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Validity and reliability tests in case study research: A

literature review with "hands-on" applications for each


research phase
Andreas M Riege. Qualitative Market Research. Bradford: 2003.Vol.6, Iss. 2; pg. 75, 12 pgs

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Subjects: Market research, Theory, Reliability, Validity


Classification Codes 7100 Market research, 9130 Experimental/theoretical
Author(s): Andreas M Riege
Document types: Feature
Publication title: Qualitative Market Research. Bradford: 2003. Vol. 6, Iss. 2; pg. 75, 12 pgs
Source type: Periodical
ProQuest document ID: 339179171
Text Word Count 5481
Document URL: http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=339179171&sid=9&Fmt=4&clientId=5646&RQT=309&VName=P

Abstract (Document Summary)


Despite the advantages of the case study method, its reliability and validity remain in doubt. Tests
to establish the validity and reliability of qualitative data are important to determine the stability and
quality of the data obtained. However, there is no single, coherent set of validity and reliability tests
for each research phase in case study research available in the literature. This article presents an
argument for the case study method in marketing research, examining various criteria for judging
the quality of the method and highlighting various techniques, which can be addressed to achieve
objectivity, and rigorous and relevant information for planning to marketing actions. The purpose of
this article is to invite further research by discussing the use of various scientific techniques for
establishing the validity and reliability in case study research. The article provides guidelines for
achieving high validity and reliability for each phase in case study research. [PUBLICATION
ABSTRACT]

Full Text (5481 words)


Copyright MCB UP Limited (MCB) 2003
[Headnote]
Keywords

[Headnote]
Case studies, Qualitative techniques, Reliability, Validity

[Headnote]
Abstract

[Headnote]
Despite the advantages of the case study method, its reliability and validity remain in doubt. Tests to
establish the validity and reliability of qualitative data are important to determine the stability and quality
of the data obtained. However, there is no single, coherent set of validity and reliability tests for each
research phase in case study research available in the literature. This article presents an argument for
the case study method in marketing research, examining various criteria for judging the quality of the
method and highlighting various techniques, which can be addressed to achieve objectivity, and
rigorous and relevant information for planning to marketing actions. The purpose of this article is to
invite further research by discussing the use of various scientific techniques for establishing the validity
and reliability in case study research. The article provides guidelines for achieving high validity and
reliability for each phase in case study research.

Introduction

Research in management and marketing traditionally has been based on positivist science,
quantitatively oriented, along a linear deductive path. However, the position is changing for
management and marketing research which "seems implicitly to assume a realist perspective"
(Hunt, 1990, p. 8), a perspective, which is arguably more practitioner-oriented. Realists share the
positivists' aim of explaining and predicting social phenomena, however, where phenomena have
not yet been fully discovered and comprehended, realist investigation often seems more
appropriate to identify phenomena and transform people's experiences into verbal experiences of
the researcher (Donnellan, 1995; Tsoukas, 1989). Nevertheless, it still seems that qualitative
research, such as case study research, is not really accepted as a rigorous alternative to
established quantitative methods in marketing research. But then, case study research is not
always to be seen as a substitute for quantitative research. Within the realism paradigm, the focus
is on the rigorously analytical method of case study research, which seems to be especially
appropriate for two areas: the study of network systems and international business-to-business
marketing (Johnston et al., 1999; Perry et al., 1999), rather than the merely descriptive or
explanatory use of case studies. It also seems suitable for research into, for example, customer
relationship marketing, consumer decision-making, customer satisfaction, and knowledge
management.

To support the following discussion, similarities and differences between qualitative research and
case study research, that is how is case study research is different from the other qualitative
methods, need to be clarified. There are several distinguishing factors when comparing qualitative
methods. First, whereas the main objective of case study research is the development and
construction of theory, in-depth interviews concentrate on obtaining rich and detailed information,
convergent interviews on narrowing down the research focus, and focus groups on group
interaction. Second, case studies require a medium to high level of prior theory, which is not the
case for in-depth and convergent interviews, which require no or little prior theory. Third, the
process and content of case studies usually is (semi-) structured and follows standard procedures,
whilst other methods are more flexible, with in-depth interviews ranging from being unstructured to
structured, and focus groups and convergent interviews being very unstructured. Fourth, whereas
the main strength of case study research as well as in-depth interviews lay in its replication,
convergent interviews' strength is their progressive and iterative nature and focus groups' strength
is their synergistic effect in a group setting (based on Yin, 1994).

