Beyond discussion guide development and the effects of the moderator, there is another critical component that threatens the quality of data gathered in the focus group discussion method: the participants themselves. The participants in a group discussion face a more daunting social environment than in-depth interviewees, an environment in which participants are typically expected to meet (in-person, on the phone, or online) and engage with a group of strangers. At the minimum, participants in a dyad find themselves among two other individuals they have never met (the moderator and other participant); and, in the opposite extreme, participants in an online asynchronous group may be one of 10 or 12 or more people who have been asked to join the discussion.
As with the in-depth interview (IDI) method, focus group participants in any mode (i.e., in-person, phone, or online) may threaten the integrity and credibility of group discussion data by their unwillingness or reluctance to divulge certain information, leading them to say nothing or to make an inaccurate statement. For instance, in some focus group studies, what people do not know (or have not done) is a central part of what the study is exploring (e.g., recruiting people who have not been involved with a local nonprofit organization to learn about their Read Full Text
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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