Nottingham University Business SchoolN14123 Further Qualitative Research Methods (Spring’18) Criticallyevaluate the role of observational data inqualitative research and discuss the key characteristicsof the processes of data collection and analysis whenusing observations as a main data source. LaQuan LambertStudent ID 4312101 What are observations? Observationalstudies serve to draw inferences from a group sample to a population where dueto the overwhelming concern of ethical dilemmas or logistical concerns, theresearcher is not in control (Sauro, 2018).
These observations serve as toolsthat influence and drive ideas for improvement and innovation. It is importantto note that observational research lacks neutral-observation characteristicsas they are selective and theory-driven in practice. The structure in whichobservations are constructed range from high structured, semi-structured andunstructured. Structuredobservations serve as systematic in overall approach. Utilizing this approachallows 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 structuredobservational schedule (CSU, 2011). However, thedata lacks any overlap and is presented in a discretefashion.
Timeliness and accuracy serve as crucial necessities whencompleting schedules in structured data. Analyzing data from structuredobservations creates challenges, as frequencies, patterns, data (unusual andfrequently occurring) must be examined (Qualres, 2011). Quantized, qualified,and aggregated data must all be analyzed and carefully observed. Researchersmust, in fact, learn and become students of their craft, like any othertradesman. They must develop the necessary skills and capabilities to enablethem to input data consistently, in a timely fashion, making sure they don’tmiss any useful data. The utilization of recorded field notes andaudio-visual are both common in naturalistic research. Semi-structured and unstructuredobservations allow for issues to emerge from the observation, although they maybe semi-structured around issues considered to be relevant to the evaluation (Sheffield U., 2015).
Role of observer AsConnelly and Clandinin (1990) point out, in all instances,qualitative observational research involves formulating a thoughtful andwell-understood relationship between the researcher and research participants.It is essential for the researcher to determine what role(s) to play to ensurefacilitation of the study and acceptance by the participants in the study groupor culture. Four types of observational research exist. Approaches range fromutilizing detached observation, where the researcher serves as a completeobserver over the subjects, to the utilization of complete participantobservation, where the researcher becomes one with the research and a part ofthe subjects’ lives. One’s overall goals, time constraints, and ethical stances play a pivotal role in theapproach selection process. Exhibit 1:1 The4 Types of Observers Completeobserver technique serves as the detached approach in which the researcherdeems it important to not make his/her presence known by those being observed.
Individuals often deem this ideology necessary to minimize the HawthorneEffect. Individuals are more likely to behave in a “natural” fashion if theyare unaware that they are being noted by a researcher. Though thecomplete observer approach was heavily regarded, many began to shy away fromthis practice as many people began to gain a feeling of deceit. Many people didnot appreciate the fact that they were being observed without being consentedfirst and ethical considerations surfaced.
Thesecond observation strategy is an observeras a participant. This strategy entailed for the observer to make him/herselfknown amongst the researched. In fact, at times the participants were even madeaware of the researcher’s overarching goals. Though this approach consists ofinteraction, it is very limited.
The researcher aims to remain neutral andoperate without biases. Next, participant as an observer is structured to wherethe researcher is expected to be fully engaged with participants. Here, theobserver abandons the idea of remaining a neutral third party and acts as amere colleague. However, despite the full interaction, those being researchedare aware of the overall position of the researcher as the observer makes itevident in a sense.
Lastly, the complete participant approach consists of aresearcher being completely embedded. In fact, this researcher acts as a merespy in a sense. The observer is expected to fully engage and take part inindividuals everyday activities. Participants, in this case, have no knowledgethat research is being conducted. Pre-Considerations Many variables mustfirst be considered before making a conscious decision as to what observationresearch method to utilize. These variables include the overall focus of theobservation, why they are observing, the research questions that the observationaldata will address, as well as what to include and exclude (CSU, 2011). Time serves as a factor that must bevalued when dealing with observational techniques and the observer shouldstress finding efficient usages of it.
There should be limited, if any, wastingof time due to lack of preparation. For one to develop the most effective andefficient process diagram, there must first be a highly thought out blueprintestablished. It is also important that a researcher predetermine whatunderlying theory or model should drive the research as well. This may meanreplicating or building on an earlier study, or it may mean formulating a newmodel or theory by which to conduct the study (Morgan,Pullon, Macdonald, McKinlay, Gray, 2016). Eitherway, a clear understanding of the theory or model chosen will act as a massdeterminate 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 executionmust be blueprinted, prior to diving into the field.