This paper has four main sections: following a brief reflection on existing research and approaches,
first, it provides a discussion on eminent theoretical research paradigms to set the case study
method in perspective to other research paradigms. Second, it describes a variety of design tests
(mostly used in quantitative research approaches) and corresponding design tests (mostly used in
qualitative research approaches) for establishing and improving validity and reliability. Third, it
discusses case study techniques for conducting design/corresponding design tests and phases of
research in which these techniques may occur. Finally, it examines the applicability to various
research paradigms.

Background

A discussion as to how the chosen research methodology can achieve validity and reliability forms
an integral part of any rigorous research effort. However, few scientific techniques have been
developed to address the scientific worth and rigour of qualitative research, in particular case study
research (De Ruyter and Scholl, 1998). Rust and Cooil (1994) presented a comparative analysis of
reliability approaches for both quantitative and qualitative data, and introduced a new approach to
measure reliability by expressing reliability as the proportion of expected loss that is avoided when
the data are used to make decisions. However, they did not present specific criteria highlighting
how to achieve a higher degree of reliability in either qualitative research or specifically case study
research. This paper will address this issue by providing some guidelines for case study research.

Furthermore, Healy and Perry (2000) established six specific criteria to judge the validity and
reliability of case study research, within the realism paradigm. However, what they provided was,
first, a thorough comparison and discussion on theoretical paradigms and philosophical
foundations (building on previous studies by Guba and Lincoln (1994); Perry et al. (1999); Riege
and Nair (1997)), concluding that the realism perspective appears to be the most appropriate one
for marketing researchers. We share their opinion. Second, they presented a comparative analysis
of, and a link between, design tests in qualitative research and each of the theoretical paradigms
(see also Riege and Nair, 1997). This discussion, however, did not conclude as to what "really
needs to be done" to establish validity and reliability in case study research. To address this gap,
this paper provides several techniques that will guide both academic researchers in marketing and
applied marketing researchers through each phase of their research - from research design stage
to report writing - in their attempt to establish validity and reliability.

Whilst the literature offers some suggestions as to what techniques can enhance the validity and
reliability of qualitative research, there is only little indication as to what techniques should be used
to enhance validity and reliability in case study research. This paper suggests that several of the
"generic" quantitative and qualitative techniques and others also can be applied to the case study
method, based upon their application in rigorous case study research of over 40 master's by
research and doctorate students from Australia, New Zealand and the UK. That is, numerous
students tested the suitability of applying various design tests, as discussed in the following
sections, to enhance the quality of their work. Note that this is not an empirical study based on
various approaches of students to address validity and reliability in case study research.
Essentially, I also argue that a number of design tests for establishing validity and reliability can be
used for judging the quality of case study research, irrespective of their commonly more qualitative
or quantitative nature, nor of their theoretical paradigm.

In particular, this paper discusses two core questions:

(1) Are the tests and techniques for establishing the validity and reliability of qualitative and
quantitative marketing research significantly different?

(2) How far can they be used for case study research?

The focus of the argument lies in the judgement of the quality of theory building, and of the rigour
of analytical case studies. That is, regardless whether researchers use them as initial studies to
define or refine initially stated research propositions, or view the case study approach, as their
main data collection method for the aim is to develop and build theory. A summary of available
tests and techniques for establishing validity and reliability in case study research is shown in
Table I, which provides the main platform for the following discussion.

Theoretical paradigms and the nature of case studies

The following brief section describes four different paradigms to research methodology:

(1) positifism;

(2) realism;

(3) critical theory; and

(4) constructivism.

