Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Qualitative data & constructing narratives

           Yin (1981) makes an interesting point regarding some of the objections participants of case studies have regarding the interpretation of their data. Miles states that participants objected more often to research findings after seeing qualitative data, like case studies, on the basis that they disagreed with the researchers’ interpretations (Miles, 1979, cited in Yin, 1981, p.58).  Ultimately, the researcher is in a position of total power as they have the final say in terms of interpretation when writing the final report. Miles, as Jessica points out, circumscribes qualitative researchers in saying that they will never be able to fully “transcend storytelling” (cited in Yin, 1981, p. 58). Yin (1981) counters Mile’s argument by describing a number of situations when participants might object to interpretations of researchers using quantitative methods like survey research (p.64).
Yin (1981) argues that participants feel more comfortable with being talked about in aggregate data, regardless of the research method being used (p.64). I wonder how this tension plays out in open data initiatives? Very often, social science researchers are reluctant to turn over their qualitative data to institutional repositories (Kuula, 2010). It could be that they are predominantly concerned with confidentiality. I wonder how much of the reluctance also has to do with worries that data might be subject to reinterpretation?  Putting that data out there puts the researcher in the position of no longer fully controlling their narrative.

Kuula, A. (2010). Methodological and ethical dilemmas of archiving qualitative data. IASSIST Quarterly, 34(3), 12-17

Yin, R.K. (1981). The case study crisis: Some answers. Administrative Science Quarterly, 26(1), 58-65. 


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    1. Yin also states that "Miles' example confuses the reactions to individual versus aggregate evidence. In actuality, when survey respondents are given the results of their own interview and shown how these results have been interpreted by the researcher, similarly hostile reactions may also occur. Respondents may complain that they were forced to give oversimplified answers because questions were closed-ended, or that the researcher simply misinterpreted the answers. Conversely, reactions by informants may be minimal when they are asked to review cross-case results where case studies have been done. In summary, people are likely to react adversely whenever they are confronted with individualized data, but are likely to be more tolerant when confronted with aggregate data; this set of reactions occurs whether case studies, surveys, or other research strategies are used."

      Which makes a lot of sense; particularly in the cases where the individiual participants are employees of the organization being studied. Where the conclusions are less than positive, and the partipants can be identified, it almost stands to reason, that any type of analysis, whether qualitative or quantitative, would place the participants on the defensive.