10 alternative qualitative methods

alternative qualitative methods


At the National Council for Research Methods ‘Research Methods Festival’ last month, Steve Wright (from the University of Lancaster) mentioned in his talk the frustrations he has with students that do the bog-standard ’12 semi-structured interviews’ methodology for their qualitative research projects. This prompted a lot of discussion and empathy over lunch, with many tutors lamenting how students weren’t choosing some of the more creative methods for qualitative research.


Even a lot of the popular textbooks on qualitative research only mention the basic methods, or some variants on textual data collection (eg Braun and Clarke 2013). Even if it’s not interviews of some kind, transcribed focus groups and other textual methods definitely dominate the literature. Helen Kara has a textbook specifically on Creative Methods, which is well worth a read if you are looking for inspiration. But the value of qualitative research can be magnified by choosing the right imaginative methodology, and thinking outside the box a little to redefine what we can collect and analyse as ‘data’.


This is a huge world, but I wanted to give a taster (with lots of examples) of 10 qualitative methods that can go a lot beyond the default ’12 semi-structured interviews’ and engage with participants in new and exciting ways.

 


Diaries


OK, we’ve talked about diaries before. But there is much more to diaries than just hand written journals. You can also have audio diaries (Williamson et al 2015) and video diaries (Bates 2013). There are even diary apps for phones (Garcia et al. 2015), which can notify partipants at reguar intervals to find out what they are doing or feeling. Laura Radcliffe and Leighann Spencer gave a great talk on the challenges and advantages of diary apps at RMF 2018. Each have their own benefits and give you a different level of insight into participants lives, but for certain research, especially where you want to minimise recall issues, regular recording in one of these ways can be really useful.

 

Participant Photography


Although sometimes connected with diaries, getting participants to record their life through Photo Elicitation can get them to reflect on important issues, and provides a good basis for discussion. Usually you give your participants a camera (although with the ubiquity of smartphones this is rarely necessary these days) and ask them to take pictures of things that have meaning to them about your research question. This is the concept of Photo Voice, where you give your paricipants a way to express their lives and experiences pictorially. There’s a nice overview here by Harper (2002).

 


Art


Many of the ‘creative methods’ focus on different ways to integrate art into research. You can basically use any medium, but the idea is often to get participants to reflect on their life experiences and create something (a drawing, clay sculpture, collage) that expresses something connected to the research. Examples include ‘Target drawings’ Tracy, et al. (2006), clay sculptures, (Or 2015), self-portraits (Esteban-Guitart et al 2016), drama and theatre (Norris 2010) or even quilting (Bacic et al. ND). There are many more listed in this presentation by Mannay (2016). This is a huge field, and always fun to see different ways people have been innovative here. However, a key part of the method is getting participants to either label and explain, or discuss with the researchers and other participants the meaning and different interpretations of their creations.

 


Walking methods


If your research is connected to a place, or how people experience an area, there are many interesting approaches you can do with participants while walking with them through a place and getting them to explain their world. These have various names and variations such as the ‘walking interview’ Jones et al. (2008), transecting or walking fieldwork (Goschel 2015). You can record these visually, aurally or with notes and pictures, or get participants to reflect on them afterwards.

 


Mapping / network diagrams


Another good tool for getting people to explore and explain their geographical area with researchers, but mapping tools can also be used to demonstrate other things, such as connections between organisations people use, social networks, or how they see connections between concepts as in mind mapping (Burgess-Allen and Owen-Smith 2010) . There is pictorial narrative mapping Lapum et al. 2015 (which is more like some of the artistic reflection techniques above), body mapping which can be used to show pain (Mukherjee 2002), or getting local people to create and label a map of their area.

 

Secondary Analysis


To some, this may seem even more boring than just doing qualitative interviews, but secondary analysis of other sources of data can be really interesting and insightful, and avoids a lot of practical and ethical issues. You can do document, media or social media analysis or even re-analyse someone’s existing dataset to see if it can reveal something about a different research question. There’s some more advice on our post here.

 

Games and activities


When you do focus groups, don’t just facilitate dry discussion: use games and fun activities to get your participants engaged and sharing. You can use sorting and ranking exercises with cards you make with each card representing a part of the research. You can get people to discuss photos, newspaper articles, made up stories about a controversial issues or flip-charts where you get people to come up with ideas or answer difficult questions. Get people to move: show how strongly they agree with a statement by standing at different positions along a line. In each of these situations, the data can be either the outcome (where people stand / what people share) or the discussion that ensures. There’s a whole book of tips and tricks for making focus groups more interesting (and successful): Participatory Workshop (Chambers 2002).