Although a discussion on each of these four belief systems or worldviews that guide any
researcher provides no or little contribution to the theory of market research, it is necessary as a
starting point for the main discussion.
Positivists believe that natural and social sciences are composed of a set of specific methods for
trying to discover and measure independent facts about a single apprehendable reality, which is
assumed to exist, driven by natural laws and mechanisms. The aim of science is to build up
objective and commensurable causal relationships showing how constructs of discrete elements
work and perform from a relatively secure base, taking a broad view. Positivism is commonly
characterised by a deductive method of inquiry seeking for theory confirmation in value-free,
statistical generalisations (Deshpande, 1983; Hirschman, 1986; Tsoukas, 1989). Realists believe
that natural and social sciences are capable of discovering and knowing reality, although not with
certainty. Realists acknowledge differences between the real world and their particular view to it.
They try to construct various views of this reality and aim to comprehend phenomena in terms of
which ones are relative in place and time. In contrast to positivism, realism does not rely as much
on deductive research inquiries, but sees more appropriate research methods in those that have
an inductive nature for discovering and building theory rather than testing theory through analytical
generalisations. Qualitative methods such as case studies commonly follow realistic modes of
inquiry, for the main objectives are to discover new relationships of realities and build up an
understanding of the meanings of experiences rather than verify predetermined hypotheses (Hunt,
1990; Perry and Coote, 1994). Critical theory assumes apprehendable social, political, cultural or
economic realities incorporating a number of virtual or historical structures of these realities that
are taken as real. Researchers and their investigated subjects are linked interactively, with the
belief system of the researcher influencing the inquiry, which requires a dialogue between
researcher and subject. Hence, no objective or value-neutral knowledge exists for all claims are
relative to the values of the researcher. The essence of constructivism is multiple apprehendable
realities, which are socially and empirically based, intangible mental constructions of individual
persons. Similar to critical theory, assumptions are subjective but the created knowledge depends
on the interaction between and among researcher and respondent(s), aiming at increasing an
understanding of the similarities and differences of constructions that both the researcher and
respondent(s) initially held in order to become more aware of, and informed about, the content and
meaning of these constructions (Anderson, 1986). All constructivists believe that knowledge is
theory-driven, a separation of researcher and research subject/object is not feasible, as is the
separation between theory and practice (Mir and Watson, 2000). The methodology of critical
theory's and constructivism's paradigms is dialectical, that is, it is focused on an understanding and
reconstruction of the beliefs that individual people initially hold, trying to achieve a consensus by
still being open to new interpretations as information and sophistication improve (Guba and
Lincoln, 1994).

Tests for establishing validity and reliability

Next, various design and corresponding design tests recommended in the literature are described
and their appropriateness for evaluating validity and reliability in case study research is examined.
Table II complements Table I and sets the above discussed research paradigms of positivism,
realism, critical theory, and constructivism in perspective to various tests used to evaluate the
quality of case study research. It illustrates that in realism-oriented research both sets of design
tests, first construct validity, internal and external validity, and reliability (which are well-known from
quantitative research approaches), and second, credibility, transferability, dependability, and
confirmability (which refer to more qualitative approaches) can and should be incorporated to
enhance the quality of case study methods in marketing research.
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Table I

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Table I

The case study method is about theory construction and building, and is based on the need to
understand a real-life phenomenon with researchers obtaining new holistic and in-- depth
understandings, explanations and interpretations about previously unknown practitioners' rich
experiences, which may stem from creative discovery as much as research design. That is, design
tests are not the primary drivers of rigorous case study research and even could suppress the
discovery of new meaningful insights and as a result not maximise the quality of the research.

Design tests

The following parts highlight how the four design tests of construct validity, internal and external
validity, and reliability can improve the quality of case study design. Definitions for each test are not
provided for they can be found in various textbooks. Construct validity establishes appropriate
operational measures for theoretical concepts being researched. Case study research generally is
perceived to be more subjective than qualitative research methodologies because researchers
usually have close and direct personal contact with organisations and people examined. Hence,
researchers need to make efforts to refrain from subjective judgements during the periods of
research design and data collection to enhance construct validity.

