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
The Total Quality Framework (TQF) is rooted in the idea that a quality approach to qualitative research requires “quality thinking” at each stage of the research process. It is an idea derived from the logic that it is not good enough to think carefully about data collection without also thinking as carefully about the analysis and reporting phases while keeping a discerning eye on the ultimate goal of gaining useful research results. This fundamental concept underlies the TQF and serves to define its four components – Credibility (pertaining to the data collection phase), Analyzability (analysis), and Transparency (reporting), and Usefulness (being able to do something of value with the outcomes).
By considering quality standards at each step in the research design, qualitative researchers maintain the integrity of their data through the entire study thereby producing something of value to the users of their research. For instance, a concerted quality approach to data collection – an approach that mitigates researcher bias and gathers valid data – but a disregard for the quality process in the analysis phase – e.g., transcripts are poorly done, coding is inconsistent, and verification of the data is absent – weakens the entire study. Likewise, a deliberate quality approach to data collection and analysis but a failure to write a transparent final document that reveals the details of the study’s scope, data gathering, analysis process and verification, effectively masks the integrity of the research and undermines its critical value to users.
A holistic quality-centric approach to qualitative research design essentially means that a weakness in any one link in the quality chain – the chain from data collection to analysis to reporting – erodes the purpose of conducting qualitative research (regardless of method) which is to offer useful information by way of new hypotheses, next steps, and/or applications to other contexts.
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