6004 Leadership and effecting change in Public Health
QUALITATIVE RESEARCH METHODS
Module 3:1 - Week 5
Observation Methods & Participatory Action Research
Dr Brigid Mahoney
WELCOME TO MODULE 3
Module 3: Participatory Action Research, Action Research
and Observational Techniques
WELCOME TO MODULE 3
Week 5: Observation Methods and Participatory Action Research
In Week 5, we consider observation methods and participatory action research.
Patton (2015) and Meng & Yingchun (2014) examine qualitative methods that involve participant observation and the challenges associated with this.
Sanjakdar (2009) and Schneider XXXXXXXXXXboth discuss participatory action research in the context of health research projects, relating to sexual health education and mental health service use respectively.
THIS WEEK’S READINGS
Week 5: Participatory Action Research, Observation & Challenges
Holloway, I. and Galvin, K XXXXXXXXXXQualitative research in nursing and healthcare (Fourth edition). Wiley. Chapter 7: Participant observation and documents as sources of data
Meng, Z., & Yingchun, J XXXXXXXXXXChallenges of Introducing Participant Observation to Community Health Research. ISRN Otolaryngology, 1-7. doi:10.1155/2014/802490
Sanjakdar, F. F XXXXXXXXXXParticipatory action research: creating spaces for beginning conversations in sexual health education for young Australian Muslims. Educational Action Research, 17(2), XXXXXXXXXX. doi:10.1080/ XXXXXXXXXXRetrieved from the To
ens University Australia Li
Schneider, B XXXXXXXXXXParticipatory Action Research, Mental Health Service User Research, and the Hearing (our) Voices Projects. International Journal Of Qualitative Methods, 11(2), XXXXXXXXXX.
Through observation researchers explore and try to understand the group or culture under study.
Observation forms an essential element of ethnography and many other types of research but is not included in approaches that are based on na
atives or textual analysis such as descriptive phenomenology, na
ative research or conversation analysis.
Although interviewing is a more popular strategy for those undertaking qualitative inquiry, many qualitative researchers believe that observation should complement interviews (Hammersley and Atkinson, 2007) or even precede them.
Participant observation is qualitative research that provides access not only to the social context of the inquiry but also to the ways in which people act and interact.
‘Participant observation provides direct experiential and observational access to the insiders’ world of meaning.’ The researchers will become an integral part of the setting they enter and, to some extent, a member of the group they observe.
There has been a debate about the nature of participant observation.
Some see it as a research approach or methodology, others merely as a procedure for collecting qualitative data and an additional data source.
The discussion here centres on observation as a data collection strategy within particular approaches to qualitative research such as ethnography, grounded theory, action research and others.
The Origins of Participant Observation
Participant observation has its origins in anthropology and sociology.
Travellers in ancient times wrote down their observation of cultures they visited, often as participants in those cultures, making it probably the earliest of all forms of data collection.
From the early days of fieldwork, anthropologists and sociologists became part of the culture they studied, and examined the actions and interactions of people in their social context, ‘in the field’.
Immersion in Culture and Setting
Immersion in a setting can take a long time, often years of living in a culture.
DeWalt and DeWalt XXXXXXXXXXstress that researchers need to be involved in the context for a prolonged period of time; they should learn the language used in the setting.
For health professionals this is an easy task as they are already familiar with language, routines and people in the setting, although they must be aware that these vary for context and situation.
However, extraordinary occu
ences and critical events must also be observed as they are specific to the setting.
DeWalt and DeWalt advise attention to detail which includes ‘mapping the scene’, observing patterns, a
angements and activities.
Immersion in Culture and Setting (cont…)
Participant observation sometimes proceeds over one or several years, although some observation does not take as long.
Researchers already members of and familiar with the culture they examine may not need a long introduction to the setting; they might, however, miss significant events or behaviours in the locale because of familiarity.
This also means that they should suspend prior assumptions, so as not to miss important aspects or misinterpret the situation.
Prolonged observation generates more in-depth knowledge of a group or subculture, and researchers can avoid distu
ances and potential biases caused by an occasional visit from an unknown stranger.
Observation is less disruptive and more unobtrusive than interviewing.
However, participant observation does not just involve observing the situation, but also listening to the people in the setting.
Focus and Setting
The dimensions of social settings, focus on the features which catalogue some ideas about the foci of observation, although these depend on the particular research question.