Internal validity, as it is traditionally known in quantitative research, refers to the establishment of


cause-and-effect relationships, while the emphasis on constructing an internally valid research
process in case study research lies in establishing phenomena in a credible way. In particular,
case study research intends to find generative mechanisms looking for the confidence with which
inferences about real-life experiences can be made. That is, the
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Table II

researcher does not only highlight major patterns of similarities and differences between
respondents' experiences or beliefs but also tries to identify what components are significant for
those examined patterns and what mechanisms produced them. External validity is concerned with
the extrapolation of particular research findings beyond the immediate form of inquiry to the
general. While quantitative research, for example, using surveys aims at statistical generalisation
as a form of achieving external validity, case studies rely on analytical generalisation, whereby
particular findings are generalised to some broader theory. The focus lies on an understanding and
exploration of constructs, that is, usually the comparison of initially identified and/or developed
theoretical constructs and the empirical results of single or multiple case studies.

Reliability refers to the demonstration that the operations and procedures of the research inquiry
can be repeated by other researchers which then achieve similar findings, that is, the extent of
findings can be replicated assuming that, for example, interviewing techniques and procedures
remain consistent. In case study research this can raise problems as people are not as static as
measurements used in quantitative research, and even if researchers were concerned to assure
that others can precisely follow each step, results may still differ. Indeed, data on real-life events,
which were collected by different researchers, may not converge into one consistent picture.
However, possible differences also can provide a valuable additional source of information about
cases investigated.

Corresponding design tests

Several authors suggest four corresponding sets of tests for establishing quality in qualitative
research design in general (e.g. Hirschman, 1986; Robson, 1993). The four corresponding design
tests of confirmability, credibility, transferability and dependability accomplish the four design tests
as discussed above and shown in Table I. The concepts in the corresponding design tests seem
analogous to the concepts of validity and reliability in quantitative research, as shown in Table II.
Next, the meaning of each of the corresponding tests is discussed.

Confirmability is analogous to the notion of neutrality and objectivity in positivism, corresponding


closely to construct validity. This test assesses whether the interpretation of data is drawn in a
logical and unprejudiced manner. That is, to assess the extent to which the conclusions are the
most reasonable ones obtainable from the data. Some useful questions (see Miles and Huberman,
1994, pp. 278-9) to be asked of a qualitative study such as case study research about this issue
are:

Are the study's general methods and procedures described explicitly and in detail?

Do we feel that we have a complete picture, including "backstage information"?

Are study data retained and available for reanalysis by others?

Credibility is the parallel construct to internal validity. It involves the approval of research findings
by either interviewees or peers as realities may be interpreted in multiple ways. The purpose of this
test is to demonstrate that the inquiry was carried out in a way which ensures credibility. Some
useful questions to be asked to clarify this issue are:

How rich and meaningful or "thick" are the descriptions?

Are the findings internally coherent?

Are concepts systematically related?


Transferability is analogous to the function of external validity or generalisation in conventional
quantitative research. This test is achieved when the research shows similar or different findings of
a phenomenon amongst similar or different respondents or organisations, that is achieving
analytical generalisation. Here we usefully may ask the following questions to clarify this issue of
transferability:

Do the findings include enough "thick descriptions" for readers to assess the potential
transferability appropriateness for their own settings?

Are the findings congruent with, connected to, or confirmatory of prior theory?

Dependability is analogous to the notion of reliability in quantitative research. The purpose of this
test is to show indications of stability and consistency in the process of inquiry. The underlying
issue here is whether the procedures or techniques used in the process of study are consistent.
The questions that can be asked to clarify this issue are:

Are the research questions clear and are the features of the study design congruent with them?

Have things been done with reasonable care?

Guidelines for conducting design/corresponding design tests

There are several techniques which can enhance the validity and reliability in case study research.
The following two sections highlight a variety of techniques suggested in the literature and show
their appropriateness to enhance the quality of case study research, referring each technique back
to the phase of research in which it should occur. Note that researchers need not perform specific
research phases in a sequential manner but can move back and forth between phases. This
"moving around" or iteration occurs, in particular, between data collection and analysis in such a
way that preceding operations shape subsequent ones (Spiggle, 1994).

Case study techniques for design tests

The literature suggests several measures to increase the soundness of quantitative research
applying the design tests of construct validity, internal and external validity, and reliability. These
tests also can be applied to the case study method in the following way:

(1) Techniques which may be used to increase construct validity:

Use of multiple sources of evidence in the data collection phase, such as the triangulation of
interview tapes, documents, artifacts, and others, for protection against researcher bias (Flick,
1992; Perakyla, 1997).

