Tag Archives: Qualitative research

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?


Qualitative data analysis: data display

20 Oct

The first thing I want to say is that data display was lots of fun!

So my last blog post finished after I had developed and played around with my propositions before moving onto data display.

Miles et al (2014) dedicates 6 chapters to data display (part 2 of their book). I read and re-read these chapters a number of times before I could get my head around everything. Had I not done this, I can see how I may have gone down an inappropriate avenue. Miles et al provide various suggestions along with some smashing examples about how data can be displayed – mainly though matrices and network displays.

For my study, I created matrices (with defined rows and columns). Miles et al describe matric construction as “a creative yet systematic tasks that furthers your understanding of the substance and meaning of your database” (p.113). A key point that resonated with me was that it’s not about building correct matrices – it’s about building ones that will help give answers to the questions you’re asking. To do this, they advise us to “adapt and invest formats that will serve you best” (p.114).

An important conclusion I came to? I didn’t need to use (or fully understand) all the matrices/network displays. I took what I needed to (role-ordered matrices) and combined it with a little of something else (Framework matrices) to allow me to display my data in a way that helped me move on with analysis and progress through to interpretation – always with my research questions at the forefront of my mind (and pinned to my office door).


So here’s what I did: I created a matrix for each main theme (n=4) and each focus group (n=15). In total I created 60 matrices.

My participants were entered along the first row and within each participant cell I also identified key demographic characteristics.  Each subtheme was a column heading. I can’t provide an example of one of my matrices in NVivo as the data is legible, so the image below is a QSR example from their volunteering study.

xxxThe beauty (and massive time saver) of NVivo is that when you click in each cell (number 4 ), the data that you have coded (for the individual within that theme) is displayed on the right of your matrix (number 3). This is referred to as the ‘associated view’. Obviously when you first create your matrix all the cells in the middle will be empty so from the coded data (associated view) a summary needs to be entered into each cell.

For my study, I read through all my coded data and my summaries were developed using the following:

  • Including sufficient detail that was understandable and not overly cryptic
  • Retaining my participants language
  • Sometimes including short verbatim excerpts if I thought it was necessary. All quotes were kept in italics
  • Including my commentaries (in a different colour) about context and focus group interaction

A simple, but important thing I noted when writing my summaries is that not all cells were coded, therefore no summary was required. I always wrote ‘NC’ in those cells so I knew that cells were not empty due to an unintended oversight.

Not surprisingly, as with all stages of data analysis, this process was extremely time consuming. However, by the time I completed it, I had so much more insight into what my data was telling me – for example, the similarities, the differences, the unsurprising and the surprising.  I generally gained a much deeper understanding of what was going on.

However, it didn’t end there. I wanted to compare and contrast my data not only within focus groups, but between focus groups. This I found difficult on a computer screen as I had to jump back and forth across so many matrices.  So….. similar to my propositions, I left my PC and went back to flip chart paper. To be honest, it was a nice break from sitting at my PC.

Another beauty of NVivo is that the matrices can be exported into excel. I did this then transferred them again into a word document (I like prettifying my tables with colours etc. and could only do that the way I wanted in word). It cost me a little more time, but nevertheless, it was worth it. I then printed my matrices out (all 60 of them). For each main theme and subthemes I sellotaped 3 flipchart paper sheets together (so that they were long enough to display all 8 focus groups matrices down both sides) and glued my public focus group matrices down the left hand side and my healthcare professionals’ focus group matrices down the right hand side.

These matrices on the flip chat paper then became my focus for a few weeks. I read them, compared them, returned to the literature, returned to my memos, reflected and took time away to think (long dog walks on the beach helped hugely with this). While I did this, I used the white space in the centre of my flipchart paper (between the matrices) to scribble down my thoughts and concepts. For me, this stage enabled the progression from description to interpretation. I even took them to one of my supervision sessions so I could talk through some of my thoughts and illustrate the process I took to get there. I can show you an image of this as the text is not legible – this is one main theme (with 4 subthemes (column headings (in blue)). The peach rows are my participants:



So in a nut shell, my data display process helped me to get my creative thinking underway for interpretation. I then used these matrices to help me write up my first draft of my findings.

