Thursday, March 27, 2014

Rob Kitchin and Nick Tate "Producing data for qualitative analysis" in Conducting research in human geography: Theory, methodology, and practice

In their book chapter, Producing Data for Qualitative Analysis, Kitchin and Tate explain the principals of generating qualitative data with a focus on the basic principles of interviewing and observation. Rather just boil the chapter down to a summary, I’ll reflect on what I think are the most useful recommendations Kitchin and Tate offer.
Kitchen and Tate provide an excellent series of tables, bullet points and ‘boxed’ descriptions. As I read their chapter I stared my favorites, including the Different Approaches to Qualitative Research Table (p. 212), list of briefing points for recruitment (p. 217) and descriptive boxes explaining differences between coded observations and descriptive observations. For someone who is just beginning to become familiar with qualitative research, the Different Approaches to Qualitative Research Table tie a wide range of qualitative terms together. I am beginning to develop a vague familiarity with the terms presented like phenomenology, grounded theory, ethnography and field study, but I would not have thought to have placed them all under the heading of qualitative research approaches. They seem a lot less intimidating presented this way.
 The briefing points for recruiting recommend four steps for introducing your study to potential recruits and making them feel like taking part will be pleasant and satisfying. The steps include, being clear about who you are and who you represent, explaining what you are doing in an interesting way, why you are recruiting them specifically and creating rapport. As a former communications professional, I’ve always been surprised at how generous people are willing to be with their time. But I’m less accustomed to asking people for the kind of time commitments qualitative research requires, often involving several hours of interviewing over multiple weeks.
My attention is biased toward Kitchin and Tate’s advice regarding interview techniques. While I am completely new to qualitative research methods, I have conducted countless interviews working at small newspapers and have always enjoyed interviewing. Kitchin and Tate first explain three general qualitative interviewing techniques they call structured open-ended, guide approach and conversational interviewing. Each represents a different degree to which an interview might be structured—from open-ended interviewing where the researcher controls the course of the interview and follows sequential set of questions, to the conversational interviewing where there is no formal structure. They also talk a bit about focus group interviewing. They recommend starting with more structured formats until you’ve developed your interviewing skills.
Some of the interviewing skills they highlight as important for conducting successful interviews include the ability to build rapport, asking good questions and being a good listener. With respect to building rapport, Kitchin and Tate reiterate it’s importance again and again, but don’t offer a lot of tips about how to achieve it. In the past, one of my quick tricks has been to mention other people I have talked to that the interviewee knows and trust. In my first qualitative interviews, I have also tried relating through shared experiences, but I think this can backfire if your interviewee feels like you’re more interested in talking about yourself than learning about them. I think the key is to make yourself seem familiar rather than alien, while giving them the sense that you have a genuinely strong interest in them and their story.
With respect to asking good questions, some of Kitchin and Tate’s advice is a bit obvious—make sure your questions are clear, concise and easy. But what they point out about the connection between observations and asking good questions might be easily overlooked. They note that conducting observations before you interviews will give you a better understanding of your participant with which to craft questions for you interview. I might add to this that it is generally a good idea to know as much about you subject and their areas of expertise as possible, by doing as much research about them as possible whether that be by reading their blogs, research papers or learning about their workplace. I have always found that when I interview someone, the more they think I already know the more forthcoming they are.
            Also, in my experience, what Kitchin and Tate say about close listening in an interview being more difficult than you might think to be absolutely true. I find it difficult to listen without missing anything when I’m also trying to take notes, anticipate and direct where the conversation is going, make sure I don’t forget any key questions. Using recording devices helps, but as Kitchin and Tate point out it can also encourage bad listening habits. I find that when I interview without a recorder I spend more time checking with the interviewee that I’ve understood what they have said and that I’ve got their points accurately recorded in my notes. Sometimes when I’ve recorded an interview I become complacent and later realize I don’t understand something the interviewee said and that I should have asked for clarification on.
On page 220, Kitchin and Tate mention briefly that there is some disagreement with respect to how inductive or deductive qualitative research should be.

To what extent do you think that a qualitative researcher should approach their work with an eye towards confirming or disconfirming expectations?

To what extent do you think that a qualitative researcher should approach their work with essentially a blank slate with respect to expectations and simply let theories emerge?

Rob Kitchin is a professor in Ireland at the National University of Ireland Maynooth. He has published widely in the social sciences and also is an editor for the journals Progress in Human Geography and Dialogues in Human Geography. His work focuses on research in human geography and society and geography.

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