Taylor, 2002). By closely examining the organizational documents, Nicole and Brock will understand how key roles are defined and evaluated at MCC.

Nicole: Let's start by looking at all the personnel files, recruitment materials sent to parents, as well as materials used to recruit the teachers.

Brock: Great idea. This will help us understand how the end users of these documents perceive Bridges, as well as the implicit and explicit expectations communicated throughout the documents.

In addition to examining the job announcements and recruitment materials sent to parents, Nicole also asks Olivia for the training manual for the teachers, their evaluations of the training session, the job descriptions for all personnel, and a schedule of daily operations for the summer camp. After reviewing the documents, Nicole and Brock discuss their preliminary assessments.

Brock: So, Nicole, what do you think?

Nicole: From reading the documents I conclude that: (1) the teachers have clear job descriptions, (2) the teachers go through training prior to the summer camp, and (3) MCC staff assigned to work for the summer camp do not have details for their duties related to the summer camp. What do you see, Brock?

Brock: The position description for the assistants is very loosely defined as “helping the teachers” and “overseeing the children as necessary.” MCC staff participated in the training at times, especially when visitors came to the office. Only Olivia and her assistant met with the assistants prior to their first day on the job, and the external hires received the mission statement for the summer camp, but may not have seen MCC's mission statement (although it is online) and may not have the same understanding of MCC's purpose as the small, permanent staff.

Nicole: Very nice, Brock.

Brock: Back at you, Nikki. We make a great team.

Nicole and Brock also notice that not all of the external materials are written in both English and Spanish. Although Olivia believes in allowing the staff access to all nonconfidential information, some of the internal nonconfidential documentation is not translated into both languages.

Collecting and analyzing program documents allows researchers to obtain a more holistic view of how the summer camp was designed and how the personnel were prepared for the camp. This initial research information helps the IS consulting team frame areas needing more detailed information for making recommendations with a short reporting time. Additionally, analyzing the daily schedule (see below) helps Brock and Nicole understand how the summer camp runs on a daily basis and helps the team devise a plan for the next step of data collection—direct observation.

Bridges Daily Schedule

8:30–9:00 a.m.

Breakfast

9:00–10:30 a.m.

Session I

10:30–11:00 a.m.

Break and snack

11:00 a.m.–12:30 p.m.

Session II

12:30–1:00 p.m.

Lunch

1:00–2:15 p.m.

Afternoon activity

2:15–2:30 p.m.

Prepare kids to go home (report to bus or parent pick-up area)

2:30–3:30 p.m.

Afternoon debriefing and planning session with Teachers and MCC Staff

Friday Fundays

8:30–9:00 a.m.

Breakfast

9:00 a.m.–2:15 p.m.

TBA (Make sure kids get lunch)

2:15 p.m.

Return to Camp

2:30 p.m.

Kids Depart for the Day

Direct Observation—Jamie and Jessica

While Nicole and Brock analyze MCC's documents, Jamie and Jessica engage in direct observation for two days. Direct observation, also referred to as participant observation, allows consulting teams to understand ordinary, day-to-day events in their natural environment (Lindlof & Taylor, 2002; Patton, 2002). It takes place “in the field” with direct contact with the people at work. This allows the IS team to understand the context in which people interact and helps gather additional data to get a more complete understanding of how the summer camp runs from the perspective of the personnel, students, and parents. Direct observation entails taking extensive notes while observing daily activities as they naturally occur. It further helps the team get a more holistic view of how the summer camp works to help the IS team determine what additional data collection may be needed for specific recommendations for the program director.

Thursday Observation—Jamie and Jessica

Jamie and Jessica arrive early, around 8:00 a.m., to observe the camp, which starts at 8:30. Isabel, one of the Bridges staff members, greets them warmly in Spanish and invites them to have breakfast with her and the students.

Isabel proceeds to hug Jamie, Jessica, and several of the students as they come into the cafeteria. Isabel also talks to the parents as they drop off their children.

