Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Qualitative Methods: A Study

Minor Research Project

Kabir Krishna
Master of Philosophy (Social Anthropology)
Department of Anthropology
University of Delhi

Drawing from a long tradition in anthropology, sociology, and clinical psychology, qualitative research has, in the past years, achieved status and visibility in the social sciences and helping professionals in research and varied other fields.

The key to understanding qualitative research lies with the idea that meaning is socially constructed by individuals in interaction with their world. According to Sharan B. Merriam (2002, 2), 'The world, or reality, is not the fixed, single, agreed upon, or measurable phenomenon that it is assumed to be in positivist, quantitative research. Instead, there are multiple constructions and interpretations of reality that are in flux and that change over time.' This is what the qualitative research is conserned with. This is what the investigator knows when he enters the seemingly complex web and tries to unravel the complexities to get the answers. Qualitative researchers are interested in understanding what those interpretations are at a particular point in time and in a particular context. Learning how individuals experience and interact with their social world, the meaning it has for them, is considered an interpretive qualitative approach.

In attempting to understand qualitative research, it is critical to delineate its foci and its goals. First, Qualitative research seeks dapth rather than breadth. Instead of drawing from a large, representative samplesample of an entire population, qualitative researchers seek to acquire indepth nad intimate information about a smaller group of persons. Second, the aim of the qualitative research is to learn about how and why people behave, think, and make meaning as they do, rather than focussing on what peiople do or believe on a large scale.Third, the goals of qualitative research can be situated on a large scale. Qualitative research spans the micro-macro spectrum and both structural and processual issues (Maines, 1983)
Here one more point arises as in addition to to its various functions, on a number of times qualitative research comes uf with some discovery rather than verification of existing values, opinions and other human ways. New information may reflect new practices or new behaviours, new forms of sicial structure, and or new ways of thinking or interpreting processes of socialization or change. It may involve complete redirection, opr modification of, or addition to existing ideas. (Ambert, Adler, Adler & Detzner, 1995, 880)

As a qualitative researcher, one approaches an investigation from any of the philosophical or theoretical stances which the he wants to proceed with. His particular stance determines the specific research design that he employs for carrying out his study. If his primary interest is in understanding a phenomenon, there are many options, the most common being grounded theory, phenomenology, narrative, ethnography, case study, or just a basic interpretive study. Thesr are all inspired from various anthropological theories.

There are a number of major characterstics of the various interpretive qualitative research designs. The first characteristic is that researcher strives to understand the meaning people have constructed about their world and their experiences; that is, how do people make sense of their experience? He wants to go underneath their experiences and opinions and wants to know what their mindset is composed of and his inquiry consists of a number of 'how, who, why, when and what'. As Patton (1985, 1) explains: Qualitative research “is an effort to understand situations in their uniqueness as part of a particular context and the interactions there. This understanding is an end in itself, so that it is not attempting to predict what may happen in the future necessarily, but to understand the nature of that setting - what it means for participants to be in that setting, what their lives are like, what’s going on for them, what their meanings are, what the world looks like in that particular setting. The analysis strives for depth of understanding.”

A second characteristic of all forms of qualitative research is that the researcher is the primary instrument for data collection and data analysis. Since understanding the social phenomenons and gauging the social reality is the goal of his research, the human instrument, which is able to be immediately responsive and adaptive, would seem to be the ideal means of collecting and analyzing data. Other advantages are that the researcher can expand his or her understanding through nonverbal as well as verbal communication, process information (data) immediately, clarify and summarize material, check with respondents for accuracy of interpretation, and explore unusual or unanticipated responses.

However, the a major point that arises is that the respondents may have shortcomings and biases that might have an impact on the study. Rather than trying to eliminate these biases, it is important to identify them and monitor them as to study how they may be shaping the collection and interpretation of data.

