Quality Standards

Exploring Human Realities: A Quality & Fair Approach

The following incorporates modified excerpts from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 2-3).

Quality and fairness to explore human realitiesAs the channel by which researchers explore the depths of human realities, qualitative research has gained prominent status that is accelerating over time as quantitatively trained mentors in academia are increasingly asked to assist in students’ qualitative research designs, and as the volume of published works in qualitative research aggressively grows (cf. Charmaz, 2008; Lincoln, Lynham, & Guba, 2011; Silverman, 2013). Even psychology, a discipline that has traditionally dismissed qualitative research as “subjective” and “unscientific,” has come of age with slow but continued growth in the field of qualitative psychology (cf. Wertz, 2014). These advances have given rise to a vibrant array of scholars and practitioners who harbor varying perspectives on how to approach qualitative research.

These differing perspectives are best exemplified by the paradigm debates among qualitative researchers. The focus of these debates is on the underlying belief or orientation the researcher brings to any given qualitative study. In particular, these discussions center on the philosophical constructs related to the nature of reality (ontology) and that of knowledge (epistemology). It is the researchers’ sometimes divergent views on the presence and extent of a “true” reality—for example, whether it is the (post)positivism view that there is a single objective reality that can be found in a controlled scientific method, or the constructivism–interpretivism paradigm that emphasizes the idea of multiple realities existing in the context of social interactions and subjective meanings—as well as the source of this knowledge—for example, the dominant role of the researcher in critical theory—that have fueled an ongoing dialogue concerning paradigms within the qualitative research arena.

And yet, regardless of the philosophical or theoretical paradigms that may guide researchers in their qualitative inquiries, qualitative researchers are united in the fundamental and common goal of unraveling the convoluted and intricate world of the human experience.

The complexities of the human experience present unique challenges to qualitative researchers who strive to develop research designs that result in contextual data while incorporating basic standards of good research. To that end, many qualitative researchers, routinely focus their attention on the importance of methodically rigorous data collection practices and verification checks (Creswell, 2013; Marshall & Rossman, 2011; Morse, Barrett, Mayan, Olson, & Spiers, 2002); well-thought-out procedures and analytic rigor (Atkinson & Delamont, 2006; Berg & Lune, 2012), and frameworks that promote critical thinking throughout the research process (Levitt, Motulsky, Wertz, Morrow, & Ponterotto, 2017; Roller & Lavrakas, 2015).

By transcending the paradigm debates, a quality approach to qualitative research fosters the essential element of fairness while maximizing the ultimate usefulness of the research. Fairness means giving participants a fair voice in the research.  A “fair voice” is not a small q positivist-Big Q non-positivist issue (see Braun & Clarke, 2022) but rather the researcher’s quality approach to data collection and analysis that gives careful consideration to the scope of the sample design, researchers’ skills that prioritize inclusion, ongoing reflexivity, and other quality research strategies that embrace diversity in our participants and our methods.

A quality approach that promotes fairness to explore the complexity of human realities is a non-debatable goal of the qualitative researcher.

Atkinson, P., & Delamont, S. (2006). Rescuing narrative from qualitative research. Narrative Inquiry, 16(1), 164–172. https://doi.org/10.1075/ni.16.1.21atk

Berg, B. L., & Lune, H. (2012). Qualitative research methods for the social sciences (8th ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2022). Toward good practice in thematic analysis: Avoiding common problems and be(com)ing a knowing researcher. International Journal of Transgender Health. https://doi.org/10.1080/26895269.2022.2129597

Charmaz, K. (2008). Views from the margins: Voices, silences, and suffering. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 5(1), 7–18. https://doi.org/10.1080/14780880701863518

Creswell, J. W. (2013). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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., Lynham, S. A., & Guba, E. G. (2011). Paradigmatic controversies, contradictions, and emerging confluences, revisited. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (pp. 97–128). Sage Publications.

Marshall, C., & Rossman, G. B. (2011). Designing qualitative reserach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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.

Silverman, D. (2013). What counts as qualitative research? Some cautionary comments. Qualitative Sociology Review, IX(2), 48–55.

Wertz, F. J. (2014). Qualitative inquiry in the history of psychology. Qualitative Psychology, 1(1), 4–16.

Focus Group Dynamics & Quality Outcomes

Focus group dynamics

As discussed elsewhere in this blog, the ability of the moderator to multitask has important implications to the quality of focus group discussion data. For example, to gather quality data, the moderator must maintain concentration on the research objectives while also following up on new and/or contrary ideas as they emerge from discussion participants. The quality of research outcomes also demands that, in a multi-group study, the moderator consistently cover all the key topic areas of the discussion guide across all groups while also contending with the unpredictability of group dynamics as defined by each group of participants.

