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Introducing Qualitative Research Methods

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what we will cover in today’s lesson are as follows; we will see how to design qualitative research.So, we will look at what are the different components when we are designing qualitative research, the characteristics, data collection and data recording procedures of qualitative research.We will also look at some of the examples of qualitative purpose statements in the sense that there are various strategies of inquiries or various inquiries that are followed as part of qualitative research methods.And what I have tried to do is to introduce a lesson is to bring some examples referring to qualitative purpose statements as part of each of these methods of inquiry.We will also look at what is called theory use, inductive approach and data analysis in qualitative research.And finally, we will end this lesson on issues of validity, reliability, generalizability and things to keep in mind when we are writing up qualitative research.Now before we do that let me recapitulate some of the important points that we had covered in lesson 2 of week 1 when we studied worldviews or philosophical paradigms of development research methods.Now in lesson 2 of week 1, we studied the paradigms of development research in which we began with what constitute paradigms or worldviews.We studied that worldviews are a general philosophical orientation about the world and the nature of research that the researcher begins to or makes an attempt to study.We also saw that there are various terminologies that are used for worldviews; sometimes we refer to epistemologies, ontologies, we also refer to paradigms and so on.And all of these are broadly conceived as research methodologies.But four philosophical worldviews were primarily focused on, that are showing on your slide, they are the post-positivist, constructivist, transformative and pragmatic worldviews.And post-positivist is mostly used by the scientific tradition where we are entering into a fact-finding sort of exercise.The constructivist is also referred to as the interpretivist paradigm and we also discussed that the qualitative researchers or qualitative research methodologists focus a lot on the interpretative or the constructivist worldview.We also got introduced to transformative or advocacy and participatory worldviews where the focus was primarily on action research formats.And lastly the pragmatic or the pluralist worldviews where various kinds of considerations went into deciding what is the kind of research method that should be followed for investigating a certain question and which is why mixed methods research forms a very important part of the pluralist viewpoint or the pragmatic viewpoint.We have also been introduced some of the basic strategies of inquiry pertaining to qualitative research.So, in qualitative research, the numbers and types approaches have become more clearly visible particularly during the 1990s and the 2000s.And among strategies of inquiry, there has been a lot of focus an ethnography, grounded theory, case studies, phenomenological research and narrative research.In the classes following today’s lesson, the focus will primarily be on focus group discussions, interviews, participatory research methods which would include some examples related to ethnography, how to conduct case studies, how to do case coding, how to do field diaries and so on.However, if I have to again sort of revise or give you some kind of a very brief introduction of each of these strategies of inquiry beginning with ethnography, it is nothing but a strategy in which the researcher studies an intact cultural group in a natural setting over a prolonged period of time by collecting primarily observational and interview data.In the case of grounded theory, grounded theory is a strategy of inquiry in which the researcher drives the general abstract theory of a process, action, or interaction grounded in the views of the participants.So, the researcher tries to derive a theory out of the different processes of interaction with the participant themselves.Case studies are a strategy of inquiry in which the researcher explores in depth a program, event, activity, or a process.And mostly case studies are time-bound and activity-bound and therefore various kinds of methods are followed to collect data as part of case studies.To give you an example, if I am carrying out a study on let us say complementary feeding practices of a certain community of children in a certain locality.Let us say we are studying complementary feeding practices of children within the age group of 6 months to 2 years or under 2 years and we are focusing on mothers who are particularly vulnerable to various kinds of diseases in a certain community in a state of India.Then one of the ways to investigate this question would be to follow specific case studies of mothers with children under 2 and then come up with various methods of data collection techniques and takedown in-depth interviews from the cases and come up with a conclusion on it.Phenomenological research is a strategy in which the researcher identifies the essence of human experiences about a phenomenon as described by the participants.And this is where mostly we come across the term called ‘lived experiences’, where the researcher herself or himself keeps aside his or her own experiences and does not bring his or her own experiences to the field, rather the focus is on participants’ lived experience and drawing a conclusion out of or doing a systematic study of those lived experiences and then coming up with a conclusion based on it.So, understanding the lived experiences of participants marks the philosophy of phenomenology.Narrative research is when the researcher studies the lives of individuals and asks one or more participants to narrate stories about their lives and then they are recorded in