[NOTE: This article was written in 2011, four years before the Total Quality Framework was totally developed. To view the final schematic and read a discussion of the TQF and its four components, click here.]
Qualitative research designs can benefit from being grounded in a quality framework. Such a framework enables researchers to judge the efficacy of their research designs and build in design features that maximize the usefulness of the various qualitative research methods. The quality framework provides a basis by which to examine the sources of variability and establish critical thinking in the process of qualitative research design.
Integral to the quality framework is the idea that all qualitative research must be: credible, transparent, useful, and analyzable. These four components or criteria are fundamental to the quality framework and its ability to guide researchers in designing their qualitative research studies.
Credibility refers to the trustworthiness of the outcomes. A design goal of qualitative research is to provide results that are reasonably known to be true within the particular parameters and limitations of the qualitative method. Question-answer validity is one technique that fosters credibility.
Transparency refers to the clarity of the process and the ability to convey specific factors that impact the process. Qualitative research should be designed with full knowledge of the contribution that each design element makes to the final results.
Usefulness refers to the ability to move the research pursuit forward, to take the researcher to the next step. A useful qualitative research design results in new insights and hypotheses for further investigation.
Analyzability refers to the ability to analyze outcomes with a high degree of confidence. A qualitative research design that maximizes credibility, transparency, and usefulness will also maximize the researcher’s ability to provide a meaningful, accurate analysis.
An in-depth interview study, for example, is one that is designed to:
- ensure a credible outcome by: using the appropriate mode (preferably face –to-face), building into the interview necessary rapport techniques, allowing plenty of time (at least an hour) for each interview enabling interviewees to expound on their input, and integrating probes that serve to crystalize the true meaning behind each response.
- strive for transparency by paying particular attention to sampling – who, how, where the sample is derived – and weeding out anyone not fully qualified for participation or who might bias results.
- maximize the ultimate usefulness of the research by insisting that interviewees think outside their comfort zone and give considered opinions. The “what if” exercise is imperative to advancing the research issue to the next level.
- exclude any techniques or lines of questioning that will be impossible to analyze. This includes projective exercises that require the re-interpretation of response in order to understand the interviewee’s true meaning, e.g., the use of metaphors or analogies that are far flung from the issue being discussed.
These are just a few considerations that researchers will want to think through in order to bring their qualitative research designs in step with the four components of the quality framework.