One must also distinguish how systematic, structuredand descriptive to be when partaking in the observational research method as itall plays a pivotal role in the overall outcome of the data. Equally importantis the researchers need to grasp an idea as to what resources are at his/herdisposal and necessary to conduct effective research. Far too often dounexpected instances occur. One must grasp a reactive mindset to prosper.Unlike most scientific research methods, the qualitativeobservational inquiry does not require the researcher to define aprecise set of issues in the initial phases; these issues often emerge from thestudy over time (Bazeley,Jackson, 2013). It is common in other qualitative inquiries that one beginswith an initial set of questions. In qualitative research, however, oftentimes overall theories andbeliefs about group behavior and interactions are developed because of theobserver’s exploratory work. These very theories have a clear impact on risingquestions.
Some of which are deemedrelevant for further education and research. Some qualitative observationalresearchers take a solely reactive approach to their research. By utilizingthis technique, observers enter the field and allow the research questions andproblems to surface naturally, on their own. Last, but not least, one of the moreimportant initiatives is for a researcher to realize the observation may beaffected 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 pointsresearchers must take into consideration to develop the most effective analysisas possible. Ethics The overall aim ofobservational studies has been to expose participants to minimal risk, in-turnresulting 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 regardingethical practices will negatively influence attitudes about science, and theabuses committed by a few are often the ones that receive widespread publicity (Mauthner, Birch, Jessop, & Miller, 2003). Field notes Predeterminingthe data collection method as well as deciding when the data will be collectedis a prime step in constructing qualitative observational research studies.Field notes serve as commonly utilized tools in ethnographic research. In manycases, observers simply make use of blank notebooks and operate by jotting downall, what they deem important, information.
Some ethnographers prefer toutilize audio and at times, video taking. To create a streamlined focus, inmany cases, observers will begin with apre-sought out list of behaviors to be carefully observed. This approach takesprecedence when the research question has already been defined, however, topicsshould be elastic and adjustable throughout the length of the study.
The goalsof note taking are to help ensure the validityof the data collection and interpretation processes, to check data with membersof context if possible, to weigh the evidence, and to check for researcher andsubjects’ effects on both patterned and outlying data (CSU, 2011). Journalrecords serve as widely used tools. These journals can be created and utilizedby the researched, observers or practitioners. The collection method is throughparticipant observation in a jointenvironment. The written dialogue between researcher andparticipants is also used in narrative inquiry as a way of offering andresponding 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 studentproducts, 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 groupthat speaks of their experience (CSU, 2011).
Unstructuredinterviews are commonly utilized to collect data. Ones embodied experiences,expressed in personal stories, enables researchers to gain a clearunderstanding 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 ofthe group conversation that an unstructuredinterview may surface. For an observer to receive honest responses, theinterviews should deem open, informal and with much interaction. At times,certain individuals are chosen with the hopes that they reveal specific soughtout information or allow for the researched to establish a cross section of groupmembers.
Researchersmay need to utilize “stimulation recall” to provoke interviewees ormembers in casual dialog concerning occasions. Another technique,”simulation response,” presents theoretical circumstances to getreactions from individuals from the group. While these strategies arefrequently useful, they are not dependable. Individuals may repress access todata by disguising parts of their lives or by telling specialists what theythink they need to hear.Using technology in recordingobservations Withthe upward spiral in innovation and technological improvements, video-basedobservation is becoming a more sought-out method in observational research.
Video recording has in fact been under-utilized as a data collection methodsince it raises concerns from a confidentiality and privacy standpoint.However, this method comes with many benefits as opposed to traditionalobservational approaches. Recent utilization of the video-based observationalapproach has enabled observers to discover new research areas and approaches (Asan, 2018).
Video utilization is a significant resourcefor many social researchers across a range of fields. The different uses of thevideo have been mapped including its use in participatory research,videography, video interviews, the analysis of existing videos, and video basedfieldwork (Bernard, 1988). Once outlined,the different potentials and constraints that accompany the use of video as aresearch tool and data collection method, begin to surface. Video raises manyconsiderations for social researchers, including what is the status of videodata, when does video become data, to what extent do video recordings reflect,distort or remediate social events (Jewitt, 2012).