Establishment of a chain of evidence in the data collection phase, that is, use of verbatim interview
transcripts and notes of observations made during field trips which allow the supply of sufficient
citations and cross checks of particular sources of evidence (Griggs, 1987; Hirschman, 1986).

Reviewing of draft case study reports in the report-writing phase. That is, letting key informants and
research assistants review interview transcripts, parts of the data analysis and final report outlining
the findings, and if necessary change unclear aspects (Yin, 1994).

(2) Techniques which may be used to increase internal validity:

Use of within-case analysis, the cross-case and cross-nation pattern matching, in the data analysis
phase (Miles and Huberman, 1994).

Display of illustrations and diagrams in the data analysis phase, to assist explanation building in
the data analysis phase (Miles and Huberman, 1994).
Assurance of internal coherence of findings in the data analysis phase, which can be achieved by
cross-checking the results (Yin, 1994).

3) Techniques which may be used to increase external validity:

Use of a (literal and/or theoretical) replication logic in multiple case studies in the research design
phase, for example, 15 cases across two industries (e.g. manufacturing and services) in three
countries (e.g. Australia, UK, USA) (Eisenhardt, 1989; Parkhe, 1993).

Definition of the scope and boundaries in the research design phase, which help to achieve
reasonable analytical generalisations rather than statistical generalisations for the research in the
research design phase (Marshall and Rossman, 1989).

Comparison of evidence with the extant literature in the data analysis phase, to clearly outline
contributions and generalise those within the scope and boundaries of the research, not to a larger
population (Yin, 1994).

(4) Techniques which may be used to increase reliability:

Give full account of theories and ideas for each research phase (LeCompte and Goetz, 1982).

Assurance of congruence between the research issues and features of the study design in the
research design phase (Yin, 1994).

Record observations and actions as concrete as possible (LeCompte and Goetz, 1982).

Development and refinement of the case study protocol in the research design phase can be
achieved by conducting several pilot studies testing the way of questioning and its structure
(Eisenhardt, 1989; Mitchell, 1993; Yin, 1994).

Use of a structured or semi-structured case study protocol (Yin, 1994).

Use multiple researchers who continually communicate about methodological decisions (LeCompte
and Goetz, 1982).

Record data mechanically, for example, by using a tape recorder or video tape (Hair and Riege,
1995).

Development of a case study data base at the end of data collection phase, to provide a
characteristic way of organising and documenting the mass of collected data (Lincoln and Guba,
1985).

Assurance of meaningful parallelism of findings across multiple data sources (Yin, 1994).

Use peer review/examination (LeCompte and Goetz, 1982).

Qualitative techniques for corresponding design tests

Different qualitative techniques have been suggested in the literature by various researchers,
shown in column 4 in Table I, for establishing validity and reliability in qualitative research with
regard to the four corresponding design tests of confirmability, credibility, transferability and
dependability. These qualitative techniques, which also can be applied to the rigorous case study
method, are highlighted next as well as cross-reference to the phase of research when the
technique is to be used.

(1) Techniques which may be used for establishing confirmability:


Use of the confirmability audit during the data collection and data analysis phase of the research
(Lincoln and Guba, 1985). That is, the examination of raw data, findings, interpretations and
recommendations. In particular, the audit involves retention of the raw data such as field notes,
tapes, documents and others during the data collection stage for later inspection by the auditor if
required. The next stage in the audit is for the auditor to judge whether inferences based on the
data are logical during the data analysis phase as well as checking the quality of the findings and
interpretations.

(2) Techniques which may be used for establishing credibility:

Use of triangulation techniques such as multiple sources of evidence, investigators and methods
during the data collection and data analysis phase of the research, which enhance credibility
(Lincoln and Guba, 1985).

Use of peer debriefing technique such as presenting the data analysis and conclusions to
colleagues on a regular basis during the data analysis stage so as to foster subsequent credibility
(Hirschman, 1986; Robson, 1993).

Use of member checks technique by presenting the findings and conclusions to the respondents
and to take their reaction into account during the report writing phase of the research (Lincoln and
Guba, 1985).

Credibility also can be achieved during the research design stage by taking into account the
researcher's assumptions, worldview and being theoretically orientated (Merriam, 1988).

