There are certain types of qualitative research studies that employ more than one qualitative research method to explore a particular topic or phenomenon, i.e., the researcher uses multiple methods. These studies generally fall into the category of case study or narrative research, which are both designated by the label of “case-centered research.” The attributes that differentiate these forms of research from other qualitative approaches were discussed in an earlier Research Design Review post (“Multi-method & Case-centered Research: When the Whole is Greater Than the Sum of its Parts”). These differentiating attributes are largely associated with the use of multiple methods to gain a complete understanding of complex subject matter. As stated in the post:
Multi-method research enables the qualitative researcher to study relatively complex entities or phenomena in a way that is holistic and retains meaning. The purpose is to tackle the research objective from all the methodological sides. Rather than pigeonholing the research into a series of IDIs, focus groups, or observations, the multi-method approach frees the researcher into total immersion with the subject matter.
A multi-method approach to conduct case-centered research requires sufficient time and resources – in terms of financial and human support – as well as unique skills on the part of the researcher. A researcher adept at single-method research – e.g., an IDI study to examine employee attitudes toward new company policies, a focus group study concerning the drinking habits among teenagers – is not necessarily equipped with the appropriate skills for conducting multi-method studies. Here are seven important skills required of the researcher who plans to use multiple methods to conduct case-centered – case study or narrative – research:
- Experience & expertise in different qualitative research methods – IDIs, group discussions, observation, content analysis.
- Exceptional organizational skills, e.g., the ability to coordinate/stage the various elements of the research design.
- Exceptional time management skills, e.g., the ability to allocate a reasonable time frame for each step.
- Wherewithal to obtain the necessary permissions to gain access to observation venues, activities, documents.
- Ability to relinquish control, allowing the case or the narrative to steer the direction of the investigation.
- Ability to accept many different points of view.
- Ability to notice the sequence of events as well as the physical & substantive context of information across all methods.