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An Introduction to Qualitative Research

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  1. An Introduction to Qualitative Research Anna Voce Department of Public Health Medicine

  2. Resources • Ulin et al (2002) Qualitative methods: A field guide for applied research in Sexual and Reproductive Health. Family Health International. • Patton MQ (2002) Qualitative Research and Evaluation Methods. 3rd Edition. Sage Publications • Resource CD

  3. The complementary nature of research approaches

  4. Approaches to Research • Positivist • Objective, stable reality governed by context-free cause-effect relationships • Scientific, evidence-based, deductive knowledge • Research methods structured, replicable, experimental; results are quantifiable

  5. Interpretive • Subjective, socially constructed reality, which must be interpreted • Knowledge influenced by multiple realities, sensitive to context; research aims to uncover the meaning of phenomena • Researcher is a co-creator of meaning, brings own subjective experience to the research, methods try to capture ‘insider’ knowledge, research conducted in natural settings

  6. Mixing methodologies “Let us be done with the arguments of [qualitative versus quantitative methods] … and get on with the business of attacking our problems with the widest array of conceptual and methodological tools that we possess and they demand.” Trow, 1957 In: Ulin et al. (2002) p. 49

  7. “A paradigm of choices rejects methodological orthodoxy in favour of methodological appropriateness as the primary criterion for judging methodological quality ” McKinlay JB (1993) In:Baum (1995) p.464

  8. Choosing the appropriate research methodology • Quantitative research • Descriptive (who, how many, where, when, how often) • Analytic (why – causal links) • Applied (test interventions – what change) • Quantitative methods on their own do not offer sufficient understanding of the complex web of relationships between the factors that determine health and disease

  9. Qualitative methods help to: • Explain the factors that influence health and disease • Understand how individuals and communities understand health and disease • Study the interactions between players who are relevant to a public health issue • Answer questions like: • Why did it happen in that context? Why do some participate and others not? How do professionals exert their power?

  10. Example: Smoking and lung cancer • Epidemiological research has established the association b/t smoking and lung cancer • Qualitative methodology helps to explain: • The power of tobacco companies and advertising • Reasons why people continue to smoke despite the evidence • Social meaning of smoking (eg among women and the youth)

  11. Integrating methods • Match the research methodology to: • The type of research question • The nature of the problem being investigated • Mixing methodologies • Qual preliminary to QUANT (generate hypotheses) • Quant preliminary to QUAL (guides purposive sampling) • QUANT followed-up by qual (helps interpret findings) • QUAL followed-up by quant (tests generalisability)

  12. The process of qualitative research

  13. The steps in designing a qualitative study • Establish the general problem to be investigated • Of interest to the researcher • Stating the purpose of the study • Based on problem analysis • Arises from previous studies • Guided by literature review • Determined by who will use the research results

  14. Develop a conceptual/theoretical framework for the study • Formulate general and specific research questions (aims and objectives) • Select a qualitative research design • Select a sampling strategy • Establish site of the research • Selection of participants

  15. Ensure trustworthiness of the study • Determine data collection methods and develop data collection tools • Establish how data will be managed and analysed • Interpretation and discussion of findings • Prepare research report

  16. Qualitative research designs

  17. Types of qualitative research designs • The case study • Ethnography • Grounded theory • Phenomenology • Participatory research

  18. The case study

  19. The Case Study • Interest is in an individual case rather than in a method of inquiry • Data may be quantitative or qualitative • Focus on what can be learned from the individual case • A ‘case’ may be simple or complex • Single child • Class of children

  20. Types of case study • Intrinsic • The case itself is of interest • Instrumental case study • A particular case is studied to provide insight into an issue or to refine a theory • Collective case study • A number of cases are studied jointly in order to investigate a phenomenon (instrumental study extended to several cases)

  21. Ethnography

  22. Ethnography • Rooted in anthropology • Also called participant observation/ naturalistic enquiry • Ethno = people • Graphy = describing something • Characterised by immersion

  23. Role of the observer • Complete observer • Behind one-way mirror, invisible role • Observer as participant • Known, overt observer • Participant as observer • Pseudo-member, research role known • Complete participant • Full membership, research role not known

  24. Amount of time in the field site Not relevant All details in the field Researcher’s Focus of Attention Amount of time in the field site Not Important Figure: Focusing in field research (Adapted from Neuman 1997)