Researcher self-monitoring is another technique for establishing credibility, and this occurs during
the data collection and data analysis phase (Merriam, 1988). This technique involves the
researcher carrying out the inquiry in such a way that ensures credibility.

(3) Techniques which may be used for establishing transferability:

Develop a case study database during the data collection phase of the research, which includes a
"thick description" for readers to assess the potential transferability (Lincoln and Guba, 1985).

Use of cross-case and, where appropriate, cross-nation analysis in the data analysis stage of the
research (Miles and Huberman, 1994).

Use of specific procedures for coding and analysis such as symbols, signs and others during the
data analysis phase helps to ensure transferability (Yin, 1994).

(4) Techniques which may be used for establishing dependability:

Use of the dependability audit during the research design phase of the research (Lincoln and
Guba, 1985). This audit involves the examination and documentation of the process of inquiry and
this occurs in the research design stage. The auditor examines whether the processes followed in
the inquiry are in order, understandable, well documented, providing mechanisms against bias,
thus establishing dependability.

Dependability also can be achieved in the research design phase by safeguarding against
researcher's theoretical position and biases (Hirschman, 1986).

Implications for further research

This paper established criteria for judging the quality of case study method by synthesising several
tests and techniques for establishing validity and reliability in case study research with special
reference to marketing research. However, the case study research also can be applied to other
research areas such as management and education research. For example, in the field of
management research, it is appropriate for research into strategic management (Godfrey and Hill,
1995), organisational behaviour (Donnellan, 1995), and human resource management. The same
rigour and thoroughness can be applied for each phase of the research to ensure its overall quality.
Thus, an in-depth and rigorous case study approach can assist both management research
practitioners and academics. One of our objectives was to not only provide a comprehensive
overview of techniques but to provide opportunities for further research in case study research.
Further research may discover additional techniques, which then can be used along with the
techniques already mentioned, to further increase the rigour and thoroughness, thus enhancing the
overall quality of, and understanding of the issues related to, case study research.

Moreover, a comparison of positivism and realism paradigms to research methodology, with


special reference to marketing research, provides opportunities for further research in research
methodology comparison in the areas of management and education research. As with any
scientific research, if there are doubts about the research design, data collection, analysis and/or
findings due to issues related to validity and reliability, other researchers can replicate the
investigation with a similar case study research subject. If the investigation were considered to be
correct, accurate and rigorous, further research can build of this. Of course, findings from
exploratory case study research (as most other research) rarely are accepted immediately, and
most likely require additional research, either in the form of additional qualitative or testing
quantitative research.

Conclusion

The validity and reliability of case study research is a key issue for both marketing research
practitioners and academics. A high degree of validity and reliability provides not only confidence in
the data collected but, most significantly, trust in the successful application and use of the results to
managerial decision-making. The four design tests of construct validity, internal validity, external
validity and reliability are commonly applied to the theoretical paradigm of positivism. Similarly,
however, they can be used for the realism paradigm, which includes case study research. The
realist approach needs to be accepted as a scientific approach to generate "rich" not "soft" data,
and is suggested as an alternative to the more traditional positivist paradigm. In addition to using
the four "traditional" design tests, the application of four "corresponding" design tests is
recommended to enhance validity and reliability, that is, credibility, trustworthiness (transferability),
confirmability and dependability. Thus, we argue that all eight design tests, traditional and
corresponding, are applicable to the realism paradigm, which encompasses case study research,
as compared with the positivism paradigm where only the four "traditional" design tests are
applicable. Therefore, by being able to apply all the eight design tests rigorously to case study
research, it enhances the quality, validity, and reliability of case study research. In particular, this
paper emphasises several case study techniques and advice (Table I, column 3), as well as
qualitative techniques (Table I, column 4), all of which are recommended to achieve high quality
in case study research through these eight tests. Note that different techniques apply, depending
on the phase of research, that is research design, data collection, data analysis, and report writing.
We expect that the comprehensive overview of various techniques will offer a practical and
valuable step-by-step guide to addressing and establishing validity and reliability in case study
research for both marketing practitioners and academics. As a result of focusing on every single
phase of the research project, researchers can have faith and confidence in their data and what
controls were employed over them, as well as their results and conclusions.

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