In qualitative research, the researcher – including the in-depth interviewer, focus group moderator, coder in content analysis, and observer – is the instrument, meaning that the qualitative researcher wields substantial control in the design content, the gathering of data, the outcomes, and interpretation of the research. Ethnography is no different in that the observer – albeit not controlling participants’ natural environment – plays a central role in creating the data for the study by way of recording observations. In this respect, the credibility of an ethnographic study essentially rests on the observer’s ability to identify and record the relevant observations.
The necessary observer skills have been discussed elsewhere in Research Design Review – for example, “The Importance of Analytical Sensibilities to Observation in Ethnography.” Without these skills, an observer has the potential for biasing the data which in turn will negatively impact the analysis, interpretation, transferability, and ultimate usefulness of an ethnographic study. The potential for bias exists regardless of observer role. An offsite, non-participant observer may knowingly or not impose subjective values on an observed event – e.g., ignoring certain comments the observer finds personally offensive in a study of an online forum discussing alcohol use – while an onsite observer, operating either overtly or covertly, may bias results by way of Read Full Text
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.