Approaches to Qualitative Research
There are a number of approaches to qualitative research
· Action Research
· Case Study
· Clinical Research
· Cognitive Anthropology
· Collaborative Enquiry
· Dialogical Research
· Conversation Analysis
· Delphi Study
· Descriptive Research
· Direct Research
· Discourse Analysis
· Document Study
· Ecological Psychology
· Educational Connoisseurship and Critisism
· Educational Ethnography
· Ethnographic Content Analysis
· Ethnography
· Ethnography of Communication
· Ethnimethodology
· Ethnoscience
· Experimenal Psychology
· Field Study
· Focus Group Research
· Grounded Theory
· Hermeneutics
· Heuristic Research
· Holistic Ethnography
· Imaginal Psychology
· Intensive Evaluation
· Interpretive Interactionism
· Interpretive Human Studies
· Life Study Studies
· Naturalistic Inquiry
· Oral History
· Panel Research
· Particapant Observation
· Participant Research
· Phomenology
· Qualitative Evaluation
· Structural Ethnography
· Symbolic Interactionism
· Transcendental Realism
· Transcendental Research

(Souce - Tesch 1990, 58)

Methods of qualitative research

Observational techniques are methods by which an individual or individuals gather first-hand data on programs, processes, or behaviors being studied. They provide researchers with an opportunity to collect data on a wide range of behaviors, to study a large variety of interactions, and to gather information on the topic. By directly observing the activities, the researcher can develop a holistic perspective, i.e., an understanding of the whole process. This may be especially important where it is not the event that is of interest, but whats happening. Observational approaches also allow the researcher to learn about things the participants or staff may be unaware of or that they are unwilling or unable to discuss in an interview or focus group.

Interviews provide very different data from observations: they allow the researcher to capture the perspectives of participants, and others associated with the research project. The use of interviews as a data collection method begins with the assumption that the participants’ perspectives are meaningful, knowable, and able to be made explicit, and that their perspectives affect the success of the project. An interview, rather than a paper and pencil survey, is selected when interpersonal contact is important and when opportunities for followup of interesting comments are desired. the researcher tries to know rather what occurs, how it occurs, why does is happen, when does it happen, wehat do people think about a social structure of a phenomenon.
Two types of interviews are used in evaluation research: structured interviews, in which a carefully worded questions are administered; and unstructured or indepth interviews, in which the interviewer does not follow a rigid form. In the former, the emphasis is on obtaining answers to carefully phrased questions. Interviewers are trained to deviate only minimally from the question wording to ensure uniformity. In the latter, the interviewers seeks to encourage free and open responses. Indepth interviews also encourage capturing of respondents’ perceptions in their own words, a very desirable strategy in qualitative data collection. This allows the researcher to present the meaningfulness of the experience from the respondent’s perspective. Indepth interviews are conducted with individuals or with a small group of individuals.

Focus Groups
Focus groups combine elements of both interviewing and participant observation.' The focus group session is, indeed, an interview not a discussion.' (Patton, 1990) At the same time, focus groups capitalize on group dynamics and interactions. The hallmark of focus groups is the explicit use of the group interaction to generate data and insights that would be unlikely to emerge without the interaction found in a group. The technique inherently allows observation of group dynamics, discussion, and firsthand insights into the respondents’ behaviors, attitudes, language, etc.
Focus groups are a gathering of 8 to 12 people who share some characteristics relevant to the evaluation. Originally used as a market research tool to investigate the appeal of various products, the focus group technique has been adopted by other fields, such as education, as a tool for data gathering on a given topic. Focus groups conducted by experts take place in a focus group facility that includes recording apparatus and an attached room with a one-way mirror for observation.

Document Studies
Existing records often provide insights into a setting and/or group of people that cannot be observed or noted in another way. This information can be found in document form. Document can also be defined as as "any written or recorded material" not prepared for the purposes of the evaluation or at the request of the inquirer. Documents can be divided into two major categories: public records, and personal documents (Guba and Lincoln, 1981).