proper formats and proper codes can be formed out of different kinds of narratives taken from different samples that have been identified by certain sampling procedures.We also studied in the paradigms of development research methods regarding what exactly is qualitative research and we came up with a formulation or a brief definition of what is qualitative research.It is nothing but an approach for exploring and understanding the meaning individuals or groups ascribe to a social or human problem.And the process of qualitative research involves some of the following questions or features.One is what are the emerging questions and procedures.The data is typically collected in the participants setting.So, in the previous example that I took about complementary feeding practices among a certain community, let us say we visit a certain Teagarden community in the state of Assam and we collect data on complementary feeding practices from the mothers of children under 2 from the tea garden community.We ensure that the participant setting is intact.The researcher goes to the participant setting and collects information while being there.Data analysis is inductively built from particular to general themes and the researcher make interpretations of the meaning of this data.And therefore we say that qualitative research honours an inductive style with the focus on the individual meaning and the importance of rendering the complexity of a situation which is wythe writing up of qualitative research is of extreme importance where the writing style is rich with quotations and narratives are taken from the participants’ setting.Now so too in a way to summarize what is qualitative research, we can think of them as following; there are philosophical assumptions, philosophical assumptions may be guided by constructivist, advocacy, and participatory knowledge claims.The strategies of inquiry could be any or all of the following- phenomenology, grounded theory, ethnography, case study and narratives.The methods could be in the form of open-ended questions, looking at emerging approaches, text or image data which I will elaborate on in the consequence slides.The practices of the research as the researcher is extremely important in the case of qualitative research and is also one of the limitations of qualitative research because it is often pretty clear that the researchers’ bias enters into the qualitative research findings.Therefore it is extremely important how the researcher positions himself or herself while conducting an inquiry with respect to qualitative research.So, the position of the researcher himself or herself, it is important to clarify that at the beginning of the research.The researcher collects participant meanings, focuses on a single concept or phenomenon.The researcher brings personal values into the study and studies the context or setting of the participants, the researcher validates the accuracy of findings, makes interpretation of the data, creates an agenda for change or reform, and collaborates with participants.And all of this takes place with the active role of the researcher sometimes being a leader, sometimes being a facilitator or a moderator, and sometimes being an observant- an active observant or a passive observant of what is happening in the participants’ setting.Now let us come to the first part of the lesson which is on designing qualitative research.Now, every research project has to start from somewhere and typically the starting point is an idea.Sometimes this idea originates because of a particular problem or a situation that the researcher is in or a certain experience that our researcher has.For example, you may observe that you have gone to a bank for receiving some information regarding a certain scheme.And in spite of the fact that there has been significant technological up-gradation in the bank, the personnel employed in the bank take a lot of time to provide you with the information that you are seeking for the particular scheme.A rural manual worker may be in the possession of an MGNREGA job card and yet the jobs are not forthcoming or there is not much employment available to the rural manual worker.You might also face a situation where the state government might have introduced electronic wage payment system to the beneficiaries of various schemes and it is expected that because an efficient electronic wage payment system is in place, wages of different workers would be in their bank accounts.However, it has not been received.Now in some situations, ideas move from the information you hear but you may not actually experience.For example, you are watching the news and you come across the news where it says that demonetization which was implemented as an efficient strategy was supposed to curb corruption yet has resulted in employment losses.So, then you start wondering why on earth demonetization resulted in such an issue.Or you read in the newspaper that Guwahati city is one of the most important human trafficking points in the whole of India.Now such situations may awake different kinds of curiosities in your mind and then you start to think about how these questions could be explored in the form of a research question and how you might research these phenomena.Now, these examples that I have just cited of watching through news or the experiences that you face or somebody else you know might have faced in a certain situation results and serves important for purposes.First is that they point out how ideas promote potential research endeavours but second and perhaps more important, they suggest a certain central research orientation.So, this orientation is the attitude that the world is a research lab and that you really need to open your eyes and ears to the sensory reality that surrounds all of us to find numerous ideas for research.In fact, once you become familiar with this orientation, the biggest problem will be to filter out all the many possible researchable