Janette Brocklesby recently wrote an article in QRCA Views magazine concerning the conduct of qualitative research with the Māori population of New Zealand. Specifically, she addresses the issue of whether “non- Māori researchers have the cultural competency, expertise and skills to undertake research with Māori.” Brocklesby makes the case in the affirmative, emphasizing that non- Māori qualitative researchers are “well equipped to undertake research with Māori and to convey the Māori perspective.”
In making her case, Brocklesby discusses many of the best practices mentioned repeatedly in Research Design Review. As for all qualitative research, a researcher studying Māori groups must place a high importance on:
Reflexivity – Continually questioning and contemplating the researcher’s role or impact on research outcomes is a critical step towards quality results. In March 2014, an article in RDR talked about using a reflexive journal to think about the assumptions, values, and beliefs that researchers bring to their fieldwork that potentially threaten the integrity of the data. Likewise, Brocklesby emphasizes the need for non- Māori researchers to reflect on and ask themselves questions such as, “How do I identify with New Zealand and how am I the same as and different from Māori?”
Complexity – Important to understanding another culture is the ability to delve into the complexity of personal meaning as it relates to the research participants. As discussed in this RDR article concerning social constructionism (as well as other posts throughout this blog), the human experience is defined (and complicated) by the interconnections of life’s facets. That personal meaning – even within a distinct culture – may vary greatly. In this respect, Brocklesby asserts that researchers must “make no assumptions about what being Māori means to people.” Qualitative researchers embrace the complexity of personal meaning.
Context – Context is king in qualitative research, and a topic discussed throughout RDR, e.g., context in observational research. Context, like complexity, is particularly important when studying a unique culture. In the Māori culture, for instance, it is essential to provide the necessary time for introductions in order to gain an understanding of personal identity which serves as the context that will ultimately shape research outcomes. Personal identity lurks as context in all qualitative research; a context that, unfortunately, is too often ignored and unexplored in less culturally-oriented qualitative studies.
Flexibility – A unique quality of qualitative research is flexibility. This quality manifests itself in many ways, including the researcher’s ability to adjust the research design as appropriate during the course of the field period. Brocklesby emphasizes this point when she mentions the need, for example, to include family members in research with Māori, as well as the probability of having to reschedule and respecting local customs.
These four attributes – reflexivity, complexity, context, and flexibility – are important to conducting meaningful research with Māori, yet equally important in the design of all qualitative research. Research with distinct cultures offers a useful lesson in why and how to implement best practices in qualitative research design.
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