Total Quality Framework

Contextual Analysis: A Fundamental Attribute of Qualitative Research

Unique attributes of qualitative research-Contextual analysis

One of the 10 unique or distinctive attributes of qualitative research is contextual, multilayered analysis. This is a fundamental aspect of qualitative research and, in fact, plays a central role in the unique attributes associated with data generation, i.e., the importance of context, the importance of meaning, the participant-researcher relationship, and researcher as instrument

“…the interconnections, inconsistencies, and sometimes seemingly illogical input reaped in qualitative research demand that researchers embrace the tangles of their data from many sources. There is no single source of analysis in qualitative research because any one research event consists of multiple variables that need consideration in the analysis phase. The analyzable data from an in-depth interview, for example, are more than just what was said in the interview; they also include a variety of other considerations, such as the context in which certain information was revealed and the interviewee–interviewer relationship.” (Roller & Lavrakas, pp. 7-8)

The ability — the opportunity — to contextually analyze qualitative data is also associated with basic components of research design, such as sample size and the risk of relying on saturation which “misguides the researcher towards prioritizing manifest content over the pursuit of contextual understanding derived from latent, less obvious data.” And the defining differentiator between a qualitative and quantitative approach, such as qualitative content analysis in which it is “the inductive strategy in search of latent content, the use of context, the back-and-forth flexibility throughout the analytical process, and the continual questioning of preliminary interpretations that set qualitative content analysis apart from the quantitative method.”

There are many ways that context is integrated into the qualitative data analysis process to ensure quality analytical outcomes and interpretations. Various articles in Research Design Review have discussed contextually grounded aspects of the process, such as the following (each header links to the corresponding RDR article).

Unit of Analysis

“Although there is no perfect prescription for every study, it is generally understood that researchers should strive for a unit of analysis that retains the context necessary to derive meaning from the data. For this reason, and if all other things are equal, the qualitative researcher should probably err on the side of using a broader, more contextually based unit of analysis rather than a narrowly focused level of analysis (e.g., sentences).”

Meaning of Words

“How we use our words provides the context that shapes what the receiver hears and the perceptions others associate with our words. Context pertains to apparent as well as unapparent influences that take the meaning of our words beyond their proximity to other words [or] their use in recognized terms or phrases…”

Categorical Buckets

“No one said that qualitative data analysis is simple or straightforward. A reason for this lies in the fact that an important ingredient to the process is maintaining participants’ context and potential multiple meanings of the data. By identifying and analyzing categorical buckets, the researcher respects this multi-faceted reality and ultimately reaps the reward of useful interpretations of the data.”

Use of Transcripts

“Although serving a utilitarian purpose, transcripts effectively convert the all-too-human research experience that defines qualitative inquiry to the relatively emotionless drab confines of black-on-white text. Gone is the profound mood swing that descended over the participant when the interviewer asked about his elderly mother. Yes, there is text in the transcript that conveys some aspect of this mood but only to the extent that the participant is able to articulate it.”

Use of Recordings

“Unlike the transcript, the recording reminds the researcher of how and when the atmosphere in the [focus] group environment shifted from being open and friendly to quiet and inhibited; and how the particular seating arrangement, coupled with incompatible personality types, inflamed the atmosphere and seriously colored participants’ words, engagement, and way of thinking.”

 

 

Roller, M. R., & Lavrakas, P. J. (2015). Applied qualitative research design: A total quality framework approach. New York: Guilford Press.

 

 

 

 

 

Qualitative Research Participants: Gaining Access & Cooperation

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, p. 28).

Gaining cooperationWhen developing the sample design, including the sample size for a qualitative study, careful attention needs to be paid to how the researcher will gain access to individuals in the sample and then gain their cooperation to participate in the research.

In doing a company-sponsored in-depth interview study of employees, for example, gaining access to the employees who have been sampled may be as simple as sending each of them a notification that their employer has authorized the researcher to contact them to request their participation in the research study. Or it may be as challenging as gaining permission from “gatekeepers” who have the right to deny access to the individuals the researcher wants to study — e.g., parents of the children who will be studied, presidents of the professional organizations whose members will be studied, wardens of prisons whose inmates will be studied, etc. The challenge of gaining access from gatekeepers is essentially finding successful strategies that (a) provide guarantees to the gatekeepers that no harm will come to the participants, (b) communicate the worthiness of the research study, and (c) offer some benefit to the gatekeeper or the organization.