Spradley XXXXXXXXXXclassified the dimensions of social situations:
Space: the location in which the research takes place
Actor: the participants in the setting
Activity: what is being done
Objects: the material objects in the setting
Act: single actions that persons in the setting ca
Event: happenings and related activities
Time: sequencing and length
Goal: people’s intentions
Feeling: what people feel and how they express their emotions.
(Adapted from Spradley, pp. 78 and 82)
Focus and Setting (cont…)
Any appropriate setting can become the focus of the study.
Participant observation varies on a continuum from open to closed settings.
Open settings are public and highly visible such as street scenes, co
idors and reception areas.
In closed settings, access is more difficult and has to be carefully negotiated; personal offices or meetings in wards can be considered closed settings.
It is useful to examine how people in the setting go about their routine and everyday business, how they act and interact with each other and how they relate to the space and the environment in which they are located.
Rituals, routines and ways of communication can also be uncovered.
(Adapted from Spradley, pp. 78 and 82)
Types of Observation (cont…)
Participant observers enter the setting without wishing to limit the observation to particular processes or people; consequently they adopt an unstructured approach.
Occasionally certain foci crystallise early in the study, but usually observation progresses from the unstructured to the more focused until eventually specific actions and events become the main interest of the researcher.
Immersion is important
Types of Observation Include:
1. The complete participant
2. The participant as observe
3. The observer as participant
4. The complete observe
THE COMPLETE PARTICIPANT
The complete participant is part of the setting, a member of a group within it, and takes an insider role that often involves covert observation.
Covert observation might be justified in research with patients to whom access is difficult, or when investigating sensitive topics.
In spite of the value of some of these studies, complete participation generates a number of ethical problems.
First of all, one would have to question seriously whether covert observation in care settings, without knowledge or permission of the people observed, is ethical.
After all, this is not a public, open situation such as a street corner or rally, where individuals cannot be identified.
In the public domain, observation is permissible and may produce valuable data.
THE PARTICIPANT AS OBSERVER
Here, researchers have negotiated their way into the setting, and as participant observers they are part of the work group under study.
This seems a good way of doing ‘insider’ research, as they are already involved in the work situation. They might want to examine aspects of their own practice area, team, hospital or ward, for instance.
The first stage is to ask permission from the relevant gatekeepers and participants and explain the observer role to them.
The advantage of this type of observation is the ease with which researcher–participant relationships can be forged or extended.
Researchers can move around in the location as they wish, and thus observe in more detail and depth, for example, they may follow particular occupational groups or ‘patient pathways’.
For new researchers, observation is more difficult and demanding than interviewing, mainly because of the time needed for ‘prolonged engagement’, but also the many ethical issues involved require careful thought through strategies and planning for a range of possible events.
For ethical reasons, the participant observer discloses their research role.
THE OBSERVER AS PARTICIPANT
An observer, who participates only by being in the location rather than working there, is only marginally involved in the situation.
In this case, researchers might observe a particular unit but not directly work as part of the work force; for instance, they might observe a location where they have not been previously.
They must, however, announce their interest and their public role and go through the process of gaining entry and asking permission from patients, gatekeepers and colleagues.
The advantages of this type of observation are the possibility of asking questions and being accepted as a colleague and researcher but not called upon as a member of the work force.
On the other hand, observers are prevented from playing a ‘real’ role in the setting.
Restraint from involvement is not easy, particularly in a busy situation where professionals must be protected from intrusion when working.
THE COMPLETE OBSERVER
Complete observers do not take part in the setting and use a ‘fly on the wall’ approach.
Being a complete observer when the observer is not a participant is only possible when the researchers have some distance from the setting and observe through a window, in a corner or through a two-way mi
or where they are not noticed and have no impact on the situation or when they use static video cameras fixed on the ceiling.
Researchers might also use films or videos from observations made by others and analyse them. This kind of observation opens up the possibility of more covert research but also offers opportunity for the presence of ‘a bystander’.
Complete observation is often used in quantitative studies, because numerical scores related to time and events can be collected. However, there are increasing examples of qualitative research using technologies in a variety of settings, where recordings can then be analysed qualitatively.
There is no clear black and white distinction however between some of these four types of observation; they overlap, it is useful to think of a continuum of observer as participant and participant as observer when considering the observational stance for a study.
PROGRESSION & PROCESS
In his classic text, Spradley XXXXXXXXXXclaims that observers progress in three stages; they use descriptive, focused and finally selective observation.
Descriptive observation proceeds on the