ideas and actually investigate one.Most experienced qualitative researcher agree on the fact that if you position an expert qualitative researcher on the field, then she will manage to identify a research idea, develop a research plan, and project potential research findings.Now, in this context let us look at what are the things that needs to be kept in mind when we are designing qualitative research.There is a lot of talk about whether we begin with an idea or we begin with a theory.Now the reality is that some ideas will be more difficult to investigate than others.This is because those who control access to a given location, what the literature calls gatekeepers, or the subjects may be reluctant or resistant to cooperate.And similarly, some ideas may initially seem very interesting to investigate but as you progress in the process of investigation, the ideas may fall flat.So, therefore you begin with an idea but how is the idea related to theory and there are some who argue that ideas and theory must come before empirical research which has been called ‘theory before research’.And some others have suggested that research should come before theory.So, what are those steps in designing qualitative research?Ideally, we begin with theories and concepts.You think about the theory and concepts to be used in a given research project and then you think about ideas and theory.As I just said there is a contradiction in terms of whether the theory should precede research model or research should precede the theoretical model.And there are various kinds of emerging researches which say that it need not be so.One need not precede the other, all of them can be compatible with each other.Both these models can be compatible with each other in a way of going back and forth between ideas and theories and then coming back to ideas again or starting with theories going to ideas and coming back to theory again.These are 2 diagrammatic representation of what I have been just talking about.So ideally you begin with an idea, let us say the whole idea of complementary feeding practice that I was just referring to.So, you could begin with the idea of child nutrition, let us say you come across these news reports either through television or newspapers of very low survival rates of children in the tea garden communities of a certain state.And then you come up with this idea of child nutrition or malnutrition and then you lookup theories surrounding complementary feeding practices.And then you see that there is a full-fledged theory with respect to mothers’ health and child's health or socioeconomic determinants that contribute to ill health and malnourishment of children and so on.And then you move towards designing your qualitative method whether you want to carry out a focus group discussion or carry out in-depth interviews with your cases that you have selected or you want to carry out various other kinds of participatory research methods whether it is in the form of an ethnography or whether it is in the form of an action research component.And then accordingly design your research and then move onto data collection, analysis, and findings.Another way of doing the same thing would be to come up with an idea, design your research which is where we will bring in the different strategic inquires in the form of letting us say action research formats.I am just giving an example here.It could be an action research format or it could be a case study format.If you design an action research format, that would mean that the researcher then collaborates with the participant and if it is a case study method, the researcher carries out in-depth interviews based upon open-ended unstructured questionnaires.After having designed the study, you move on to data collection.Based on the data that have been collected, you then relate your data to the theory that exists.So, unlike theory coming in first, here you try to connect it with theory after the data collection process moves onto analysis and findings.There are those researchers that say that this need not follow a linear progression whereas they can go in a back and forth manner.So, you start with an idea, move towards literature review and then go back to your idea and refine your ideas further.So, you start with malnutrition or child undernourishment is an idea, you do a lot of literature review and keep in mind that we have already discussed the systematic review of literature wherein you are looking at not just the narratives with respect to the different literature that is available, but the contradictions that are coming with respect to certain studies when you are doing a systematic review of the literature.So, you go back to your idea you refine your idea, then come to the design and data collection and organization.You can again move to your design or the refine the research design further based upon data collection and organization or you can even move back to your idea, refine your idea further come back to research design and go-to data collection again.After the data collection and organization is done, after these stages of refinement that happens you cannot again go back to your research design because your data collection is done, you come to findings and then finally dissemination- analysis and findings and dissemination of data.So, when we looking at designing of qualitative research methods there are two important things to keep in mind.One is the research idea and that research idea can be in the form of a research problem or you could be studying a research problem which is a problem in your everyday life that you have experienced or you could study a research problem which you know somebody else's experience and you start seeing a pattern in the different kinds of problems that others are experiencing or you might study different patterns that you are seeing from newspaper reports or from various kinds of journal reporting.And then accordingly design your study