Nottingham University Business School

N14123 Further Qualitative Research Methods (Spring
’18)

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Critically
evaluate the role of observational data in
qualitative research and discuss the key characteristics
of the processes of data collection and analysis when
using observations as a main data source.

 

LaQuan Lambert

Student ID 4312101

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are observations?

            Observational
studies serve to draw inferences from a group sample to a population where due
to the overwhelming concern of ethical dilemmas or logistical concerns, the
researcher is not in control (Sauro, 2018). These observations serve as tools
that influence and drive ideas for improvement and innovation. It is important
to note that observational research lacks neutral-observation characteristics
as they are selective and theory-driven in practice. The structure in which
observations are constructed range from high structured, semi-structured and
unstructured.

            Structured
observations serve as systematic in overall approach. Utilizing this approach
allows for the researcher to generate data from the observations. In this instance,
one will act as a non-participant observer as data is entered onto a structured
observational schedule (CSU, 2011). However, the
data lacks any overlap and is presented in a discrete
fashion. Timeliness and accuracy serve as crucial necessities when
completing schedules in structured data. Analyzing data from structured
observations creates challenges, as frequencies, patterns, data (unusual and
frequently occurring) must be examined (Qualres, 2011). Quantized, qualified,
and aggregated data must all be analyzed and carefully observed. Researchers
must, in fact, learn and become students of their craft, like any other
tradesman. They must develop the necessary skills and capabilities to enable
them to input data consistently, in a timely fashion, making sure they don’t
miss any useful data.  The utilization of recorded field notes and
audio-visual are both common in naturalistic research.

            Semi-structured and unstructured
observations allow for issues to emerge from the observation, although they may
be semi-structured around issues considered to be relevant to the evaluation (Sheffield U., 2015).

Role of observer

            As
Connelly and Clandinin (1990) point out, in all instances,
qualitative observational research involves formulating a thoughtful and
well-understood relationship between the researcher and research participants.
It is essential for the researcher to determine what role(s) to play to ensure
facilitation of the study and acceptance by the participants in the study group
or culture. Four types of observational research exist. Approaches range from
utilizing detached observation, where the researcher serves as a complete
observer over the subjects, to the utilization of complete participant
observation, where the researcher becomes one with the research and a part of
the subjects’ lives. One’s overall goals, time constraints, and ethical stances play a pivotal role in the
approach selection process.

Exhibit 1:1 The
4 Types of Observers

            Complete
observer technique serves as the detached approach in which the researcher
deems it important to not make his/her presence known by those being observed.
Individuals often deem this ideology necessary to minimize the Hawthorne
Effect. Individuals are more likely to behave in a “natural” fashion if they
are unaware that they are being noted by a researcher.  Though the
complete observer approach was heavily regarded, many began to shy away from
this practice as many people began to gain a feeling of deceit. Many people did
not appreciate the fact that they were being observed without being consented
first and ethical considerations surfaced.

            The
second observation strategy is an observer
as a participant. This strategy entailed for the observer to make him/herself
known amongst the researched. In fact, at times the participants were even made
aware of the researcher’s overarching goals. Though this approach consists of
interaction, it is very limited. The researcher aims to remain neutral and
operate without biases. Next, participant as an observer is structured to where
the researcher is expected to be fully engaged with participants. Here, the
observer abandons the idea of remaining a neutral third party and acts as a
mere colleague. However, despite the full interaction, those being researched
are aware of the overall position of the researcher as the observer makes it
evident in a sense. Lastly, the complete participant approach consists of a
researcher being completely embedded. In fact, this researcher acts as a mere
spy in a sense. The observer is expected to fully engage and take part in
individuals everyday activities. Participants, in this case, have no knowledge
that research is being conducted.

Pre-Considerations

            Many variables must
first be considered before making a conscious decision as to what observation
research method to utilize. These variables include the overall focus of the
observation, why they are observing, the research questions that the observational
data will address, as well as what to include and exclude (CSU, 2011). Time serves as a factor that must be
valued when dealing with observational techniques and the observer should
stress finding efficient usages of it. There should be limited, if any, wasting
of time due to lack of preparation. For one to develop the most effective and
efficient process diagram, there must first be a highly thought out blueprint
established. It is also important that a researcher predetermine what
underlying theory or model should drive the research as well. This may mean
replicating or building on an earlier study, or it may mean formulating a new
model or theory by which to conduct the study (Morgan,
Pullon, Macdonald, McKinlay, Gray, 2016). Either
way, a clear understanding of the theory or model chosen will act as a mass
determinate as to how research will be structured and conducted. The “3 W’s”
who, what, and where act as important factors in the preparation of research.
These “3 W’s” should be heavily thought out and an effective plan of execution
must be blueprinted, prior to diving into the field.  

