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.
There is an article that ran in Research Design Review back in 2013 having to do with the interactions that ensue in focus group discussions. Specifically, this article addresses the idea that participants’ interactions have a significant impact on the outcomes of focus group discussions and yet this “facet of the focus group method…is largely ignored in the analysis and reporting of group research.” This article goes on to give an example of a way to think about the interaction effect in the focus group method.
Missing from this article is the question of whether – or the extent to which – interactions even exist in the discussions being analyzed. It seems self-evident that a “discussion” would involve two or more people exchanging ideas and thoughts – that is, an interaction. And yet, one of the most difficult skills to teach in focus group training is how to ignite an interactive environment where participants engage with the moderator as well as with each other. Moderators-in-training are coached on various skills and techniques to spur thoughtful discourse in face-to-face* focus groups and how to create an “engaged discussion environment,” but Read Full Text
The funnel approach to in-depth interview (IDI) and focus group guide development is an effective and efficient method for gaining key insights among qualitative research participants within an allotted time frame. A 2015 article in Research Design Review offers a schematic of this approach and outlines the intended purpose associated with each of the four basic stages (see “Interview Guide Development: A 4-Stage ‘Funnel’ Approach”).
But what exactly does “effective and efficient” mean as it relates to guide development, and why should we care? The answers lie in the fact that a thoughtful funnel approach to guide development enables the researcher to derive quality data from their qualitative research while achieving research objectives and maximizing the ultimate usefulness of the outcomes. By having a clear understanding of what it means to develop an interview or discussion guide that is both effective and efficient, the researcher has added greatly to the integrity of the qualitative research data and design.
There are at least six ways that the funnel approach to guide development is important to the effectiveness and efficiency of IDI and focus group research. The funnel approach:
Mitigates bias. Progressively moving to the primary topic of interest allows the interviewer/moderator to gather an understanding of perceptions and behavior unblemished by the researcher’s own agenda.
Helps identify variations. The general-to-narrow approach inherently provides the researcher with the necessary fundamental information that is needed to compare and contrast earlier comments with participants’ later remarks. In this way, the interviewer/moderator is able to identify variations in what is being said and conduct the necessary follow-up.
Fosters rapport through a friendly flow of conversation. By beginning the interview or discussion with questions that are general in nature, the interviewer/moderator is facilitating the researcher-participant relationship in a conversational and non-threatening way.
Reduces repetition. The flow of conversation that is grounded in a general-to-narrow method logically circumvents the potential problem of inappropriately repeating the same or similar topic areas or asking redundant questions.
Encourages engagement and cooperation. Just as the funnel approach facilitates rapport building through conversation, it also creates an atmosphere in which participants feel emboldened to engage with the researcher and, in focus groups, with the other participants. This heightened level of cooperation fuels otherwise hidden insights which in turn help to mitigate bias and bolster data quality.
Aids in analysis. By mitigating bias, helping to identify variations in the data, fostering rapport, reducing repetition, and encouraging engagement and cooperation, the funnel approach to guide development ultimately advances data analysis. The analyst is able to discern categories and themes, as well as outliers, in the data in a straightforward way based on well-thought-out transitions in the conversations.