The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 20-21)
Many researchers have advanced strategies, criteria, or frameworks for thinking about and promoting the importance of “the quality” of qualitative research at some stage in the research design. There are those who focus on quality as it relates to specific aspects—such as various validation and verification strategies or “checklists” (Barbour, 2001; Creswell, 2013; Brinkmann & Kvale, 2015; Maxwell, 2013; Morse et al., 2002), validity related to researcher decision making (Koro-Ljungberg, 2010) and subjectivity (Bradbury-Jones, 2007), or the specific role of transparency in assessing the quality of outcomes (Miles, Huberman, & Saldaña, 2014). There are others who prescribe particular approaches in the research process—such as consensual qualitative research (Hill et al., 2005), the use of triangulation (Tobin & Begley, 2004), or an audit procedure (Akkerman, Admiraal, Brekelmans, & Oost, 2006). And there are still others who take a broader, more general view that emphasizes the importance of “paying attention to the qualitative rigor and model of trustworthiness from the moment of conceptualization of the research” (Thomas & Magilvy, 2011, p. 154; see also, Bergman & Coxon, 2005; Whittemore et al., 2001).
The strategies or ways of thinking about quality in qualitative research that are most relevant to the Total Quality Framework (TQF) are those that are (a) paradigm neutral, (b) flexible (i.e., do not adhere to a defined method), and (c) applicable to all phases of the research process. Among these, the work of Lincoln and Guba (e.g., 1981, 1985, 1986, and 1995) is the most noteworthy. Although they profess a paradigm orientation “of the constructionist camp, loosely defined” (Lincoln et al., 2011, p. 116), the quality criteria Lincoln and Guba set forth more than 35 years ago is particularly pertinent to the TQF in that it advances the concept of trustworthiness as a major criterion for judging whether a qualitative research study is “rigorous.” In their model, trustworthiness addresses the issue of “How can a [qualitative researcher] persuade [someone] that the findings of a [study] are worth paying attention to, worth taking account of?” (Lincoln & Guba, 1985, p. 290). That is, what are the criteria upon which such an assessment should be based? In this way, Lincoln and Guba espouse standards that are flexible (i.e., can be adapted depending on the research context) as well as relevant throughout the research process.
These standards put forth the criteria of credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability. For Lincoln and Guba (1985), credibility is the extent to which the findings of a qualitative research study are internally valid (i.e., accurate). Credibility, or the lack thereof, is established through (a) prolonged engagement, (b) persistent observation, (c) triangulation, (d) peer debriefings, (e) negative case analysis, (f) referential adequacy, and (g) member checks. Transferability refers to the extent to which other researchers or users of the research can determine the applicability of the research design and/or the study findings to other research contexts (e.g., other participants, places, and times). Transferability, or the lack thereof, is primarily established through thick description that is “necessary to enable someone interested in making a transfer to reach a conclusion about whether transfer can be contemplated as a possibility” (Lincoln & Guba, 1985, p. 316). Thick description and transferability are key elements of the TQF Transparency component. Dependability is the degree to which an independent “auditor” can look at the qualitative research process and determine its “acceptability” and, in so doing, create an audit trail of the process. To that end, the Transparency component of the TQF deals directly with the idea of providing the user of the research with an audit trail pertaining to all aspects of the research in the final research document. And, confirmability refers to utilizing the same dependability audit to examine the evidence in the data that purportedly supports the researcher’s findings, interpretations, and recommendations.
Like the Lincoln and Guba model, an important facet of the TQF is its focus on maintaining the integrity of qualitative research design. By acknowledging the unique attributes of qualitative research while also applying core research principles, quality frameworks such as the TQF hold qualitative researchers accountable and ultimately produce outcomes that are useful.
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