Inall, both ethical and practical issues arise when the utilization of recordingis practiced while gathering data. However, through careful thought and aclear-cut understanding of how to operate effectively, this method can be highlyeffective. In all, the video has a way ofenabling new and distinctive ways of presentinginsights, observations, and findings to both academic and practitioner audience.Data analysis from field notes The concluding steps in qualitative observational researchconsist of a researcher analyzing the data collected, which eventually leads tothe drafting of the research report. The researchers work begins to reach aclimactic point as he/she begins synthesizing and interpreting the datacollected into means that support understandability and enlightenment, all in apiece of writing. Even though these steps serve as the culmination of theresearchers work, it should never be assumed that they are reserved for the endof the study. In fact, in most cases, theresearcher analyze data as well as draft portions of the report while stillfully submerged in the research process. In analyzing descriptive data,the researcher reviews what was witnessed and recorded, and synthesizes it withthe observations and words of the participants themselves (Atkinson, & Hammersley, 1994).
Theobserver begins by simply reading a specific situation as a mere text. Whendone, the observer must apply as many critical techniques as possible withoutviolating 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 ofcontext. The analysis may revealconvergent data, metaphors that run throughout a language, culture, or group(thematic analysis) (CSU, 2011). Specific terms and metaphors can also bedissected and analyzed for their significance through the utilization ofcontent analysis. In all, all research gathered must be judged in context. Attimes when the context is unclear, one must utilize specific techniques to gainan understanding.
Once the observer is truly able to conceptualize the notedresearch and gain an understanding of itsmotivations, the opportunity to effectively relay their findings and draw conclusionswill surface. It is important for one to document the following whileobserving: physical setting, objects and material culture, this refers to the presence, placement, and arrangementof objects that impact the behavior or actions of those being observed. The useof language or how things are being said and the tone expressed need to beanalyzed.
Behavior cycles and the order in which events unfold should be takeninto consideration as well as the physical characteristics of the subjects andexpressive body movements, which includes things like body posture or facialexpressions. When these factors are taken heavily into consideration, one can createa more effective study.Reliability and validity Reliability and validity concerns are omnipresent inquantitative research. However, in qualitative research, these vitalelements of confidence receive significantly less attention and scrutiny.
Inqualitative research, validity or trustworthiness and reliability orconsistency are discussed in terms of credibility, transferability,dependability, and confirmability of the instrumentation and results of thestudy (Simon, and Goes, 2018). One must generate the understanding that dependability is toqualitative research as reliability is to quantitative research. Withoutestablishing credibility, dependability isn’t attainable.
The researcher mustexplain how dependability and credibility have been established within theresearch methodology and how it is supported bythe documented data collection. The validity ofqualitative research indicates consistency and trustworthiness regardingactivities and events associated with the phenomenon as signified by the studyresults explored in the research (Golafshani, 2003).Validity and reliability increase transparency and decrease opportunities toinsert researcher bias in qualitative research (Singh,2014). The researcher must ensure reliability and validity of the studybased on the ability to maintain neutrality, and trustworthiness (Golafshani,2003). Establishing validity can present challenges for qualitativeresearchers (Cho & Trent, 2006).
However,experts agree on the need to assure validity, credibility, and reliability inqualitative studies (Simon,and Goes, 2018).Conclusion/Reporting In due course, the time will come when the observer isexpected to leave the field and report his/her findingsand conduct conclusions via the report.There is no strict rule that places a time constraint on when participantobservation should end.
However, it is very beneficial to start homing in onthis conclusion phase when one has enough data to answer key researchquestions. Thereporting of results serves as a process that is taxing, yet rewarding. Afterspending an extended amount of time submerged in the field, one often finds itdifficult to come up with conclusions.
However, if research has been conductedeffectively and field notes were properly managed through code utilization, thelikeliness of reporting process going smoothly becomes more likely. The overalltone and formatting of the report solely dependon what a researcher is trying to accomplish and to whom they are trying todisplay their thoughts and findings to. Regardlessof the layout, your writing ought to spotlight the principal themes that you havearrived upon after undertaking the constant comparative method. Your work is expected to firstdescribe the field you studied within, explainthe methodology, and outline the studies questions.
From there, an observer ought to define yourhighlighted themes and conclusions. Oneof the best parts of writing up participant observation is that you have agreat resource of fieldnotes to draw from, that you can quote to explicate yourmajor themes. Feel free to include quotes from interactions you observed orinterviews you conducted to give greater texture to your insights (Metac,2014). Works CitedNorris,A. and Jackson, A. (2011). Exploringthe Ethics of Observational Research: The Case of an HIV Study in Tanzania.
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