Archive | November, 2013

Member checking v’s dissemination focus groups in qualitative research

27 Nov

Historically, member checking (also known as member/participant validation) qualitative research findings has been viewed as an important aspect of establishing accuracy, credibility and validity (Koelsch 2013). Simply, member checking occurs when the researcher returns to participants to seek approval that the researcher has accurately reported their narratives and to gain further comments.

I hadn’t given member checking much thought (I conducted focus groups with members of the public and healthcare professionals in addition to one-to-one interviews with newspaper journalists and editors). It wasn’t until I had finished my preliminary data analysis when it was suggested to me by my supervisors.  This, I admit wasn’t a welcomed suggestion mainly due to the challenges it would likely cause. However, not being one to dismiss supervisor suggestions, I took myself off to explore this concept further. The outcome of this exploration was that I would not conduct member checks as I could not see a clear benefit. Here was my rationale:

  • As some of my focus groups were opportunistically undertaken from already-formed social groups, locating the same participants was likely to be impossible. They were also conducted quite some time ago
  • Geographically, my focus groups were conducted in another part of Scotland. I didn’t have the time or the energy at this stage of my research to travel back there for this purpose, especially when I questioned the effectiveness
  • Just say I was able to locate my participants, I could potentially cause them discomfort having to listen to sensitive issues being discussed, especially around my interpretation of their narratives
  • My participants could also feel uncomfortable hearing their own words
  • Exposing my preliminary findings and interpretation to my participants could make me feel uncomfortable (not a big deal but nevertheless the potential is there)
  • My participants may have forgotten they have said things therefore not be able to validate them. Alternatively, they may unintentionally wrongly recall what they have said and change the nature of the discussion that actually took place
  • My participants may request the removal of valuable data from the focus group. Also, they may have changed their perceptions about something and request that their narrative or part of their narrative is removed
  • The same group dynamics can never be recreated. Since group dynamics and interaction is a key component in my  focus group data analysis, it was deemed impossible to recreate the same group dynamics

However, this then left me with a gap.  Although I made the decision not to conduct member checks, it didn’t mean I could ignore the issue. This meant further reading and exploration. I also took to twitter to help me and received some excellent responses, in particular from Dr Bronwyn Hemsely @BronwynHemsley who had similar experiences.

Taking into consideration all the above points, and also importantly, keeping my epistemological stance of weak social constructionism and methodological approach (Interpretive descriptive methodology) at the forefront of my mind, I knew I wasn’t looking to ‘validate’ my findings, nor did I want to seek confirmation of a ‘truth’. Rather, I wanted to present my conceptual thinking and seek thoughts and ideas as to how I could be further develop them. Equally, I wanted to explore whether I had missed something important.  I therefore went down the route of dissemination focus groups. This is advocated by Rose Barbour (2005) as a more useful method to feedback preliminary findings than member checking. Focus group

So what I did was generate one focus group (6 people (two of whom were original participants)) with a mixture of members of the public and healthcare professionals (reflecting the characteristics of my participants). I prepared a Prezi and presented my key categories from my findings then asked specific questions for further discussion. The focus group was recorded with permission from the group and lasted just over one hour. I also provided light refreshments and gave small gifts as a token of my appreciation. Over all, I found this experience hugely beneficial as it:

  • Helped me explain and contextualise my study as a whole concisely and succinctly (something which has never come easy for me!)
  • Enhanced my analytical and interpretational sophistication through agreement and offers of further considerations
  • Crystallised similar and different perspectives from both the public and healthcare professionalsThinking
  • Helped further consider my findings in terms of what they mean in relation to informing practice and policy today and for the future
  • Was fun for me and those who took part

If you are considering member checking for qualitative research, I would definitely recommend dissemination sessions as an alternative. I’m not however, saying this is the right way and member checking is the wrong way , or indeed the way I did it was the right way – we know there is no right or wrong in qualitative research. What I am saying is that this was the right way for me and my research. I imagine there are various and innovative ways in which this can be done, but hopefully sharing how I did mine gives food for thought. I would be very interested to hear from others their experiences of either member checks or dissemination sessions (interviews or focus groups). Were they helpful or a hindrance?

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