The importance of consistency (or, the danger of inconsistency) in qualitative data collection has been discussed elsewhere in Research Design Review (see “The Recipe for Quality Outcomes in Qualitative Research Includes a Healthy Dose of Consistency” and “Mitigating Researcher-as-instrument Effects”). From the perspective of the Total Quality Framework, moderator inconsistency can be a real concern in the focus group method because of the extreme multitasking required of the moderator. More so than in the in-depth interview method, the focus group moderator has to manage multiple points of view and ensure the full engagement of all group participants within a well-defined slot of time (typically, 75–120 minutes depending on the mode). Because of these challenges and the inherent unpredictability of the group dynamic process, the moderator may find it difficult (if not impossible) to cover all areas of the discussion guide across different focus groups and/or practice consistent behavior in the articulation of research questions in each group. This inconsistency across groups does not necessarily lead to inaccuracy in the research data (i.e., biased outcomes) but may result in variations in the data that do not actually exist.
For example, a series of focus group discussions among people who are active in environmental causes might include some groups that were easily managed by the moderator, who was able to cover the entirety of the discussion guide, thereby providing a well Read Full Text
A TQF research proposal clearly defines the target population for the proposed research, the target sample (if the researcher is interested in a particular subgroup of the target population, e.g., only African American and Hispanic high school seniors in the district who anticipate graduating in the coming spring), how participants will be selected for the study, what they will be asked to do (e.g., set aside school time for an in-depth interview [IDI]), and the general types of questions to which they will be asked to respond (i.e., the content areas of the interview). In discussing Scope, the researcher proposing an IDI study with African American and Hispanic high school students would identify the list that will be used to select participants (e.g., the district’s roster of seniors who are expected to graduate); the advantages and drawbacks to using this list (e.g., not everyone on the roster may consider themselves to be African American or Hispanic); the systematic (preferably random) procedure that will be used to select the sample; and the number of students that will be selected as participants, including the rationale for that number and the steps that will be taken to gain cooperation from the students and thereby ideally ensure that everyone selected actually completes an interview (e.g., gaining permission from the school principal to allow students to take school time to participate in the IDI, and from parents/guardians for students under 18 years of age who cannot give informed consent on their own behalf).
The data-gathering portion of the Research Design section of the proposal highlights the constructs and issues that will be examined in the proposed research. This discussion should provide details of the types of questions that will be asked, observations that will be recorded, or areas of interest Read Full Text
An important aspect related to Scope within the Credibility component of the Total Quality Framework (TQF) for qualitative research design is the extent to which the researcher is successful in gaining cooperation from the participants. In an in-depth interview (IDI) study, the researcher is concerned with the impact that the proportion of selected interviewees not interviewed or only partially interviewed has on the integrity of the data. This is the domain of research that is often termed “nonresponse.” If this proportion is large and/or if the group that is selected but not interviewed differs in meaningful ways from those who are interviewed, bias can infiltrate the final data of an IDI study and compromise the credibility of the research.
To avoid this, qualitative researchers need to give serious a priori thought to how they will gain high and representative levels of cooperation from the persons they have selected to interview, and how individuals who do not cooperate may differ in past experiences, attitudes, behaviors, and knowledge compared to interviewees. The researcher must keep in mind that bias may enter into the outcomes, and the credibility of the study’s findings and interpretations thereby weakened, if the characteristics of those in the sample who do not cooperate with an IDI study are correlated with the key topics the study is investigating. Likewise, qualitative researchers using the IDI method should also constantly monitor the representativeness of the group of selected participants that does cooperate and watch whether the characteristics of that group deviate from the characteristics of the target population. This may be difficult in the case of the email IDI (or other asynchronous text-based mode) where the interviewer must stay alert to the consistency of participants’ responses and recognize when the identity of the interviewee may have changed (i.e., someone other than the recruited research participant is the one now responding). For instance, in an email IDI study among Read Full Text