“Did I Do Okay?”: The Case for the Participant Reflexive Journal

It is not unusual for an in-depth interview (IDI) or focus group participant to wonder at some point in an interview or discussion if the participant “did okay”; that is, whether the participant responded to the researcher’s questions in the Reflexivitymanner in which the researcher intended. For instance, an interviewer investigating parents’ healthy food purchases for their children might ask a mother to describe a typical shopping trip to the grocery store. In response, the mother might talk about the day of the week, the time of day, where she shops, and whether she is alone or with her children or someone else. After which she might ask the interviewer, Is that the kind of thing you were looking for? Is that what you mean? Did I do okay in answering your question? The interviewer’s follow up might be, Tell me something about the in-store experience such as the sections of the store you visit and the kinds of food items you typically buy.

It is one thing to misinterpret the intention of a researcher’s question – e.g., detailing the logistics of food purchasing rather than the actual food purchase experience – but another thing to adjust responses based on any number of factors influenced by the researcher-participant interaction. These interaction effects stem, in part, from the participant’s attempt to “do okay” in their role in the research process. Dr. Kathryn Roulston at the University of Georgia has written quite a bit about interaction in research interviews, including an edited volume Interactional Studies of Qualitative Research Interviews.

The dynamics that come into play in an IDI or focus group study – and in varying degrees, ethnographic research – are of great interest to qualitative researchers and important considerations in the overall quality of the research. This is the reason that a lot has been written about the researcher’s reflexive journal and its importance in allowing researchers to reflect on their contribution to the data gathered. Many articles in Research Design Review – such as “Interviewer Bias & Reflexivity in Qualitative Research” and “Reflections from the Field: Questions to Stimulate Reflexivity Among Qualitative Researchers” – and elsewhere – including an August 2017 issue in Qualitative Psychology devoted to reflexivity and a host of articles such as Shari Goldstein’s “Reflexivity in Narrative Research” – have discussed reflexivity and the role of the reflexive journal in the validity of the outcomes.

And yet, with the exception of scholars such as Kathy Roulston, relatively little has been discussed concerning the participant’s actual experience of the research event (i.e., the interview or group discussion) and its potential to undermine the validity of qualitative data. In particular, it would be of interest to understand how the participant’s actual experience from the participant’s perspective shaped the outcomes. That is, a participant reflexive journal. Not unlike the reflexivity practiced by researchers, what if participants were asked to reflect on their role in the research process. What if participants were asked to reflect on introspective questions such as:

  • What affect did the interviewer’s race or ethnicity have on my responses?
  • How did the physical space in which the interview was conducted affect my responses?
  • Did the moderator’s handling of the group dynamics stifle ideas and experiences I wanted to share?
  • The interviewer didn’t seem to like me, how did that alter the veracity of my responses?
  • How did the differing opinions expressed in the focus group change my own opinions?
  • Did I agree or disagree with certain ideas to simply go along with everyone else in the group discussion?

In this way, the participant reflexive journal empowers participants to answer the question so often asked – “Did I do okay?”

 

Image captured from: https://www.pexels.com/search/reflection/

7 comments

  1. very interesting blog which made think that participant reflexive journal could be also great to capture how taking part in the study has changed people thoughts, behaviour, and everyday life. we can argue that this is more related to the impact of research on individual participants but it is very important to capture this impact/change. I met a PhD student the other day who is interested in understanding playtime in hospital for children with acute illnesses. she mentioned to me that some parent who took part in the interviews told her afterwards how they have never thought about playtime before and how taking part in this research has changed their perceptions. I would definitely encourage my students in future to think and include participants reflexive journal in their research.

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    1. Thank you for your comment and for sharing the experience of your PhD student. This, I think, is a good example of how participation in our research potentially affects the participants. And, wouldn’t it be interesting to know how the change in perceptions actually impacted parents’ responses to our interview questions? Thanks again.

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  2. Excellent thought process. When participants ask “did I do okay,” they don’t have any background experience to help them know that everything they do and don’t say is important. They don’t know that we aren’t seeking precise answers but rather want to know what thoughts and experiences are and aren’t top of mind, what they feel should be talked about or not talked about.

    I don’t think any market researchers have gone this route to learn about the participant experience more holistically.

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    1. Thank you, Carol, for your comment. And wouldn’t it be interesting to hear the responses? How (would) our outcomes be altered after participants’ reflections on their responses?

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      1. Its potentially a source of variation. I don’t think I have ever seen any research on that topic – although it would be tricky to design and implement.

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  3. This is where the art and the science of qualitative research meet. The interaction can be very subtle – but distinct – and a threat to validity and reliability. This is something the researcher should always be aware – that it could happen. In a dynamic situation – such as a probing interview – confounding could happen at just about any point. However, a question that I have, is – in the example given – the interviewer stayed in their role and followed up with – “Tell me something about the in-store experience such as the sections of the store you visit and the kinds of food items you typically buy.” ignoring the respondent’s question. Could one just respond – there are no right or wrong answers – and then ask the follow-up question? This would show that you are listening to them and that you acknowledge their question. This likely re-states something that was said in the introduction to them – so, you would be just re-affirming.

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    1. Thank you, Joe, for your comment. Yes, you are absolutely right. The interviewer would want to include a statement of acknowledgement. When asked this question by participants, I often say something like you suggest or “Yes, thank you for that response. Now, tell me something about…”

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