            One must also distinguish how systematic, structured
and descriptive to be when partaking in the observational research method as it
all plays a pivotal role in the overall outcome of the data. Equally important
is the researchers need to grasp an idea as to what resources are at his/her
disposal and necessary to conduct effective research. Far too often do
unexpected instances occur. One must grasp a reactive mindset to prosper.
Unlike most scientific research methods, the qualitative
observational inquiry does not require the researcher to define a
precise set of issues in the initial phases; these issues often emerge from the
study over time (Bazeley,
Jackson, 2013). It is common in other qualitative inquiries that one begins
with an initial set of questions. In qualitative research, however, oftentimes overall theories and
beliefs about group behavior and interactions are developed because of the
observer’s exploratory work. These very theories have a clear impact on rising
questions. Some of which are deemed
relevant for further education and research. Some qualitative observational
researchers take a solely reactive approach to their research. By utilizing
this technique, observers enter the field and allow the research questions and
problems to surface naturally, on their own.  

            Last, but not least, one of the more
important initiatives is for a researcher to realize the observation may be
affected by the sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, class, appearance, age,
language, personality, temperament, attitude, interpersonal behavior,
familiarity with the situation, involvement and concern of the observer (Palkowski, 2011). These serve as very pivotal points
researchers must take into consideration to develop the most effective analysis
as possible.

Ethics

            The overall aim of
observational studies has been to expose participants to minimal risk, in-turn
resulting in less ethical obligations for observers than intervention studies.
Research ethics core principles include but are not limited to: respect for persons/autonomy;
beneficence/no maleficence; and distributive justice (Norris and Jackson (2011).
Today, any concerns regarding
ethical practices will negatively influence attitudes about science, and the
abuses committed by a few are often the ones that receive widespread publicity (Mauthner, Birch, Jessop, & Miller, 2003).

Field notes

            Predetermining
the data collection method as well as deciding when the data will be collected
is a prime step in constructing qualitative observational research studies.
Field notes serve as commonly utilized tools in ethnographic research. In many
cases, observers simply make use of blank notebooks and operate by jotting down
all, what they deem important, information. Some ethnographers prefer to
utilize audio and at times, video taking. To create a streamlined focus, in
many cases, observers will begin with a
pre-sought out list of behaviors to be carefully observed. This approach takes
precedence when the research question has already been defined, however, topics
should be elastic and adjustable throughout the length of the study. The goals
of note taking are to help ensure the validity
of the data collection and interpretation processes, to check data with members
of context if possible, to weigh the evidence, and to check for researcher and
subjects’ effects on both patterned and outlying data (CSU, 2011).

            Journal
records serve as widely used tools. These journals can be created and utilized
by the researched, observers or practitioners. The collection method is through
participant observation in a joint
environment.

            The written dialogue between researcher and
participants is also used in narrative inquiry as a way of offering and
responding to tentative narrative interpretations (Clandinin,
1986). Researchers may look at autobiographical and biographical writing,
as well as documents such as plans, newsletters, course materials and student
products, rules, laws, architecture, picturing, metaphors, poetry, clothing,
foods, rituals, physical setting, and implements such as musical instruments,
artifacts, logs. In short, anything within the context of the studied group
that speaks of their experience (CSU, 2011).

            Unstructured
interviews are commonly utilized to collect data. Ones embodied experiences,
expressed in personal stories, enables researchers to gain a clear
understanding as to how those being observed view and experience situations.
Structured interviews cause more focused information gathering initiatives.
Unfortunately, this approach causes researchers at times to overlook aspects of
the group conversation that an unstructured
interview may surface. For an observer to receive honest responses, the
interviews should deem open, informal and with much interaction. At times,
certain individuals are chosen with the hopes that they reveal specific sought
out information or allow for the researched to establish a cross section of group
members.

            Researchers
may need to utilize “stimulation recall” to provoke interviewees or
members in casual dialog concerning occasions. Another technique,
“simulation response,” presents theoretical circumstances to get
reactions from individuals from the group. While these strategies are
frequently useful, they are not dependable. Individuals may repress access to
data by disguising parts of their lives or by telling specialists what they
think they need to hear.