Group dynamics can lead a discussion in any number of unexpected directions. Here are just a couple:

  • Group Think
    • For whatever reason, participants appear to be in agreement on one or more topics. The moderator can
      • Look for inconsistencies by assessing whether one or more participants are contradicting earlier comments and, if so, ask about it.
      • Paraphrase what is being said and ask participants to clarify their basis for agreement.
      • Play devil’s advocate
        • “I have heard the opposite from other users of this product. Help me understand how this group thinks differently.”
  • Stray From the Guide
    • Participants may bring up topic areas that are relevant but earlier than intended per the discussion guide. The moderator can
      • Ask participants’ permission to discuss the topic at a later time.
      • Choose to discuss the topic at that moment in time (if not too disruptive to the flow of discussion).
    • Participants may bring up topic areas that are not relevant to the research. The moderator might say
      • “Thank you for bringing this up. This may be something for us to consider for future discussions.”

An important component of these and other forms of group dynamics is participants’ behavior. For instance, one or more participants in a focus group may

  • Dominate the discussion preventing others from contributing. The moderator can
    • Make it clear in the introduction that it is important to hear from everyone.
    • Let the participant speak before interjecting, “Thank you for that comment. Let’s hear from someone else. Sally, what do you think about the current climate crisis?” or “Thank you. Any reactions to David’s comment?” 
  • Be argumentative or hostile, has “an axe to grind.” The moderator can
    • Be sure participants understand the purpose of the research & how the discussion will be conducted.
    • Let the participant vent. Listen politely and then, “Susan, I hear you. Thank you for your comments. But we need to move on with today’s discussion. Can you and I talk afterwards about your concerns?”
    • Take the opportunity to use the participant’s comments to start a new discussion – “Jack, you make a good point…”
  • Be shy, quiet and doesn’t make eye contact. The moderator can
    • Make a special effort during introductions to engage the participant via active listening techniques.
    • “Back off” from the shy participant until sufficient rapport has been established and then attempt to engage the participant – “John, what do you think about the idea of adding solar panels to your home?”
    • Be considerate and, if the participant does not want to contribute to the discussion, do not risk angering or upsetting the participant.
  • Enter into side conversations or be distracted. The moderator can
    • Call for a “time out” whereby the discussion is briefly stopped and the conversation/distraction is resolved.

A TQF Approach to Construct Validity

TQF approach to construct validity

Construct validity plays an important role in the design, implementation, analysis, and ultimate usefulness of qualitative research methods. The construct of validity itself in qualitative research is discussed in this article and cites qualitative researchers across disciplines who explore “unique dimensions” and other considerations  relating to validity in qualitative research.

The Total Quality Framework (TQF) relies heavily on construct validity in its quality approach to each phase of the qualitative research process. At each phase, the researcher must ask “Am I gaining real knowledge about the core concepts that are the focus of this research?” For example,

  • An important step when developing a research design is to identify the key constructs associated with the research objectives to investigate, and the particular attributes of each construct that the researcher wants to explore. So, for example, a researcher conducting a study on dietary behavior may have interest in “health consciousness,” including shopping behavior related to organic and fresh foods.
  • In the in-depth interview and focus group discussion methods, careful attention needs to be paid to guide development and the inclusion of questions relevant to the constructs of interest. When developing the guide, the researcher needs to ask “Is this [topic, question, technique] relevant to the construct we are investigating?”, and “Does this [topic, question, technique] provide us with knowledge about the aspect of the construct that we intended to explore in the interviews/discussions?”
  • In ethnography, the observation guide and observation grid are important tools. “The grid is similar to the guide in that it helps to remind the observer of the events and issues of most import; however, the observation grid is a spreadsheet or log of sorts that enables the observer to actually record and reflect on observable events in relationship to the research constructs of interest” (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, p. 206).
  • The quality of qualitative data analysis hinges on the researcher’s ability to effectively identify, analyze, and develop valid interpretations of the data around the important constructs associated with the research objectives. To assist the researcher, a TQF approach to analysis recommends a codebook format and coding form (which is basically a reflexive journal for the coder[s] to record thoughts and justifications for their coding decisions) that highlights constructs of interest. For example,

TQF codebook and coding form

  • Construct validity also plays an important role in the transparency of the final research document. In the study report, the researcher can (and should) elaborate on the design, data gathering, and analysis decisions that were made pertaining to the key constructs, as well as the main themes that were derived from the data — i.e., the knowledge that was gained from the research — concerning these constructs.

Roller, M. R., & Lavrakas, P. J. (2015). Applied qualitative research design: A total quality framework approach. New York: Guilford Press.

 

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