  25. Grounded Theory

  26. Grounded Theory • Rooted in social sciences • Emphasises the development of theory • Which is grounded in data systematically collected and analysed (constant comparative analysis to produce substantive theory) • Theory must be faithful to the evidence • Looks for generalisable theory - by making comparisons across situations • Focus is on patterns of action and interaction

  27. Phenomenology

  28. Features of Phenomenology • Rooted in philosophy • Central question: what is the meaning, structure, and essence of the lived experience of this phenomenon for this person/group of people? • How is each individual’s subjective reality applied to make experiences meaningful? • Analysis of the language used

  29. Approaches to Participatory Research

  30. Participatory Action Research (PAR) • Emphasises the political aspects of knowledge production • Concerned about power and powerlessness – empowerment through conscientisation (building self-awareness and constructing knowledge) • Importance of people’s lived experience – ‘honour the wisdom of the people’ • Concerned with genuine collaboration • Democratic values

  31. Action Research • Build action theories - action science • Aim is to develop effective action, improve practice, and implement change • Cyclical process, alternating between action and reflection

  32. Action-research groups • Action-learning group – facilitated or self-directed • Emphasis on individual learning • Reflection-in-action • Reflection-on-action • Action-research team • Focus on operational problems • Facilitated (technical to empowering continuum)

  33. Sampling in qualitative research

  34. Considerations in sampling • Purpose of qualitative research • Produce information-rich data • Depth rather than breadth • Insight rather than generalisation • Conceptual rather than numerical considerations • Choose information-rich sites and respondents

  35. Common sampling approach • Purposive sampling • Not haphzard • Select information-rich cases • Not the same as convenience sampling

  36. PurposiveSampling Strategies • Deviant case sampling • Information rich cases that are unusual (e.g. In Search of Excellence) • Intensity sampling • Excellent examples of the phenomenon of interest but not highly unusual cases • Heterogenous sampling • Sample people with diverse characteristics to see whether there are common patterns

  37. Homogenous samples • Describe a particular sub-group in depth • Typical case sampling • To describe and illustrate what is typical to a particular setting • Snowball sampling • Through informants identify others who know a lot about the issue • Opportunistic sampling • Taking advantage of on-the-spot opportunities

  38. Considerations in sample size • Saturation • Redundancy • Minimum samples based on expected reasonable coverage, given the purpose of the study and constraints

  39. Ensuring the trustworthiness of qualitative research

  40. Criteria for judging the quality and credibility of qualitative research • Criteria for judging the quality of qualitative research specific to the research design selected • General criteria inlcude: • Clear exposition of data collection and analysis methods • Generating and assessing rival conclusions • Alternative themes, divergent patterns, rival explanations • Attention to negative cases

  41. Triangulation • Methods – interviews, observations, document analysis • Sources – public/private, over time, different perspectives • Analysts – multiple analysts, independent analysis and compare findings • Theories – to understand how diferent assumptions affect findings, illuminate inconsistencies

  42. Respondent validation • Reflexivity • The researcher as research instrument • Relevance • Adds to/affirms existing knowledge • Generalisable to similar settings

  43. Ethical considerations • Informed consent • Possible risks and benefits • Voluntary participation • Assurances of confidentiality • Purpose of the research • How chosen to be a participant • Data collection procedures • Whom to contact with questions and concerns

  44. Data Collection Methods

  45. Observation • Purpose of observation • Describe the setting • First-hand experience – assists with analysis • See what is normally taken for granted or not easily spoken about • Confirm perceptions of respondents • Requires training, preparation and discipline • Develop an observation checklist

  46. Types of observation • Observer as outsider - unobtrusive • Participant observation • Mystery client technique

  47. Sources of observational data • The setting • The human and social environment • Historical information • Planned activities • Informal interactions and unplanned activities • ‘Native’ language • Nonverbal communication • Unobtrusive observations • Documents • What does not happen • Oneself

  48. Document review • Negotiate access to important documents at the beginning of the study • Can help the researcher to identify what needs to be pursued further in direct observation and interviews • Respect confidentiality – to what extent is the document a public document? • Use checklist to guide document review

  49. Interviewing • Purpose of interviews • Elicit feelings • Thoughts • Opinions • Previous experiences • The meaning people give to certain events

  50. Types of interviews • Informal conversational interview • General interview guide approach • Standardised open-ended interview • Closed fixed-response interview • Combination of approaches