I hope this has been helpful. Qualitative data analysis is so diverse and complex and depends upon a number of variables, particularly your methodological approach so there really is no ‘one size   fits all’. Please do respond to this post and share your experience of the process you took and how it worked for you. Or did you do something similar to me? 🙂

Qualitative data analysis: data condensation (aka reduction)

12 Jul

Rather than trying to squeeze my thoughts and experience of all my data analysis in one blog post, I intend to write shorter (!) posts of different stages as I progress. My last blog post was about developing my analysis plan.  Knowing what I know now, I am so thankful I spent the time doing that!

I am following Miles and Huberman’s approach to data analysis and have the 3rd edition ~ Miles et al., (2014). There are lots of similarities in this edition but also some differences. I prefer  this edition.Mile et al

miles and huberman

The purpose of this post is to share with your my first step of data analysis – data condensation. This used to be called data reduction (Miles and Huberman 1994) but it was changed because data reduction implies “weakening or losing something in the process”.


So immediately following my focus groups and interviews, I took extensive notes about salient factors (more about that in another blog post). From these notes I created a contact summary form as advocated by Miles and Huberman and one of my supervisors which synthesised all this information. This is  a very simple and highly valuable thing to do. I have repeatedly referred back to my contact summary forms throughout this process (if anyone wants the template, just ask). I also transcribed verbatim all my focus groups and interviews myself as soon as I could after data collection. This was a very, very long and at times, laborious task, but again highly valuable for really getting to know my data.


I listened to each audio recording (listening only ~ no note taking). Then I read each transcript (reading only ~ no note taking). Then I listened to each audio re-coding again whilst reading my transcripts. This time I scribbled notes down on a pad and drew various mind maps and diagrams. After all that, I was pretty sure I had immersed myself in my data (even though I hated listening to myself!).

I prepared transcripts for importing into NVivo 10. This involved ensuring consistent format and style and anonymising my participants by allocating each of them a pseudonym and a code to differentiate public, healthcare and media professionals (a blog post about this here). This process took quite a bit of time, but if not done thoroughly, I can see how this could have caused me many problems later on.

1st level coding: I developed a starting coding list based on my theoretical framework and wider literature to get me started (initial deductive approach). I listed these codes onto a coding framework with clear operational definitions so I had a clear understanding of what type of data needed to be assigned to each code. Throughout this stage, codes were revised or removed and additional codes and subcodes were created as new themes emerged from the data (inductive approach). As I revised my codes, each transcript was re-read and re-coded. I made sure at this stage I didn’t try to force my data into anything and that codes and sub-codes were all kept very descriptive.

Pattern coding: This was about working with the 1st level codes and sub-codes so that they could be grouped into more meaning full and general patterns. This process was a little more challenging for me because at times I was aware that my thinking was going a little too fast and that I needed to remain fairly descriptive. I was also frightened about condensing too much and losing some of what I had. However, the beauty of NVivo is that you have an audit trail so if you do need to go back, everything is still there (I saved a copy of my NVivo project at the end of every day). While pattern coding, I examined my data carefully and asked a number of key questions such as: What is happening here? What is trying to be conveyed? What are the similarities? What are the differences? In doing so, I also explored not only the similarities but also the idiosyncrasies and differences. This process took quite a number of iterations before I was happy to move on.

Memoing: to help me through the process of coding, I created LOTS of memos which captured a wide range of my thoughts and concepts. I was also able to link my memos to my data and any external resources such as websites or literature. Again, I cannot stress enough how valuable this has been (and still is). My research journal was also created as a memo.

Propositions: it took me a little while to get my head around what I needed to do here as I have always associated propositions with case study research. This was another lengthy process but has helped so much as I started to gently move from the descriptive stage to a more conceptual and interpretive stage. I went through all my coded data and developed propositions from them – so basically a summary or synthesis of my data. I initially developed 613 propositions then reduced this to 479 following removal of duplications. In order to have a better visualisation of these, I left my computer and turned to flip chart paper. I printed each proposition (within their pattern codes) on different coloured post-it notes and arranged and re-arranged them (lots of times!). This then led me to revise my pattern codes again. Of course, with that, I revisited all my data and yet again re-coded into my final revised pattern codes and sub-codes. Just to say at this point – this doesn’t mean these pattern codes are written in stone. They can be (and will likely be) altered again as my interpretation progresses.