further by connecting your idea to theory.So, first is an idea and the second is theory.Whether you begin with an idea and then move on to theory or you start with the theory and then move onto an idea is a matter of choice for the qualitative researcher.However when the process of investigation starts you can always move back and forth from idea to theory or theory to idea.Now the next step after we have discussed the issue of ideas and theory is to move to the literature review.We basically examine how others have already thought about and researched the topic.And in the first lesson of this week, we have already discussed in detail the various forms of literature review and the various techniques that we can apply or employ for carrying out a systematic review of literature which is one of the most important methods of reviewing literature in today’s emerging questions that we are facing as part of development studies research.The next step after having dealt with this issue of idea versus theory and literature is to come up with the framing of your research problems.And this is again another important step where you are framing, you are formulating a research problem statement in a coherent manner.And you can further refine and frame the idea is a problem statement with researchable questions.I will go back to the example of malnourishment or undernutrition I have just taken.So, undernourishment can be an idea or child undernourishment can be an idea.However, if you want to put it in the form of a researchable question or you want to make problem statement out of it, you could start with a problem statement such as this saying that ‘what is the contribution of lack of complementary feeding among children under2 and how that impacts their rates of survival over a period of time.’Now, this could be a problem statement and then you can refine and frame this idea by coming up with a number of researchable questions.So, following this problem statement, you could come up with a research question such as this ‘what are the socio-economic determinants that contribute to the health of a child’, ‘what are the anthropometric measurements that can help us determine the state of survival of the child?’Or we could also ask a question such as ‘is complementary feeding practice a problem only among certain social groups of the population?’.These are the first three research questions that can come to my mind when we are talking about complementary feeding practices.We then go to theory.There is a sizable literature on complementary feeding practices by peer-reviewed journals.There is a sizable literature on this being carried out by international institutions such as the World Health Organization.We can start with this literature and which will enable us to refine our researchable questions of problem statement much better.The next step in designing of qualitative research is operationalization.So, this basically contains the following; it defines the indented meaning of a concept in relation to a particular study and provides criteria for measuring the empirical existence of that concept.So, similarly, in the complementary feeding practice, we can basically look at the meaning of this concept of complementary feeding practice in this particular study in our case we are looking at tea garden communities and it can provide criteria for measuring the empirical existence of that concepts.So, basically, we can try and look at various empirical studies which have measured stunting, wasting, or underweight among children under 2 in the tea garden areas of Assam.Those of you who are well versed with various kind of databases- Indian official statistics databases, for example, the National Family Health Survey, you would know that there are various important indicators that go on to explain nutrition and undernourishment.And in our example that we have just taken on complementary feeding practices these indicators in the tea garden communities of Assam can go on to explain what is the incidents or what is the depth of the problem of malnourishment let us say for example.And then we can superimpose the idea of complementary feeding practices or dietary diversity and how that can check the problem of stunting and waste in these areas.Going on with operationalization.We can again explain terms or concepts to mean what we wanted to mean throughout the research.For example, the term complementary feeding practices maybe being used differently in different researches.However when we are formulating a research problem and going on with our research, for operationalization of the term we can make it clear that for our research complementary feeding practices mean this and this.So, we could say that complementary feeding practices for the tea garden communities of Assam focusing on mothers of children under 2 mean that what is it that they are feeding their children once the children have crossed the age of 6 months.Are they being only breastfed or they are being fed with different other kinds of food items apart from being breastfed?So, these are certain conceptual clarifications that can be made in the very beginning of the research with respect to the operationalization of a research problem.Then we move on to conceptualization, also to form an agreement over what a concept means and how that concept is to be identified and examined.I was referring to the fact that there us international literature on complementary feeding practice and if the literature already identified the concept as such then it needn't be necessary for us to come up with a completely new concept if the characteristic features of what we mean by complementary feeding also means what the international literature has already identified.So then, which is what I mean by saying that there has to be a form of an agreement over what a concept means and how that concept is to be identified and examined.Then we move on to designing the projects, so design the