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Analyzing Qualitative Data
October 31, 2014
It's been a busy month, starting with our public launch, and including our first international conference, Qualitative Health Research 2014, hosted by the International Institute for Qualitative Methodology at the University of Alberta.
The conference created a great environment to present and discuss qualitative work, in a very supportive and productive atmosphere. I also presented research from the EEiC project with Ghazala Mir as part of a larger symposium on organisational ethnography, and the slides are now up on ResearchGate.
There was lots of interest in Quirkos, especially from educators looking to introduce Qualitative research to beginners, and those wanting to include respondents in the analysis process, for end-to-end participatory research.
This last approach linked in with an engaging and challenging keynote by Dr Margarete Sandelowski, who talked about what she called 'member-checking', something I usually refer to as 'participant validation'. This is essentially the process of getting respondents to the research project to look through and validate outputs, which could be either themes, transcripts, conclusions, or reports. Dr Sandelowski raised many good points about the methodological issues that this can have for a research project. For example, she was concerned that participants could later change their minds about how they perceived events, retract permission for their data to be included, not understand conceptual frameworks being proposed by academics, or be overwhelmed or upset by seeing transcripts of interviews. There was unfortunately very little advice offered for overcoming these hurdles, a point raised in the question and answer session.
Personally, I think that qualitative research is always an ongoing dialogue between researcher and participants, and if participants change their minds about their opinions, or no longer want certain statements to be included, this is a 'no-brainer' situation - those statements are removed. I would never consider this to be a moral conflict - that data cannot be included, no argument. I have had many situations where participants have wanted certain sections of their interviews not to be included in the research, even when annonomised, sometimes because they felt a risk to their privacy or career. Sure, it was sad to have interesting bits of data removed from the project, but that was the right of the participant, and I would never considered including it anyway!
Secondly, as my colleague Dr Ghazala Mir pointed out, it is the responsibility of researchers to explain the theories and models used in the research in a way that participants can understand. Ultimately, impactful research must eventually explain itself to a general public audience, and participant engagement can be a great way to test and trial this.
I believe that the more research is a collaboration with participants the better, both methodologically and ethnically. I also think that consent should be part of a continuous dialogue, not just a one-off event. This will inevitably raise issues during the study, but these are not insurmountable obstacles, but considerations that can be anticipated, and time set aside for dealing with. For myself this is the key to being more inclusive, producing better results, and moving away from the narrow positivist approach so often associated with purely quantitative inquiry.