Public records
Public records are materials created and kept for the purpose of "attesting to an event or providing an accounting" (Lincoln and Guba, 1985). Public records can be collected from outside (external) or within (internal) the setting in which the evaluation is taking place. Examples of external records are census and vital statistics reports, county office records and newspaper archives, that may help the researcher in gathering information about the community and relevant trends. Such materials can be helpful in better understanding the project participants and making comparisons between groups/ communities.
For the evaluation of educational innovations, internal records include documents such as student transcripts and records, historical accounts, institutional mission statements, annual reports, budgets, grade and standardized test reports, minutes of meetings, internal memoranda, policy manuals, institutional histories, college/university catalogs, faculty and student handbooks, official correspondence, demographic material, mass media reports and presentations, and descriptions of program development and evaluation. They are particularly useful in describing institutional characteristics, such as backgrounds and academic performance of students, and in identifying institutional strengths and weaknesses.
Personal documents are first-person accounts of events and experiences. These "documents of life" include diaries, portfolios, photographs, artwork, schedules, scrapbooks, poetry, letters to the paper, etc. Personal documents can help the evaluator understand how the participant sees the world and what she or he wants to communicate to an audience. And unlike other sources of qualitative data, collecting data from documents is relatively invisible to, and requires minimal cooperation from, persons within the setting being studied (Fetterman, 1989).

Performance Assessment
The performance assessment movement is impacting education from preschools to professional schools.

Case Studies
Classical case studies depend on ethnographic and participant observer methods. They are largely descriptive examinations, usually of a small number of sites where the researcher is immersed in the life of the community or institution and combs available documents, holds formal and informal conversations with informants, observes ongoing activities, and develops an analysis of both individuals and the social processes.

Social Capital
Bourdieu has described Social Capital as 'the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition' (Bourdieu 1983: 249).

The World Bank defines Social Capital as ‘the institutions, relationships, and norms that shape the quality and quantity of a society's social interactions... Social capital is not just the sum of the institutions which underpin a society – it is the glue that holds them together'
(The World Bank 1999).

Qualitative Research Methods inspired from Anthropology

Qualitative observational research consists of over 30 different approaches which often overlap and whose distinctions are very fine. The type of approach used depends on the research question and the discipline the researcher belongs to. For instance, 'anthropologists commonly employ ethnomethodology and ethnography, while sociologists often use symbolic interaction and philosophers frequently use concept analysis' (Marshall & Rossman 1995).
The major research methods inspired from anthropology are:-:
· Ethnography
· Narrative Inquiry
· Short Term Observation
· Ethnomethodology
· Grounded Theory
· Phenomenology
· Kinesics

Ethnography is a long term investigation of a group that is based on immersion and participation in that group. Ethnography provides a detailed exploration of group activity and may include literature about the group. It is an approach which employs multiple methodologies to arrive at a theoretical understanding of a group or culture. Ethnography attempts to explain the social relations and the interdependence of group behaviors and interactions.

Narrative Inquiry
Narrative inquiry is the process of gathering information for the purpose of research through storytelling. The researcher then writes a narrative of the experience. Connelly and Clandinin (1990) say that, "Humans are storytelling organisms who, individually and collectively, lead storied lives. Thus, the study of narrative is the study of the ways humans experience the world." In other words, they say that people's lives consist of stories.
Field notes, interviews, journals, letters, autobiographies, and orally told stories are all methods of narrative inquiry. Narrative inquiry is appropriate to many social science fields.

Short Term Observation
Short term observational studies list or present findings of short term qualitative study based on recorded observation. Observation in the studied group's natural setting is a key aspect of qualitative research. The terms group and culture are used in a loose sense here because for the researcher, a group or culture may include populations such as an individual classroom of students, a set of employees in the workplace, or residents of similar geographical or cultural areas or backgrounds. Short term observational studies differ from ethnographies in that they focus more narrowly on specified categories of group behaviors. This type of research functions well as a means of fleshing out quantitative research that would otherwise do little more than list numerical data. Types of short term observational research run the spectrum from crossing the boundary into quantitative research to a very nearly ethnographic approach.

According to Coulon (1995, 15), "ethnomethodology is the empirical study of methods that individuals use to give sense to and to accomplish their daily actions: communicating, making decisions, and reasoning". This approach may be called as a form of ethnography, which specifically studies activities of group members to see how they make sense of their surroundings.

Grounded Theory
In this approach, researchers are responsible for developing other theories that emerge from observing a group. The theories are "grounded" in the group's observable experiences, but researchers add their own insight into why those experiences exist. In essence, grounded theory attempts to "reach a theory or conceptual understanding through step wise, inductive process" (Banning 1995).

