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The good, the bad and the undefined: using mixed methods and micro-level fsQCA to research Sub-Saharan IT businesses

Linnet Taylor
University of Sussex
Linnet Taylor
University of Sussex
Linnet Taylor
University of Sussex
Open Panel

Abstract

This paper addresses the methodological challenges of researching small businesses in Sub-Saharan Africa, namely the absence of a sampling frame, and the absence of accounting and record-keeping practices among the businesses surveyed. It focuses on a study that uses mixed methods, to gather data for a micro-level QCA analysis of the influence of international mobility on the formation and viability of internet cafes in Ghana. Instead of the usual strategy of studying migration using a snowball strategy to locate cases, and thus selecting on the dependent variable, this study involved conducting a census of the internet cafe sector in Ghana’s northern regions in order to compare migrant-run with non-migrant-run businesses. Due to the lack of a sampling frame, cases were located by travelling to every settlement with electricity in the 100,000km² area, with a smaller group surveyed in the capital, Accra, to control for location. To gather accurate information from businesses that do not keep accounts or records, different methods were used to triangulate and check the data gathered. These consisted of a quantitative business and migration survey, social network data, and semi-structured interviews with a comparative strategy. These different datasets were first analysed using descriptive statistics to locate group dynamics within the data, and then brought together into a fuzzy-set QCA analysis of the comparative influence of international mobility and networks versus local factors such as credit availability and entrepreneurs’ individual characteristics and skills. A series of fuzzy-set QCA models were constructed around hypothetical scenarios involving different degrees and types of international and domestic input, and their influence on businesses’ period of formation and current viability. The approach resulted in a set of conclusions that contributes several new insights to migration and development research: most importantly, that working abroad is the only factor that significantly increases new entrepreneurs’ return on investment, and that for small-scale technology entrepreneurs in poor African locations, international networks are more beneficial than formal education.