 

Participatory research


This isn’t always a method in itself, but in some situations it can be really valuable to include participants in the data collection or analysis. In some paradigms they can be seen as the real experts of their own lived experiences, or an ‘insider’ can be a useful co-researcher. Often they are able to make sure that the most relevant questions are being asked, can act as gatekeepers to other participants that might be difficult to reach, or will have their own interpretations of the data that can challenge researchers. It also can shift the power dynamic away from binary researcher and researched. Much more on our blog post on participatory research.

 

Observation / Ethnography


If you have the time to deeply engage with an organisation or a group of people, researchers can become embedded in their research subject with ethnography or participant observation. Usually a researcher will spend weeks, months or even years watching and learning a research context first hand, and it can give very detailed data and understanding. However, there are shorter variations of observation or ‘rapid ethnographies’ (Vindrola-Padros and Vindrola-Padros 2017) which can be a great complement to other qualitative research methods: verifying and expanding on other sources of data.

 

Surveys


Now, this again might seem a bit boring, but I think surveys are often overlooked as a qualitative research method. There are a good way to reach out to lots of people, online, in person or by post, and you can be a lot more creative with questions. Get people to explain what they see in a picture. Use one word to express how you feel about something.  Use emoji’s or get people to rate or rank statements. Ask questions about identity in different ways: which Disney princess do you most associate with, and why? Leave space for lots of open ended answers, but choose creative and engaging questions to get people to think and reflect.

 

Hopefully this post has inspired you to consider or even try out some different qualitatve methods that differ from the normal boring ones. The key with all these is to consider what exactly will constitute the data you collect, and then how you will analyse it. For data that comes back to text or transcripts, Quirkos can be a fun and engaging way to help you analyse differently as well. Give the free trial a go, and see how it makes qualitative analysis a visual method!

 

 

 

Quirkos v1.5.2 is here!

 

We are pleased to announce a bug fix release for Quirkos that takes us to version 1.5.2.

 

This is a fairly minor update, but includes 4 bug fixes people had reported:

    • Quirks that got ‘stuck’ and couldn’t be dragged
    • An issue with deleting sources that sometimes caused properties to have extra ‘not defined’ responses
    • A bug with some CSV import that led to “ characters being read incorrectly
    • A bug with docx import that would sometimes create extra spaces in the source text

 

As always, you can download and install the new version over the old one, and the update will not affect your licence or project files. There is no change to the file format, so backward compatibility is also maintained.

 

For this release, we have also created a new distribution method for Quirkos on Linux – a ‘Snap’ image. This solves several issues that Linux users had seen on some distributions, with unresolvable dependency issues and reports not launching correctly.

 

If you haven’t used Snap before, it aims to be a cross-distro package installation system, that should take care of most of the dependencies for you. It is included by default in Ubuntu 18.04, but the package manager snap (or snapd) must be installed first.

 

We’ve tested it on all releases of Ubuntu from 14.04, and Fedora 27/28. Many more distributions should be fine – please let us know if you have any issues, and we will help get around them. We are aware of two dependencies at the moment, on Fedora 28 if you are using the new Wayland driver (to replace the X window system) you will need to install the package qt5-qtwayland. On ubuntu systems using the proprietary Nvidia graphics drivers, you need to manually copy the libs:

sudo cp -r /usr/lib/nvidia-version/* /var/lib/snapd/lib/gl/

This seems to be a known issue with snapd at the moment.

 

Once you have downloaded it, you can install with a command like:

snap install quirkos_1.5.2_amd64.snap --devmode

and Quirkos can then by started from the command line by typing ‘quirkos’. Note that on some distros you will have to log out and back in again before bash is updated and typing ‘quirkos’ will link to the binary.

 

Please let us know how you get on, and as always we keep our older binary (32bit) and AppImage available for people that have had better luck with that. We hope to make Quirkos available in the Snap store in the future, which will make getting Quirks even easier for those on Ubuntu. We love Linux and supporting it, so please let us know your feedback, good or bad – there are so many different distributions and configurations of them we can’t test them all!

 

This now makes the 10th free update since Quirkos was publicly released more than 3 and a half years ago. However, check the blog next week for some very exciting news for later in the year and the future of Quirkos...