So in a nut shell – that was my data condensation. Obviously we know that qualitative data analysis is not a linear process and requires many, many iterations. While at times, this may be frustrating, it’s necessary and can be fun!

On a final note, if anyone is thinking about a CAQDAS programme, I cannot recommend NVivo 10 enough – I absolutely love it (I cannot comment on any other CAQDAS programme as I have only used NVivo) I know many people prefer manual analysis for a number of reasons, which is absolutely fine. NVivo has helped me hugely to store, manage and interrogate my data (of course it won’t interpret or write up my findings though!). The support you receive from QSR International via many ways is first class also.

I am now in the throes of data display and developing lots of Framework Matrices. Another really exciting stage and one that is continually challenges me on my current thinking.  That will be my next blog post. If you want to ask me any questions about my experience of data condensation, please ask away. Any comments would also be very welcome! I’m really trying to keep my blog posts short, but as you can see, I’m not doing well with that!

Why qualitative research?

18 Feb

I wrote my methodology chapter quite some time ago now and shelved it as I continued along my PhD journey. Following some discussion with my supervisors, extensive reading and fascinating chats with everyone at #phdchat, it was time for me to revisit this chapter. On reading it, it felt very academic, boring even. As though it could have been written by anyone. I remember one of my supervisors saying to me once ‘I want to see you in your research’ and although I nodded like a good student would, I didn’t really understand what she meant. I think I understand now. As Minichiello and Kottler said ‘You can’t understand qualitative research without understanding your personality – what you are searching for and what your journey is about’ http://www.sagepub.com/upm-data/26993_Chapter1.pdf  This was a challenging process for me. Like most people, I have many flaws, but don’t often like to acknowledge them. However, to move forward and develop, such reflections are necessary. Here is a snippet of my reflections:

I have always been naturally curious. Constantly needing to know the why’s and the how’s of the what’s. As I embarked on my nursing career, my curiosity grew. However, as my career progressed and I followed various paths of clinical specialism which ultimately led me into academia and research, something changed. Although my curiosity did not subside, as hard as it is to admit, I found myself listening less and talking more. This was not because I thought I had a great deal of interesting or exciting things to say, rather that I felt it was an expectation. After all, being the ‘expert’ with the specialist knowledge, it was my responsibility to impart that to others wasn’t it?

In my 12 years as an infection prevention and control practitioner, I was frequently called upon by healthcare workers to speak to distressed patients and their families, following the acquisition of an all too often, unnecessary healthcare associated infection. I spent a considerable amount of that time talking – telling them what I thought they needed to know.  That would then be followed on by more talking – to healthcare professionals, also telling them what I thought they needed to know. I felt satisfied that I had ‘educated and informed’.

It wasn’t until I embarked on my first substantial piece of research after my move to academia did I realised the consequences of not truly listening. Listening to patients and their carers about their experiences of having acquired a healthcare associated infection was harrowing and at times very uncomfortable. The impact of these infections during a time of illness and beyond had massive consequences for everyone concerned. Consequences I realised I was oblivious to. That study was a major turning point for me in the sense that I realised that although as an ‘expert’, I may have thought I knew what was important to patients, the public and indeed colleagues, but in actual fact, I did not. I learned a great deal during that study, especially about people’s concerns and anxieties, about their reality, and also about the importance of their social and cultural environment. I also learned about me as a professional, a researcher and a person. I did not need to have all the answers. I did not need to have to constantly talk and educate. I learned that it was in fact not just ok for me to listen – to really listen, but it was a necessity.  I want to continue that learning. I want to continue to explore, to uncover and to understand – and for me that is why I find doing qualitative research so fascinating and why I want to continue along this path.

Reflexivity in Qualitative Research: Reflections from a workshop

29 Sep

Today, I attended a workshop about reflexivity in qualitative research facilitated by Dr Carrie Bradbury-Jones, a colleague and post doctoral research fellow at the University of Dundee. This workshop inspired me so much that I decided  this evening would be dedicated to updating my reflexive diary and share a few of my thoughts via this blog. Writing my diary and blogging, I saw as something I would do ‘when I had time’.  This hasn’t happened as frequently as I would have hoped as I didn’t see it as an integral part of my PhD. This afternoon’s workshop changed my opinion about that…

The challenges of ensuring rigor within qualitative research is well documented (Seale 2001).  As we know, the validity and reliability of qualitative research, especially when taking a pure constructivist standpoint is often highly criticised, with some arguing that the empirical inquiry inevitably depends on the arbitrary predilections of the researcher  (Paley and Lilford, 2011).