Using technology in recording
observations

            With
the upward spiral in innovation and technological improvements, video-based
observation is becoming a more sought-out method in observational research.
Video recording has in fact been under-utilized as a data collection method
since it raises concerns from a confidentiality and privacy standpoint.
However, this method comes with many benefits as opposed to traditional
observational approaches. Recent utilization of the video-based observational
approach has enabled observers to discover new research areas and approaches (Asan, 2018).

Video utilization is a significant resource
for many social researchers across a range of fields. The different uses of the
video have been mapped including its use in participatory research,
videography, video interviews, the analysis of existing videos, and video based
fieldwork (Bernard, 1988). Once outlined,
the different potentials and constraints that accompany the use of video as a
research tool and data collection method, begin to surface. Video raises many
considerations for social researchers, including what is the status of video
data, when does video become data, to what extent do video recordings reflect,
distort or remediate social events (Jewitt, 2012).

In
all, both ethical and practical issues arise when the utilization of recording
is practiced while gathering data. However, through careful thought and a
clear-cut understanding of how to operate effectively, this method can be highly
effective. In all, the video has a way of
enabling new and distinctive ways of presenting
insights, observations, and findings to both academic and practitioner audience.

Data analysis from field notes

            The concluding steps in qualitative observational research
consist of a researcher analyzing the data collected, which eventually leads to
the drafting of the research report. The researchers work begins to reach a
climactic point as he/she begins synthesizing and interpreting the data
collected into means that support understandability and enlightenment, all in a
piece of writing. Even though these steps serve as the culmination of the
researchers work, it should never be assumed that they are reserved for the end
of the study. In fact, in most cases, the
researcher analyze data as well as draft portions of the report while still
fully submerged in the research process.  In analyzing descriptive data,
the researcher reviews what was witnessed and recorded, and synthesizes it with
the observations and words of the participants themselves (Atkinson, & Hammersley, 1994).

            The
observer begins by simply reading a specific situation as a mere text. When
done, the observer must apply as many critical techniques as possible without
violating the sanctity of the text (Fetterman, 1998). When evaluating the data collection,
one must be sure to avoid picking and choosing occurrences of behavior out of
context. The analysis may reveal
convergent data, metaphors that run throughout a language, culture, or group
(thematic analysis) (CSU, 2011). Specific terms and metaphors can also be
dissected and analyzed for their significance through the utilization of
content analysis. In all, all research gathered must be judged in context. At
times when the context is unclear, one must utilize specific techniques to gain
an understanding. Once the observer is truly able to conceptualize the noted
research and gain an understanding of its
motivations, the opportunity to effectively relay their findings and draw conclusions
will surface. It is important for one to document the following while
observing: physical setting, objects and material culture, this refers to the presence, placement, and arrangement
of objects that impact the behavior or actions of those being observed. The use
of language or how things are being said and the tone expressed need to be
analyzed. Behavior cycles and the order in which events unfold should be taken
into consideration as well as the physical characteristics of the subjects and
expressive body movements, which includes things like body posture or facial
expressions. When these factors are taken heavily into consideration, one can create
a more effective study.

Reliability and validity

            Reliability and validity concerns are omnipresent in
quantitative research. However, in qualitative research, these vital
elements of confidence receive significantly less attention and scrutiny. In
qualitative research, validity or trustworthiness and reliability or
consistency are discussed in terms of credibility, transferability,
dependability, and confirmability of the instrumentation and results of the
study (Simon, and Goes, 2018). One must generate the understanding that dependability is to
qualitative research as reliability is to quantitative research. Without
establishing credibility, dependability isn’t attainable. The researcher must
explain how dependability and credibility have been established within the
research methodology and how it is supported by
the documented data collection.

            The validity of
qualitative research indicates consistency and trustworthiness regarding
activities and events associated with the phenomenon as signified by the study
results explored in the research (Golafshani, 2003).
Validity and reliability increase transparency and decrease opportunities to
insert researcher bias in qualitative research (Singh,
2014). The researcher must ensure reliability and validity of the study
based on the ability to maintain neutrality, and trustworthiness (Golafshani,
2003).  Establishing validity can present challenges for qualitative
researchers (Cho & Trent, 2006).  However,
experts agree on the need to assure validity, credibility, and reliability in
qualitative studies (Simon,
and Goes, 2018).

