This chapter outlines the rationale for the research approach adopted and how the detailed analysis of a specific home based aquaponics system is undertaken. The methods for data collection and analysis that is used is as well described. The overall design and structure of the study was driven by the need to fill the gap that exist in the study on home based aquaponics systems in Mauritius. Also, the only home based aquaponic practitioner’s system identifed was closely studied, so as to allow for solid findings and a well-grounded analysis. However, it reflects as well on the limitations of the research methods and how these might affect the findings and conclusions.
In this study, the qualitative research using case study analysis is chosen as the appropriate method as it enables to answer the research questions. The qualitative method helps in preparing a careful planning of a research design that encompasses all aspects of the study, from research questions to data collection and analysis. To this effect, qualitative research is chosen using the case study method in order to collect rich, descriptive data on aquaponics. Nevertheless, studies on aquaponics have found that qualitative research results can differ from quantitative results, highlighting the importance of exploratory qualitative data collection for a holistic understanding (Conroy, 1999; Conroy & Walker, 2000).
Following thorough research on internet and with government authorities and other institutions having insights of the field of aquaponics, only one home based aquaponic practitioner has been identified. He was contacted through Facebook social networking and some informal interviews were undertaken through online communications, following which a formal meeting was scheduled at his premise in order to study his backyard aquaponics system. Indeed, from the close analysis and structured interview undertaken with the aquaponic practitioner, valuable information is gathered regarding his aquaponics system, complete designs, scale, production rates, management practices and water testing parameters and results. His approval was required for consequent visits to closely study his aquaponics system, assist him in effecting the water testings and to carry out additional interviews accordingly, as the dissertation progresses, to gather information as needed. All information is documented to be used for analysis.
The consent of the interviewers has been asked and an explanation of the study has been provided in order to begin any interview for the purpose of this study. Indeed, the aquaponic practitioner gave his consent for his name and pictures of his aquaponics system to be acknowledged and presented in this work. Further, since there is no comprehensive list of aquaponics practitioners in Mauritius, informal interviews were carried out with some organisations having insights of aquaponics system.
Furthermore, I assisted the aquaponic practitioner in carrying out water testings in line with some specific parameters, being given that water testing in line with such parameters (PH,Temperature,Nitrate and Ammonia) are vital for the proper sustainability, monitoring and flow of the aquaponics system. Indeed, assisting in the water testing exercise with the aquaponic practitioner helped me better involve in the study as well as understand and analyse the system which helped me consolidate my findings.
Moreover, in line with the research objectives in view to gain a better understanding of home based aquaponics system, questions are explicitly framed to highlight the elements of a home scale aquaponics technology. In view to analyse and truly understand a home based aquaponics system, the only genuine home based aquaponics system identified was closely analysed in helping to develop a more grounded insights on more favourable or unfavourable combinations of factors that could be used to increase the awareness, implementation, effectiveness and sustainability of home based aquaponics projects in the future.
Furthermore, Maxwell (2005) and Yin (2009) argue that qualitative research needs a clearer pre-structuring. Despite this, I was realistically flexible about the necessary timing of my research activities in view to accommodate for the inevitable challenges that arose from trying to schedule meeting with the busy aquaponic practitioner. To ensure this need for flexibility, a plan was written up to guide the research. However, the data collection process was greatly facilitated by being able to visit the aquaponic practitioner and be on the site of his aquaponics system.
Data Collection Methods
When conducting a study, it is recommended to use various sources in order to grasp understanding of the context and a more solid foundation which helps in making the accurate choices. Also, the use of multiple sources enhances the reliability and validity of evidence as well as strengthens the author’s arguments (Yin, 2003). Therefore, both primary and secondary sources are needed for data collection. The primary source in this study is gathered through observations, analysis and interviews. The secondary sources include journals, articles, technical reports, policies and some previous studies which are used mainly in theoretical part.
My data collection methods included formal observation, site visits, analysis and review. I also conducted structured interviews with the aquaponic practitioner.
To comprehend the aquaponics system of the home based aquaponic practitioner that I had chosen to examine, I conducted a comprehensive analysis of the press articles online and by other academic and media sources in relation to home scale aquaponics. I reviewed local government websites and policy documents and did research on internet search engines in relation to home based/backyard aquaponics. I also spoke informally with the chosen aquaponic practioner to gain a sense of direction and understanding to better prepare my research work and formal interview. From his responses and my research work, I drafted my interview questions to gain diverse perspective in analysing the home based aquaponics system.
My main data was sourced from a combination formal and informal interviews. Formal interviews were carried out with some stakeholders having insights of aquaponics and both formal and informal interviews were undertaken with the identified aquaponic practitioner. The structured interview questions were designed following formal interviews and in line with literature review.
The data generated from the interviews allowed me to confirm the themes by which the data was eventually analysed; it also helped me to refine a line of inquiry for subsequent informal interviews. The fact that informal interviews were conducted with some stakeholders other than the aquaponic practitioner, means that I could to some extent prevent the risk of ‘key informant bias’ (Maxwell 2005 p. 91). Their insights were also essential for addressing the question of authenticity, credibility, representativeness and meaning.
Following the structured interview, I conducted informal qualitative interviews with the aquaponic practitioner to ask specific questions regarding the case study and clarify any discrepancies I had noticed in the interview data. I covered the history and his future plans, as well as the challenges he had encountered along the way. In all the interviews I directed my questions accurately to add to the depth of perspective on the case study and my analysis. The data were further supplemented with analysis of the observations made through several site visits. Unstructured interviews were considered suitable because I wanted to allow for unpredicted events or findings (Bryman 1999, Yin 2009). The interviews were kept within a time limit of one hour and questions varied according to the role and expertise and context of respondent.
Analysis of Data
Bryman and Burgess (1999) urge the researcher to be aware that the data available for analysis are only as good as the data that are recorded. As such the choice of a case study analysis was further justified by potential limitations associated with a unique case available to analyse. The data generated by the case was analysed accordingly as well as considering the external context, environment and the impact that these elements have had on the development, sustainability and monitoring of the aquaponic system being analysed.
The knowledge I had gained from my literature review had distinguished recurring themes that form the basis of my analysis framework. Thus, the headings in the qualitative findings section mirror the headings in the literature review. In addition to the key themes identified in the literature, my analysis was influenced by informal interactions and observations of the stakeholders, case subject and sites, as well as my own interest and ongoing appreciation for aquaponics.
The major limitation of the case study is that the data were collected on only one home based aquaponics system in the Northern region of Mauritius and can only be validated in the literature. Since literature in home based aquaponics in Mauritius is scarce, some of the claims cannot be validated and are just observations. In spite of these limitations, the identification of the only home based aquaponics system and a case study method approach to data collection ensures that enough conclusive evidence was generated to identify what factors to establish and operate a home based aquaponics system.