This approach seeks to explain the "structure and essence of the experiences" of a group of people (Banning 1995). A phenomenologist is concerned with understanding certain group behaviors from that group's point of view. Phenomenological inquiry requires that researchers go through a series of steps in which they try to eliminate their own assumptions and biases, examine the phenomenon without presuppositions, and describe the "deep structure" of the phenomenon based on internal themes that are discovered (Marshall & Rossman, 1995).

Kinesic analysis examines what is communicated through body movement. This approach is based on the assumption that all human beings, although they may be unaware of it, act and react to situations nonverbally as well as verbally. Kinesics can be especially useful when employed in conjunction with other qualitative methods such as interviews and narratives to substantiate the existing data. This comes under non verbal communication in communication anthropology and is an important tool to study the body language.

Rapid Appraisal and Participatory Research

Qualitative methods are particularly appropriate for research which requires understanding of a complex range of variables impacting on one another as well as on project outcomes.

Rapid Appraisal (RA) is a qualitative appraisal methodology derived from rural development related research. Rapid Appraisal is particularly useful in defining issues and generating insights, emphasizing learning from and with a community or a group. The earliest form of Rapid Appraisal originated in the late 1970’s. Known initially as Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA), the new methodology was born to improve the cost-effectiveness, timeliness, and quality of rural development-related research. Rapid Rural Appraisal is one of several related qualitative research methods utilizing participatory techniques as well as analytical approaches to study a group. ' Rapid Rural Appraisal derived from two different sources; ecology and systems disciplines utilising analytical techniques such as pattern analysis, flow diagrams and decision trees to study agricultural ecology' (Conway, 1986) and 'the participant observation methodology of socio-cultural anthropology' (Sweetser, 1996).

Rapid Rural Appraisal methods were also an alternative to the defects and high costs of large-scale questionnaire surveys that sometimes produced wrong data. Rapid Rural Appraisal techniques have been applied extensively in many areas of development studies including agricultural research planning, planning natural resources and landcare and emergency relief. Data gathering is based on sampling from a range of experiences and from people in the field. This information is then filtered through the perceptions of the researchers to provide rich detail and insight. Rapid Rural Appraisal has now expanded to a number of related applications including Relaxed Rural Appraisal, Rapid Assessment Procedures, Participatory Rural Appraisal and Participatory Learning and Action.

Rapid Appraisal is often multidisciplinary in nature with a broad way to collect information. A broad description of Rapid Appraisal is ‘any systematic activity designed to draw inferences, conclusions, hypotheses or assessments, including acquisition of new information in a limited period of time’ (Grandstaff & Grandstaff, 1987). Once linked to projects, and focused mainly on rural development, RA techniques are now linked to larger issues of policy and governance and used in urban and other contexts.

Rapid Appraisal forms part of a continuum of qualitative appraisal methodologies, which require superior observing, listening and learning skills. RA techniques are frequently contrasted with the use of large-scale surveys, particularly in terms of sample selection, data collection, and interpretation of findings (Grandstaff & Grandstaff, 1987).

Characteristics of Participatory Research
The key features of participatory research are:
· people are the subjects of research: the dichotomy between subject and object is broken
· people themselves collect the data, and then process and analyse the information using methods easily understood by them
· the knowledge generated is used to promote actions for change or to improve existing local actions
· the knowledge belongs to the people and they are the primary beneficiaries of the knowledge creation
· research and action are inseparable – they represent a unity
· research is a praxis rhythm of action-reflection where knowledge creation supports action
· people function as organic intellectuals
· there is an built-in mechanism to ensure authenticity and genuineness of the information that is generated because people themselves use the information for life improvement.

The key processes of Participatory Research
The promotion of participatory research is basically an exercise in stimulating the people to:
· collect information
· reflect and analyse it
· use the results as a knowledge base for life improvement, and
· whenever possible, to document the results for wider dissemination i.e. for the creation of a people’s literature.