plan for how the study will be conducted, the data collection and organization, data storage, retrieval and analysis, and finally in the form of dissemination.So, in the data collection and organization, whether we decide to carry out an in-depth study over a very long period of time, an ideal method to be taken up is what is called ethnographic studies.If we want to complete the study within a given time frame and in a structured manner, we could go for a survey of the concerned families- we could go ahead with a survey of mothers of children under 2.And frame a questionnaire, a structured questionnaire which asks questions pertaining to child health and different kinds of feeding practices or consumption practices followed by the family, different kinds of income considerations or we could also ask questions related to immunizations and vaccinations of the children or the physiological status of mother and child and so on and the survey methods could be used.So, when we are moving to survey methods, the same problem can also be studied in a quantitative format where we collect quantitative data, whether we go for an ethnographic study for a more quantitative study the form of survey methods or we want to carry out a case study approach to collect our data, is what the researcher need to decide at this stage.If we are collecting survey data, we need to think about data storage in the form of databases.If we are collecting more qualitative data in the form of case studies then we need to also think about how to code the case studies, how to maintain the field diaries.Because field diaries are utmost important when collecting qualitative information because the researcher is interpreting the participants’ environment for a larger audience and therefore field diaries are the utmost importance.So, how are the field diaries being maintained, how are we coding the content that we are getting out of the field diaries is very important when looking data storage.And then of course retrieving the data from the data we have stored and analyzed them.And finally the dissemination- whether it is form of a government project report ora consultancy report or if it is in the form of a student dissertation that we are attempting.Now, this is a checklist of questions that can be kept in mind for designing a qualitative procedure.So, what I have done is I have summarized the discussion that we have just had regarding the different steps to be kept in mind when designing qualitative research.There are many more questions that can be added on to the checklist that I am presenting here.But these are some of the most general questions that can be kept in mind for a smoother conducting a qualitative designing process.So, one is ‘are the basic characteristics of qualitative studies mentioned?’‘Is the specific type of qualitative strategy of inquiry to be used in the study mentioned in the history of the definition of and applications for the strategy mentioned?’Number three, ‘does the reader gain an understanding of the researcher’s role in the study past, historical, social, cultural experiences, personal connections to sites and people, steps in gaining entry and sensitive ethical issues.’So, this is of utmost importance, in fact in the next class I will make an attempt to bring you an example of how the researcher’s role is explained in good qualitative research explanations wherein the researcher makes her position clear with regard to how the research has been carried out and how the research is being presented.‘Is the purposeful sampling strategy for sites and individuals identified?’I have not entered into a discussion of purposive sampling in this class.However, when I take up quantitative research methods as a part of the introduction to sampling procedures, I will cover what is purposive sampling because purposive sampling is one of the most important forms of sampling which is carried out for qualitative research methods.Number 5, ‘are the specific forms of data collection mentioned and rationale given for their use?’‘Are the procedures for recording information during the data collection procedure mentioned?’So, ‘what are the protocols?’‘Are the data analysis steps identified?’‘Is there evidence that the researcher has organized the data for analysis?’‘Has the researcher reviewed the data generally to obtain a sense of the information?Has coding been used with data?’This is something that we will cover in the next week- in week 4 lesson 2 and 3, WE will be dealing with coding and field diaries that are maintained as part of qualitative research methods.‘Have the codes been developed to form a description or to identify themes?Are the themes interrelated to show a higher level of analysis and abstraction?Are the ways the data will be represented mention such as in tables, graphs and figures?Have the basis for interpreting the analysis being specified, that is personal experiences, literature, questions, action agenda?Has the researcher mentioned the outcome of the study as in whether a theory will be developed or whether a complex picture of the themes will be provided?Have multiple strategies been cited for validating the findings?So, this, in a nutshell, is how we can design a good qualitative research project whether it's for your dissertation or if it is for a government-sponsored project or a privately sponsored project.These are some of the generic steps and of course, there are specific issues pertaining to each of the steps which can be probed further by the students through the references that I have given at the end of this lesson.Let us now move on to the next part of our lesson which is on the data collection and data recording procedures after having to discuss the characteristics of what is qualitative research.So, although I have discussed already what is the designing of qualitative research which will already have given a sense the students regarding the characteristic of qualitative research.