(Bailey) A Guide to Qualitative Field Research. Chapters 5 & 6 [Cari]

Bailey, C. A. (2007). A Guide to Qualitative Field Research 2nd Edition

Chapter 5: Methodology

 Key concepts of methodology according to Bailey include sampling, gaining entry, arrival in the field, key actors, maintaining relationships in the field, and triangulation.

  • Sampling: The purpose of probability sampling is to be able to generalize statistical results.  Ethnographers or field researchers use purposeful sampling when selecting interview subjects.
    • Select cases that are information rich.
    • Convenience sampling is the weakest form of sampling.
    • Use “Goldilocks Rule” Too small leads to misleading results and too big makes in-depth analysis difficult.
    • 20 is a good starting point.
  • Gaining Entry:  Gatekeepers in any organization will grant or deny access.  This access must be continuously negotiated (Burgess, 1991).  In order to gain entry, researchers must be prepared to explain the purpose of the research; they need a good sense of what you are doing.  It is important to discuss issues and it is critical to understand the setting.
  • Arrival in the field:  It is not uncommon to feel stupid, clumsy, and out of place.  The initial interactions lay the groundwork for the research.
  • Key actors:  Researchers need to identify key actors quickly.  They may act as a guide and can be very valuable to the research.  Be aware of their personal bias and agendas because they can positively or negatively whether they are respected or not.   It is good to keep in mind that their perspective may not be representative of the group.
  • Maintaining field relationships:  It is important to build rapport quickly.  This will allow the researcher to gain information they may not otherwise gain access to.  Researchers must strive for trusting relationships.  Very similar skill set as building friendships.  Honesty, openness, and friendliness are necessary to the process.
  • Triangulation:  Use multiple methods for data collection.  Researchers should observe people at different times and in different places to increase validity.  Collect data from divergent views.  Be cautious against rejecting data due to inconsistences because these inconsistences could lead to more insight.

 Chapter 6:  Observations

 Observation is an important form of data collection.  When researchers directly observe they are able to determine what is important to include in the research.

Important Questions:

  • Will the observations be covert or overt?
    • Covert observations can have ethical concerns.
    • Overt observations make up the majority of research.
  • Will the researcher participate in the study or just observe?
    • In ethnographic research, the researcher is more likely to participate.
    • Be clear on boundaries.
  • Where and when will the observations occur?
  • Will interviews be structured, unstructured, or a combination?
    • Structured observations usually have scheduled times and sampling procedures.
    • Unstructured are flexible and researchers focus on what is relevant as events unfold.
  • What will be observed?
    • Possible focus for observations according to Spradley (1980) can be spaces, objects, actors, act (single actions), activity (set of related acts), events (set of related activities), feelings, and behaviors. What the researcher is trying to accomplish and the goal of the research will determine what should be observed.

Researchers should use all of their senses while observing.  What can’t be seen may be just as important as what can be seen.  Physical surroundings should be the first focus when entering a setting.  Consider the size of the space, lighting, color choices, sounds, objects, and smells.

            When observing an individual, every feature could be important such as dress, hairstyle, gender, body language, verbal behaviors, speech patterns, and actions.  All of these features can be critical to the analysis.  An observer should try to always be “on.”

Questions for Consideration:

  1. How have you established rapport with your key actors in your current project or previous research project?
  2. What would you do if you realized your key actor is not highly thought of in the organization?  How will this affect your research?
  3. Considering all of the variables that should be observed, how does one person manage to observe all the nuances of a setting and the participants?
  4. Will you be a participant or an observer?  What would be the drawbacks of participating in your research?
  5. Bailey says that when triangulating, one should not discount inconsistencies because they can lead to insights.  How could this be important to your research?
  6. What are approaches you have tried or could try to gain entry into a setting you have no association with?
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4 thoughts on “(Bailey) A Guide to Qualitative Field Research. Chapters 5 & 6 [Cari]

  1. If I realized a key actor was not highly thought of in an organization,I would seek to gather more data, looking for patterns of behavior that explain the opinions of others toward the key actor. There are many possible reasons for those opinions. Does the key actor represent change within an organization that is not widely accepted? Is that actor lacking in skills needed for the actor’s role in the organization? Has the actor recently joined the organization? Was the actor previously well-respected? If the researcher finds the key actor does not represent the majority constituency, the researcher could use data already collected to identify other individuals to include in the data collection.

  2. Being a participant in one’s own research is appropriate depending on what the researcher is studying. Being a participant in the research forces the researcher to rely on memory. Observation notes must be documented as soon as it is possible after the researcher has completed their participation (could be hourly, daily, weekly). I see the importance in being a participant, but I can also see how difficult it would be to thoroughly document the study.

  3. I would imagine that I would be a participant in the research, because I would want my observers to be unbiased and without knowledge of the research objectives to ensure the validity of the results found. The only drawbacks of this is that my observers will not only have to be briefed in the operational definitions of what they are observing, but their results will continually have to be checked to ensure rater reliability is ensured.
    The approaches I have used to gain access to areas I am on the outside of, are to contact key stakeholders in the system/setting to make sure I will have access to what I need.

  4. For the question regarding triangulation, insights from inconsistencies may come from further inquiry in the root causes of those inconsistencies. Qualitative inquiry will produce data in which there may be patterns, but there may be two or more divergent groups or ways of thinking that leads to inconsistent data.

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