Back in 2018, Research Design Review posted an article titled “Five Tech Solutions to Qualitative Data Collection: What Strengthens or Weakens Data Quality?” The focus of this article is on a presentation given in May 2018 concerning technological alternatives to qualitative research data collection. Importantly, the aim of the presentation was, not to simply identify different approaches to data collection beyond the in-person and telephone modes but rather, to examine the strengths and limitations of these technological solutions from a data quality – specifically, Credibility – standpoint.
Broadly speaking, technological approaches to qualitative research data gathering offer clear advantages over in-person methods, particularly in the areas of:
Representation, e.g., geographic coverage, potential access to hard-to-reach population segments;
Cooperation, e.g., convenience and flexibility of time and place for participants, appropriateness for certain demographic segments (18-49 year olds*);
Validity associated with data accuracy, e.g., research capturing in-the-moment experiences do not rely on memory recall;
Validity associated with the depth of data, e.g., capturing multiple contextual dimensions through text, video, and images;
Validity associated with data accuracy and depth allowing for the triangulation of data;
Researcher effects, e.g., mitigated by the opportunity for greater reflection and consistency across research events;
Participant effects, e.g., mitigated by the multiple ways to express thoughts, willingness to discuss sensitive issues, and (possibly) a lower tendency for social desirability responding; and
Efficient use of resources (i.e., time, money, and staff).
There are also potential drawbacks to any technological solution, including those associated with:
Uneven Internet access and comfort with technology among certain demographic groups (e.g., sampling favors “tech savvy” individuals), hard-to-reach and marginalized segments of the population;
Difficulty in managingengagement, including the unique researcher skills and allocation of time required;
Potential participant burnout from researcher’s requests for multiple input activities and/or days of engagement. This is a type of participant effect that negatively impacts validity;
Nonresponse due to mode, e.g., unwillingness or inability to participate to a mostly text-based discussion;
Data accuracy, e.g., participant alters behavior in a study observing in-home meal preparation;
Missing important visual &/or verbal cues which may interfere with rapport building and an in-depth exploration of responses;
Difficulty managing analysis due to lots and lots of data (in volume & formats);
Fraud, misrepresentation – “Identity is fluid and potentially multiple on the Internet” (James and Bushner, 2009, p. 35) and people may not share certain images or video that reveal something “embarrassing” about themselves**; and
Security, confidentiality, anonymity (e.g., data storage, de-identification).
Qualitative researchers have increasingly new ways to engage with their participants. Beyond the traditional and still most frequent approach of the in-person mode, qualitative researchers have a host of technological solutions at their disposal. Instead of in-person focus group discussions, for instance, the researcher might opt for asynchronous focus groups. Or rather than in-person multiple methods qualitative research, the researcher might design an all-tech solution that blends online observation with asynchronous groups or any one of several technological options for the in-depth interview method such as mobile video or the email IDI.
The following is a presentation given at the2018 annual conference of the American Association for Public Opinion Research. This presentation discusses five tech solutions to qualitative research data collection with particular consideration given to the aspects of these approaches that strengthen or weaken data quality. These quality considerations are discussed from the perspective of the Total Quality Framework and, specifically, the Credibility component which has to do with qualitative data collection.
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The Total Quality Framework (TQF) offers researchers a way to think about basic research principles at each stage of the qualitative research process – data collection, analysis, reporting – with the goal of doing something of value with the outcomes (i.e., the usefulness of the research). The first of the four components of the TQF is Credibility which pertains to the data collection phase of a qualitative study. A detailed discussion of Credibility can be found in this 2017 Research Design Review article.
This article – and in similar fashion to the companion articles associated with the other three components of the TQF – explains the chief elements that define Credibility, stating that “credible qualitative research is the result of effectively managing data collection, paying particular attention to the two specific areas of Scope and Data Gathering.” Although a great deal of the discussions thus far have been centered on traditional qualitative methods, the increasingly important role of technological solutions in qualitative research makes it imperative that the discussion of Credibility (and the other TQF components) expand to the digital world.
The online asynchronous focus group (“bulletin board”) method has been around for a long time. It is clearly an approach that offers qualitative researchers many advantages over the face-to-face mode while also presenting challenges to the integrity of research design. The following presents a snapshot of the online bulletin board focus group method through the lens of the two main ingredients of the TQF Credibility component – Scope and Data Gathering. This snapshot is not an attempt to name all the strengths and limitations associated with the Credibility of the online asynchronous focus group method but rather highlight a few key considerations.