Chaos & Problem Solving in Qualitative Analysis

In Conceptual Blockbusting: A Guide to Better Ideas, James Adams offers readers a varied and ingenious collection of approaches to overcoming the barriers to effective problem solving.  Specifically, Adams emphasizes the idea that to solve complex problems, it is necessary to identify the barriers chaotic-lifeand then learn to think differently.  As far as barriers, he discusses four “blocks” that interfere with conceptual thinking – perceptual, emotional, cultural and environmental, and intellectual and expressive – as well as ways to modify thinking to overcome these blocks – e.g., a questioning attitude, looking for the core problem, list-making, and soliciting ideas from other people.

Adams’ chapter on emotional blocks discusses ways that the thinking process builds barriers to problem solving.  One of these is the inability or unwillingness to think through “chaotic situations.”  Adams contends that a path to complex problem solving is bringing order to chaos yet some people have “an excessive fondness for order in all things” leaving them with an “inability to tolerate ambiguity.”  In other words, they have “no appetite for chaos.”  Adams puts it this way –

The solution of a complex problem is a messy process.  Rigorous and logical techniques are often necessary, but not sufficient.  You must usually wallow in misleading and ill-fitting data, hazy and difficult-to-test concepts, opinions, values, and other such untidy quantities.  In a sense, problem-solving is bringing order to chaos. (p. 48)

Problem solving is a “messy process” and no less so when carrying out an analysis of qualitative data.  There are several articles in Research Design Review that Read Full Text

Seeing Without Knowing: Potential Bias in Mobile Research

Mobile research – specifically, research by way of smartphone technology – has become a widely used and accepted design option for conducting qualitative and survey research.  The advantages of the mobile mode are many, not the least of which thought-bubbleare: the high incidence of smartphone ownership in the U.S. (more than 60% in 2015), the ubiquitous influence smartphones have on our lives, the dependence people have on their smartphones as their go-to channel for communicating and socializing, and the features of the smartphone that offer a variety of response formats (e.g., text, video, image) and location-specific (e.g., geo-targeting, geo-fencing) capabilities.

From a research design perspective, there are also several limitations to the mobile mode, including: the small screen of the smartphone (making the design of standard scale and matrix questionnaire items – as well as the user experience overall – problematic), the relatively short attention span of the respondent or participant precipitated by frequent interruptions, the potential for errors due to the touch screen technology, and connectivity issues.

Another important yet often overlooked concern with mobile research is the potential for bias associated with the smartphone response format and location features mentioned earlier.  Researchers have been quick to embrace the ability to capture video and photographs as well as location information yet they have not universally exercised caution when integrating these features into their research designs.  For example, a recent webinar in which a qualitative researcher presented the virtues of mobile qualitative research – esp., for documenting in-the-moment experiences – espoused the advantages of Read Full Text

Reporting Qualitative Research: A Model of Transparency

A number of articles in Research Design Review have discussed, in one form or another, the Total Quality Framework (TQF)* approach to qualitative research design.  An RDR post last month pertained to applying the TQF to the in-depth interviewing method; while other articles have focused on transparencyways to integrate quality measures – in harmony with the TQF – into ethnography, mobile research, and the research proposal.  Separate from applications per se, an article in February 2015 discussed the compatibility of a quality approach with social constructionism.

One of the four components of the TQF is Transparency** which is specific to the reporting phase of the research process.  In particular, Transparency has to do with the researcher’s full disclosure of the research design, fieldwork, and analytical procedures in the final document.  This sounds simple enough yet it is common to read qualitative research reports, papers, and articles that too quickly jump to research findings and discussion, with relatively scant attention given to the peculiarities of the design, data gathering, or analysis.  This is unfortunate and misguided because these details are necessary for the user of the research to understand the context by which interpretations were derived and to judge the applicability of the outcomes to other situations (i.e., transferability).

There are, of course, exceptions; and, indeed, many researchers are skillful in divulging these all-important details.  One example is Deborah C. Bailey’s article, “Women and Wasta: The Use of Focus Groups for Understanding Social Capital and Middle Eastern Women.”  In it, Bailey provides Read Full Text