First Parent: Good morning, Isabel. Who is in charge of programming and sending permission slips home to parents? I would appreciate more notice about the Friday Field Day trips.

Second Parent: [overhearing the first parent's comments] Permission slips? I didn't know we needed to sign those for the Friday trips. Isn't that covered in the Bridges application and enrollment process? Why do we need to sign separate permission slips for each activity our kids do?

Isabel continues to smile warmly but does not directly address either of the parents' comments. She changes the subject by talking about the students' eagerness to participate in the summer camp. As the two parents leave, they discuss the situation.

Second Parent: They need to get their stuff together here.

First Parent: [nodding in agreement] But at least it's someplace nice and safe for the kids in the summer.

The students are quite active during breakfast. They often get up from their 4s to stand outside or talk and play with other children. A couple of the assistants wander in and interact with the students. One of the students sees Jamie taking notes and asks:

Student: Why are you doing homework?

Jamie: I'm not doing homework, but taking notes.

Student: Why are you taking notes?

Jamie: [unsure of how to respond] You're right, honey. I am doing my homework.

Two African American teachers also come to talk to the students during breakfast. None of the other teachers eats breakfast with the students. Jamie makes a note to ask about the teachers' responsibilities during this time, as well as the assistants, since not all of them came to breakfast either. Jessica glances down at her watch and notices that it is 9:05 a.m. The Bridges staff members do not seem to notice the time and let the students finish eating. Over breakfast, the staff members and two teachers visit each table to talk with the children and ask about what they did for fun last evening. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves.

After briefly jotting down notes, Jessica and Jamie decide to separate and observe different Session I activities. Jessica watches the first- and second-grade children who are being taught by one of the female, White teachers. There is an assistant in the room to help her.

Teacher: [whispering to her assistant] Why do the students constantly show up late? I cannot stay with my lesson plans due to their late breakfast. Plus they have to settle down.

Exasperated, the teacher sighs and begins the lesson of the day.

Jessica notices that the teacher has written the agenda for the session on the dry erase board in English. The students are instructed to draw pictures of their homes. Later they will draw pictures of their family members. They have large sheets of paper on their tables and boxes of crayons, markers, and colored pencils at the center of the tables.

When the teacher asks students to begin drawing their houses, the assistant repeats these directions in Spanish. The students begin going through the boxes to get the supplies they want to begin drawing. Some of the students, who have read the board, start labeling their spaces in the home, such as their bedrooms and play area. One of the bilingual students explains the instructions to another student who only speaks Spanish. The student begins adding her family to the drawing as well.

“Work on your own pictures, please,” the teacher says. “And make sure to follow directions. You're only drawing your home right now.”

The assistant rolls her eyes in Jessica's direction and smiles. She makes a comment in Spanish about sticking to the directions and only the directions. Jessica tries not to laugh, especially because she does not want to be rude since she knows the teacher does not understand her comment. The teacher continues with the activity and ends the session promptly at 10:30 so the kids can go to break. The assistant takes the kids outside for snacks and juice. As Jessica leaves the room, she meets with Jamie. As she glances in the room where he left, Jessica notices this assistant is staying behind to clean up the room while the teacher takes the students to snack time.

Jamie observes another session. Toward the end of the session, the teacher distributes permission slips to the students for the Friday activity off-site.

“You cannot go to the park this Friday if you do not have your parents sign this form.”

One of the students hands Jamie a permission slip, saying, “So you can come tomorrow, too.” As Jamie smiles and takes the slip, he notices it is only in English.

Olivia enters the room. “How is it going, my IS team?” she asks.

Jamie, concerned about the English-only note, asks, “Are all of the parents fluent in English?”

“They are not. Why?” Olivia says.

Jamie shows Olivia the permission slip.

Olivia sighs. “Oh my, my, my. Every document should be in English and Spanish. Thank you for catching this. This is why you guys get paid the big bucks!”

Olivia leaves to call all of the assistants out of their rooms to begin writing handwritten translations for the students to take home this evening. After Olivia leaves, the teacher glares at Jamie as she says: “I really wished you would have run this by me first before talking to Olivia.”