Once access to the sampled participants has been granted, the researcher must use strategies to gain cooperation from those who have been chosen. Ideally a very large portion of those who have been sampled will agree to participate. Gaining cooperation is important. This is because, from a Total Quality Framework standpoint, individuals who are chosen to be included in the study but do not participate (e.g., because they refused to cooperate) may differ in important ways from those who do participate, jeopardizing the integrity of the data  which can lower or even undermine the credibility of the qualitative study. If, for example, a disproportionately greater number of males, compared to females, who have been sampled from a list of college freshmen can never be contacted or refuse to participate, and if these sampled males would have provided data that are materially different from the data provided by the other freshmen on the list who did participate in the study, then the research findings will be biased because of the data missing from a major subgroup of the population.

To avoid these problems, qualitative researchers need to utilize strategies meant to overcome the reason(s) that causes some people who are sampled to not cooperate and fail to participate. Such strategies include:

  • Building rapport early with the participants, thereby gaining their trust.
  • Assuring the participants of complete confidentiality.
  • Explaining the non-material benefits to be gained by participating (e.g., helping to raise the quality of life in the neighborhood).
  • Explaining the material benefits, if any, to be gained by participating (e.g., the offer of an Amazon gift card).

Whichever strategies the researchers choose to deploy, ideally they will be tailored (at the individual level) to appeal to the particular types of participants in the sample in order to overcome reluctance or unequivocal refusal during the recruiting process.

A TQF Approach to Construct Validity

TQF approach to construct validity

Construct validity plays an important role in the design, implementation, analysis, and ultimate usefulness of qualitative research methods. The construct of validity itself in qualitative research is discussed in this article and cites qualitative researchers across disciplines who explore “unique dimensions” and other considerations  relating to validity in qualitative research.

The Total Quality Framework (TQF) relies heavily on construct validity in its quality approach to each phase of the qualitative research process. At each phase, the researcher must ask “Am I gaining real knowledge about the core concepts that are the focus of this research?” For example,

  • An important step when developing a research design is to identify the key constructs associated with the research objectives to investigate, and the particular attributes of each construct that the researcher wants to explore. So, for example, a researcher conducting a study on dietary behavior may have interest in “health consciousness,” including shopping behavior related to organic and fresh foods.
  • In the in-depth interview and focus group discussion methods, careful attention needs to be paid to guide development and the inclusion of questions relevant to the constructs of interest. When developing the guide, the researcher needs to ask “Is this [topic, question, technique] relevant to the construct we are investigating?”, and “Does this [topic, question, technique] provide us with knowledge about the aspect of the construct that we intended to explore in the interviews/discussions?”
  • In ethnography, the observation guide and observation grid are important tools. “The grid is similar to the guide in that it helps to remind the observer of the events and issues of most import; however, the observation grid is a spreadsheet or log of sorts that enables the observer to actually record and reflect on observable events in relationship to the research constructs of interest” (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, p. 206).
  • The quality of qualitative data analysis hinges on the researcher’s ability to effectively identify, analyze, and develop valid interpretations of the data around the important constructs associated with the research objectives. To assist the researcher, a TQF approach to analysis recommends a codebook format and coding form (which is basically a reflexive journal for the coder[s] to record thoughts and justifications for their coding decisions) that highlights constructs of interest. For example,

TQF codebook and coding form

  • Construct validity also plays an important role in the transparency of the final research document. In the study report, the researcher can (and should) elaborate on the design, data gathering, and analysis decisions that were made pertaining to the key constructs, as well as the main themes that were derived from the data — i.e., the knowledge that was gained from the research — concerning these constructs.

Roller, M. R., & Lavrakas, P. J. (2015). Applied qualitative research design: A total quality framework approach. New York: Guilford Press.

 

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