The role of the Researcher
The role of the outside professional is to promote the above processes. This can be done by:
· assisting people to collect data and then to process and analyse the information using simple methods which enables them to systematise their knowledge
· linking the local situation (which the people know best) to the larger external situation (about which the outside may know more)
· improving people’s access to new information and formal knowledge (eg technology)
· introducing local people to experiences from outside their environment
· throwing up relevant issues or problems for local people to reflect on and analyse and then assisting them in coming to their own conclusions.

The important thing is that the interaction between local people and the outside professional must primarliy benefit the people concerned by enabling them to articulate and systematise their own thought processes and thereby enhancing their knowledge base so that the can pursue independent actions.

Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA)
Rapid Rural Appraisal consists of a series of techniques for quick but correct research that are claimed to generate results of less apparent precision, but greater evidential value, than classic quantitative survey techniques. The method does not need to be exclusively rural nor rapid, but it is economical of the researcher's time. It is essentially extractive as a process: the agenda is still that of the outside researcher.
Rapid Rural Appraisal emerged in the 1970s as a more efficient and cost-effective way of learning by outsiders, particularly about agricultural systems, than was possible by large-scale social surveys or brief rural visits by urban professionals. It drew on many of the insights of field social anthropology of the 1930s-1950s, emphasized the importance and relevance of situational local knowledge, and the importance of getting the big things broadly right rather than achieving spurious statistical accuracy. It developed a style of listening research, and a creative combination of iterative methods and verification, including "triangulation" of data from different sources - using two different methods to view the same information. It was usually conducted by a multi-disciplinary team, and its chief techniques included:
· Review of secondary sources, including aerial photos, even brief aerial observation
· Direct observation, foot transects, familiarization, participation in activities
· Interviews with key informants, group interviews, workshops
· Mapping, diagramming
· Biographies, local histories, case studies
· Ranking and scoring
· Short simple questionnaires, towards end of process
· Rapid report writing in the field.

Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA)
Participatory Rural Appraisal is distinguished from other Appraisals at its best by the use of local graphic representations created by the community that legitimize local knowledge and promote empowerment.
Emerging in the 1980s, Participatory Rural Appraisal builds on Rapid Rural Appraisal but goes much further. To Rapid Rural Appraisal, it adds some more radical activist perspectives, deriving principally from South Asia. Its four central additional concepts are:
Ø Empowerment. Knowledge is power. Knowledge arises from the process and results of the research that, through participation, come to be shared with and owned by local people. Thus the professional monopoly of information, used for planning and management decisions, is broken. New local confidence is generated, or reinforced, regarding the validity of their knowledge. "External" knowledge can be locally assimilated.

Ø Respect. The Participatory Rural Appraisal process transforms the researchers into learners and listeners, respecting local intellectual and analytical capabilities. Researchers must avoid at all costs an attitude of patronizing surprise that local people are so clever they can make their own bar charts etc. A good rule of thumb is that when you can really understand the local jokes, poetry and songs, then you may feel you are starting to understand the people's culture.
Ø Localization. The extensive and creative use of local materials and representations encourages visual sharing and avoids imposing external representational conventions. Today, the emphasis is no longer on "rapid" but on the process through Participatory Rural Appraisal.
Ø Inclusiveness. Enhanced sensitivity, through attention to process; include marginal and vulnerable groups, women, children, aged, and destitute.

Participatory Action Research (PAR)

Participatory Action Research (PAR) is a more activist approach, working to empower the local community, or its representatives, to manipulate the higher level power structures. Claimed for a variety of interventions - World Bank-supported credit unions for the relatively privileged, Grameen-type banks for the very poor, community based paralegal training and litigation, voter education drives among the marginalized - Participatory Action Research can empower a community, entrench a local elite, right a wrong or totally mess things up. It depends on the extent of awareness and political savoir faire of the supporting outside organization.
Participatory Action Research, which owes more to a radical activist tradition from the work of Paulo Freire and others in Latin America, derives some of its rationale from an awareness that Participatory Action Research, for all its emphasis on participation, capability building, ownership of knowledge and empowerment, is still fundamentally an extractive and intellectual exercise. Participatory Action Research, by contrast, works directly with local political/development capacities to bring real, visible organizational structures, effective local advocacy, and a durable change in power relations with the center.


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