Notes Comparison Meeting With the IS Team

During the IS team debriefing meeting, the explicit cultural differences appear as a common theme.

“One of the core conflicts may be based on tensions between monochromic and polychromic orientations to time at Bridges,” Jessica says.

Time orientations are important factors to consider when working in intercultural organizational settings. Monochromic people or cultures typically schedule one thing at a time (Hall, 1959, 1976; Hall & Hall, 1987). Time is compartmentalized and there is a time for everything (Devito, 2007). Monochromic cultures include Germany, Scandinavia, Switzerland, and the United States. Polychromic-oriented cultures or people schedule multiple tasks at the same time. These may include conducting business with different people, eating, working on other projects, and helping family members. Latin Americans and Mediterranean cultures, for instance, are considered polychromic cultures. Members of cultural groups socialized in both time orientations, such as African Americans and Latinos in the United States, may choose one over the other or use both, depending on the context.

Jessica: The teachers are using organizational structures from their schools to punctuate their days. For example, they expect to have planning time to themselves. Here it is in the morning. They also expect clear directions from their supervisor regarding curriculum and content, and they often complain about their assistants.

Jamie: The roles of the assistants are not clearly defined or enacted. For example, some of the assistants came to breakfast, some didn't. Some take the students to snack while others remain behind to clean up the classroom and prepare it for the next session. The Bridges staff and teachers have much more developed job descriptions that outline the schedule of the day.

The IS team members report their findings to Olivia after the planning meeting ends at 3:30 p.m. Olivia is very impressed with the work IS has completed so far and asks for suggestions for implementing their findings.

Discussion Questions

  • What should the IS team recommend to Olivia? Should IS collect additional data before making specific suggestions? Why or why not?
  • What are the benefits of using program documents from MCC to begin collecting data for the Bridges summer camp? What are the potential drawbacks of this method? In addition to the documents the IS team collected, what other documents would be helpful to see before visiting the summer camp? What would the team learn from these documents?
  • You may have noticed that Jamie and Jessica could not remain passive observers during their direct observations and at times became an active part of the organization. How do you think their interaction with the personnel and students impacted their ability to make key observations? How should they balance observing with participating in the daily activities of Bridges in the future?
  • This case also illustrates how people's worldviews, ways in which they perceive and understand societal norms, become embedded in organizational culture in ways that may not be apparent to an organizational insider. Jessica's observation regarding how different cultures regard and use time in the workplace reflects aspects of different worldviews. What recommendations should the IS team make to Olivia about the organizational culture of Bridges? How should Bridges modify its daily operations in ways that respect cultural differences, yet help the summer camp function more cohesively?

References

DeVito, J. A. (2007). The interpersonal communication book (
11th ed.
). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Hall, E. T. (1959). The silent language.Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
Hall, E. T. (1976). Beyond culture.Garden City, NY: Anchor Press.
Hall, E. T. , & Hall, M. R. (1987). Hidden differences: Doing business with the Japanese.New York: Anchor Books.
Lindlof, T. R. , & Taylor, B. C. (2002). Qualitative communication research methods (
2nd ed.
). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative research methods and evaluation methods (
3rd ed.
). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Further Resources

Allen, B. J. (1995). “Diversity” and organizational communication.Journal of Applied Communication Research,23(2), 143155.
Chen, G. M. , & Starosta, W. J. (2005). Foundations of intercultural communication.Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
Given, L. M. , (Ed.). (2008). The Sage encyclopedia of qualitative research methods.Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Inc.

This case was prepared for inclusion in SAGE Business Cases primarily as a basis for classroom discussion or self-study, and is not meant to illustrate either effective or ineffective management styles. Nothing herein shall be deemed to be an endorsement of any kind. This case is for scholarly, educational, or personal use only within your university, and cannot be forwarded outside the university or used for other commercial purposes.

2022 SAGE Publications, Ltd. All Rights Reserved

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