However, Carrie advocates an approach which allows researchers to consider their own subjectivity within the philosophical stance that they adopt (Bradbury-Jones, 2007) in order to enhance rigor.  Carrie draws on the work of Peshkin and his search for his own subjectivity within his research (Peshkin, 1998; Bradbury-Jones et al, 2009).  Peshkin’s subjectivity takes the form of an ‘I’ and from a particular research study, on writing his reflexive diary, he went on to create 6 characterised ‘I’s’ (Read Peshkin’s paper to  see his full descriptions and how they derived).  In short, these ‘I’s reflected  his own subjectivity of this piece of research and what impact they could potentially have on the study.  

Perhaps to try to make this a little clearer, Carrie shared with us excerpts from her own PhD reflexive diary, which in itself was quite courageous! I say this because it contained quite a lot of emotion – how she felt at different stages of her research – both the good and the bad. It was clear that some excerpts were really personal and came from the heart. Inspired by Peshkin’s work, from her journal, Carrie identified her 4 ‘I’s: The Paladin I (in which she talked about her being a ‘crusader’ – standing up for her participants); The Maverick I (she saw herself as wanting to seek the slightly unusual or unorthodox): The Impatient I (wanting to get things done quickly) and The Pragmatic I (because she also brought a grounded, sensible and logical approach to her study).  On analysing her 4 ‘I’s, Carrie then became aware of the similarities of them with the characters from the Wizard of Oz, and so renamed them The Scarecrow I; The Tin Man I; The Cowardly Lion I and The Wizard I (See Bradbury-Jones 2009 for more detail about this)

So what is the point of all this and why is reflexivity so important? I compared Carrie’s journal to mine. Although Carrie’s included discussion about the processes and evolution of her research, a major part was about her feelings.  In contrast, mine is mainly about processes and decisions, with limited information about my feelings and inner thoughts. By omitting such detail, I am failing to explore my own subjectivity and thus I cannot, nor can my supervisors, examine or critique how this may potentially influence the quality of my research.  By using her reflexive diary in this way, Carrie argued that it helped her ‘to navigate the treacherous route of doctoral education in a bid to successfully reach the end’

As a final note, I reflect on one part of my PhD study where I interviewed Journalists and Editors of Regional and National newspapers (Broadsheets and Tabloids). Prior to my research, while working in the NHS in Infection Prevention, I was hugely critical towards newspaper journalists for their sensationalised, and from my perspective, inaccurate and scaremongering stories.  However, after my interviews, I felt very privileged that they ‘accepted me into their world’ and shared with me their objectives, their challenges and their frustrations.  As a result, I have now become somewhat defensive when I hear other people criticising them and find myself frequently defending them and their stories. I still stand by these thoughts and I know I will continue to try to put their side of the story across. I will however, write my thoughts and feelings about this in my reflexive diary so I am able to draw on them during my analysis, interpretation and conceptualisation of my data.  This inevitably will allow me to be aware of my own subjectivity and ensure this does not impact on the rigor and quality of my final thesis.

Bradbury-Jones, C.(2007) Enhancing rigor in qualitative health research: exploring subjectivity through Peshkin’s I’s. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 59, 290-298

Bradbury-Jones, C. (2007). Exploring research supervision through Peshkin’s I’s: the yellow brick road. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 60, 220-228.

Bradbury-Jones, C. Hughes, S. M. Murphy, W. Parry, L. & Sutton, J. (2009). A new way of reflecting in nursing: the Peshkin Approach. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 65, 2485-2493.

Paley, J. & Lilford, R. (2011). Qualitative methods: an alternative view. British Medical Journal, 342, 956-958.

Peshkin, A. (1988). In search of subjectivity – one’s own. Educational Researcher 17(7), 17–21.

Seale, C. (2001). Qualitative methods: validity and reliability. European Journal of Cancer Care, 10, 131-136

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