Among the many keynote speakers, presentations, and posters at the American Psychological Association 2020 Virtual Convention (which is available online until August 1, 2021), the program includes a symposium on “Questioning Qualitative Methods – Rethinking Accepted Practices.” This session includes three presentations: “Do We Have Consensus About Consensus? Reconceptualizing Consensus as Epistemic Privilege” (by Heidi Levitt), “Is Member-Checking the Gold Standard of Quality Within Qualitative Research?” (by Sue Motulsky), and “Is Replication Important for Qualitative Researchers?” (by Rivka Tuval-Mashiach).
Ruthellen Josselson serves as discussant for this session. In her remarks, Dr. Josselson uses the symposium theme of “rethinking accepted practices” to discuss the second-tier status or “marginalization” of qualitative research, particularly in the field of psychology, and suggests a way to think differently about working in qualitative research. Josselson begins by acknowledging the core realities of qualitative research. Drawing on the panelists’ presentations – and not unlike an earlier article in Research Design Review on the “10 Distinctive Qualities of Qualitative Research” – she highlights unique aspects of qualitative research such as the multiple, contextual nature of “truth,” the absence of isolated variables to measure, and the impossibility of exact replication. These realities, however, do not or should not condemn qualitative research to the periphery of the research methods arena.
To drive qualitative research away from the periphery and its marginalized status, Josselson offers an approach centered on “collectivism” or the idea of a concerted effort among qualitative researchers to investigate phenomena together with the objective of making meaningful contributions toward addressing the research issue. In this spirit, qualitative researchers set out “to know together” the nuances of a research problem along with plausible, useful paths forward. For example, in the analysis and reporting of a research study, Josselson suggests that, rather than simply citing relevant papers in the literature to support the author’s particular hypothesis or method, researchers conduct a more thorough analysis of the topic area and incorporate thoughtful discussions of all research relevant to the research question, including outliers or outcomes demonstrating contrary findings. It is in this way that qualitative researchers can build on each other’s work, foster a collaborative approach to unraveling research problems, and potentially make a more profound impact on tackling research issues compared to isolated research efforts.
Not unlike the various strategies and tactics espoused for raising the quality – the rigor – in qualitative research (e.g., (Levitt, Motulsky, Wertz, Morrow, & Ponterotto, 2017; Lincoln, 1995; Meyrick, 2006; Morrow, 2005; Morse, Barrett, Mayan, Olson, & Spiers, 2002; Roller & Lavrakas, 2015; Tracy, 2010), embracing a united call to action, where each study builds upon the other and qualitative researchers work together for the “collective good,” helps to elevate the value and significance of qualitative research within the broader research community.
Here are just a few ideas on how qualitative researchers can work together to help raise the perceived value of qualitative research:
- Build on earlier research and make that the objective of your research.
- Discuss how your approach or design is the same or different than earlier research on the topic area.
- Discuss how your research makes a valuable contribution to a research problem or question.
- Fully disclose the quality features built into your research design.
- Discuss the possible sources of variations in your findings compared to others’ research.
- Discuss the opportunities for future research on the research question.
- Be transparent in reporting all aspects of your research.
- Be an advocate for data sharing. As Anna Tarrant and Kahryn Hughes discuss in “The re-use of qualitative data is an under-appreciated field for innovation and the creation of new knowledge in the social sciences,” the utilization of shared data presents
“new directions…for thinking through questions concerning researchers’ formative engagement with existing data, as well as methodological innovations for addressing these. Additionally, the [use of shared data] demonstrates the creative potential of re-apprehending data in new and novel ways, both in how existing datasets may be reused for the purposes of new thinking, but also effective ways of taking existing relationships from previous research forward.”
A conversation on a collective approach to qualitative research is worth having, and one that will hopefully grow and expand among qualitative researchers over time.
Levitt, H. M., Motulsky, S. L., Wertz, F. J., Morrow, S. L., & Ponterotto, J. G. (2017). Recommendations for designing and reviewing qualitative research in psychology: Promoting methodological integrity. Qualitative Psychology, 4(1), 2–22. https://doi.org/10.1037/qup0000082
Lincoln, Y. S. (1995). Emerging criteria for quality in qualitative and interpretive research. Qualitative Inquiry, 1(3), 275–289. https://doi.org/10.1177/107780049500100301
Meyrick, J. (2006). What is good qualitative research? A first step towards a comprehensive approach to judging rigour/quality. Journal of Health Psychology, 11(5), 799–808. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105306066643
Morrow, S. L. (2005). Quality and trustworthiness in qualitative research in counseling psychology. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52(2), 250–260. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-018.104.22.168
Morse, J. M., Barrett, M., Mayan, M., Olson, K., & Spiers, J. (2002). Verification strategies for establishing reliability and validity in qualitative research. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 1(2), 13–22.
Roller, M. R., & Lavrakas, P. J. (2015). Applied qualitative research design: A total quality framework approach. New York: Guilford Press.
Tracy, S. J. (2010). Qualitative quality: Eight “big-tent” criteria for excellent qualitative research. Qualitative Inquiry, 16(10), 837–851. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077800410383121