qualitative research design

The “Quality” in Qualitative Research Debate & the Total Quality Framework

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp.15-17).

The field of qualitative research has paid considerable attention in the past half century to the issue of research “quality.” Despite these efforts, there remains a lack of agreement among qualitative researchers about how quality should be defined and how it should be evaluated (cf. Lincoln & Guba, 1985, 1986; Lincoln, 1995; Morse et al., 2002; Reynolds et al., 2011; Rolfe, 2006; Schwandt, Lincoln, & Guba, 2007). Some who seem to question whether quality can be defined and evaluated appear to hold the view that each qualitative research is so singularly unique in terms of how the data are created and how sense is made of these data that striving to assess quality is a wasted effort that never leads to a satisfying outcome about which agreement can be reached. Among other things, this suggests that validity – meaning, “the correctness or credibility of a description, conclusion, explanation, interpretation, or other sort of account” (Maxwell, 2013, p. 122) – is solely in the eye of the beholder and that convincing someone else that a qualitative study has generated valid and actionable findings is more an effort of subjective persuasion than an effort of applying dispassionate logic to whether the methods that were used to gather and analyze the data led to “valid enough” conclusions for the purpose(s) to which they were meant to serve.

Controversy also exists about how to determine the quality of a qualitative study. Arguments are made by some that the quality of a qualitative study is determined solely by the methods and processing that the researchers have used to conduct their studies. Others argue Read Full Text

In-the-moment Question-Response Reflexivity

There are lots of articles discussing question design, focusing on such things as how to mitigate various forms of bias, clearly communicate the intended meaning of the question, and facilitate response.  Survey question wording is discussed in this “tip sheet” from Harvard University as well as in “Questionnaire Design” from Pew Research Center, and a recent article in Research Design Review discussed the not-so-simple “why” question in qualitative research (see “Re-considering the Question of ‘Why’ in Qualitative Research”).

Getting the question “right” is a concern of all researchers, but qualitative researchers have to be particularly mindful of the responses they get in return. It is not good enough to use an interview guide to ask a question, get an answer, and move on to the next question. And, it is often not good enough to ask a question, get an answer, interject one or two probing questions, and move on to the next question. Indeed, one of the toughest skills a qualitative interviewer has to learn is how to evaluate a participant’s answer to any given question. This goes way beyond evaluating whether the participant responded in line with the intention of the question or the potential sources of bias. Rather, this broader, much-needed evaluation of a response requires a reflexive, introspective consideration on the part of the interviewer.

Reflexivity is central to a qualitative approach in research methods. It is a topic that is discussed often in RDR – see “Interviewer Bias & Reflexivity in Qualitative Research,” “Reflections from the Field: Questions to Stimulate Reflexivity Among Qualitative Researchers,” and “Facilitating Reflexivity in Observational Research: The Observation Guide & Grid” – because of its role Read Full Text

The “Real Ethnography” of Michael Agar

Several years ago, when working on Applied Qualitative Research Design, I began reading the works of Michael Agar. To simply say that Agar was an anthropologist would be cutting him short; and, indeed, Anthropology News, in an article published shortly after Agar’s death in May 2017, described him as

“a linguistic anthropologist, a cultural anthropologist, almost an South Asianist, a drug expert, a medical anthropologist, an applied anthropologist, a practicing anthropologist, a public anthropologist, a professional anthropologist, a professional stranger, a theoretical anthropologist, an academic anthropologist, an independent consultant, a cross cultural consultant, a computer modeler, an agent-based modeler, a complexity theorist, an environmentalist, a water expert, a teacher…”

One doesn’t need to look far to be enlightened as well as entertained by Mike Agar – On the “Scribblings” page of his Ethknoworks website, he lightheartedly rants about the little money most authors make in royalties stating “If you divide money earned by time invested in writing and publishing, you’ll see that you’d do better with a paper route in Antarctica.” It may be this combined ability to enlighten and entertain that drew me to Agar and keeps me ever mindful of the words he has written and the ideas he instilled.

For some reason I come back to his 2006 article “An Ethnography By Any Other Name…”. In it, Agar explores the question “What is a real ethnography?” with discussions of debates (“tension”) between anthropologists and sociologists, and about various nuances such as whether applied anthropology is actually “real” given that “ethnography no longer meant a year or more by yourself in a village far Read Full Text