Conclusion/Reporting

            In due course, the time will come when the observer is
expected to leave the field and report his/her findings
and conduct conclusions via the report.
There is no strict rule that places a time constraint on when participant
observation should end. However, it is very beneficial to start homing in on
this conclusion phase when one has enough data to answer key research
questions.

            The
reporting of results serves as a process that is taxing, yet rewarding. After
spending an extended amount of time submerged in the field, one often finds it
difficult to come up with conclusions. However, if research has been conducted
effectively and field notes were properly managed through code utilization, the
likeliness of reporting process going smoothly becomes more likely. The overall
tone and formatting of the report solely depend
on what a researcher is trying to accomplish and to whom they are trying to
display their thoughts and findings to.

            Regardless
of the layout, your writing ought to spotlight the principal themes that you have
arrived upon after undertaking the constant comparative method. Your work is expected to first
describe the field you studied within, explain
the methodology, and outline the studies questions. From there, an observer ought to define your
highlighted themes and conclusions. One
of the best parts of writing up participant observation is that you have a
great resource of fieldnotes to draw from, that you can quote to explicate your
major themes. Feel free to include quotes from interactions you observed or
interviews you conducted to give greater texture to your insights (Metac,
2014).

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Norris,
A. and Jackson, A. (2011). Exploring
the Ethics of Observational Research: The Case of an HIV Study in Tanzania. online Taylor
& Francis. Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/21507716.2012.714836
Accessed 14 Jan

Jewitt,
C. (2012). An introduction
to using video for research. online Eprints.ncrm.ac.uk. Available at: http://eprints.ncrm.ac.uk/2259/4/NCRM_workingpaper_0312.pdf
Accessed 14 Jan. 2018

Connelly,
F. M., & Clandinin, D. J. (1990). Stories of experience and narrative
inquiry. Educational Researcher, 19 (5), 2-14

Bazeley,
P., Jackson, K. (2013). Qualitative data analysis with NVivo. London: Sage. Google
Scholar

Sauro,
J. (2018). MeasuringU: 4
Types of Observational Research. online Measuringu.com. Available at:
https://measuringu.com/observation-role/ Accessed 14 Jan. 2018.

Bernard,
HR. (1988). Research Methods in Cultural Anthropology. (pp 152-160).
Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Atkinson,
P. & Hammersley, M. (1994). “Ethnography and participant
observation.” In NK Denzin and YS Lincoln (Eds.) Handbook of Qualitative Research (pp. 248-261). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publication.

[email protected]
(2011). Steps and Methods used in
Qualitative Observational Research. online Available at:
https://writing.colostate.edu/guides/page.cfm?pageid=1354&guideid=63
Accessed 14 Jan. 2018.

 

Qualres.org.
(2008). RWJF – Qualitative
Research Guidelines Project | Observation | Observation. online
Available at: http://www.qualres.org/HomeObse-3594.html Accessed 14 Jan. 2018.

Sheffield,
U. (2015). Observations –
Data collection – General advice – LeTS Evaluation Resources – Resources –
Strategy and Development – LeTS – The University of Sheffield. online
Sheffield.ac.uk. Available at: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/lets/strategy/resources/evaluate/general/methods-collection/observation
Accessed 14 Jan. 2018.

Morgan,
S., Pullon, S., Macdonald, L., McKinlay, E. and Gray, B. (2016). Case Study
Observational Research: A Framework for Conducting Case Study Research Where
Observation Data Are the Focus. Qualitative Health Research, 27(7), pp.1060-1068.

US
National Library of Medicine. (2015). Using video-based observation research methods in primary care health
encounters to evaluate complex interactions. online Available at:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4350928/ Accessed 14 Jan. 2018.

Asan, O,
Ph.D. (2018). ESRC National Centre for Research Methods. online
Available at: https://ncrm.ac.uk/ Accessed 14 Jan. 2018.

Fetterman,
DM. (1998). Ethnography Step by Step (2nd Edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Simon,
M. and Goes, J. (2018). Reliability
and Validity in Qualitative Studies. online DissertationRecipes.com. Available at: http://www.dissertationrecipes.com/reliability-validity-qualitative-studies/
Accessed 14 Jan. 2018.

Olson,
K., Young, R. and Schultz, I. (n.d.). Handbook of Qualitative Health Research for Evidence-Based Practice. Springer.

MetaConnects.
(2014). Participant
Observation as a Research Method: A flexible and rigorous strategy for
understanding our world. online Available at:
http://metaconnects.org/observation-report Accessed 14 Jan. 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exhibits

1:1