Qualitative Data Collection Projects: Designing and Making Decisions

At first blush, decisions regarding data collection can seem straightforward and clear. In this workshop, we will consider how data collection is more complicated and dynamic than it may first appear. We will begin by cultivating a set of principles that can direct a comprehensive approach to designing and carrying out qualitative data collection projects.

Four core data collection principles:

  1. Successful data collection depends on how we as researchers employ a posture of openness, flexibility, and responsiveness in our data collection practices.
  2. The phenomenon (case, problem, context, etc.) possesses properties, dimensions, and dynamics that we must become aware of as a first step to directing decision making that will continue throughout the data collection process. In other words, the phenomenon calls for how it should be studied.
  3. Considerations of ethical, political, and social implications related to our study, our participants, and the communities in which our study is located must guide and direct our practices. Paying attention to these issues from the onset encourages a posture of inclusiveness and avoids potential obstacles that arise from a disconnect with study participants.
  4. Researcher reflexivity throughout the data collection process helps us distinguish what is purely in and directed by the data and how our attitudes and behaviors, intentionally or not, may direct our practices.

Using these principles, we will work through a number of ways to talk to people (interviews, focus groups, informal conversations); observe people and places (structured, semi-structured, unstructured, short-term, long-term, participatory); and examine artifacts (content analysis, policy analysis, discourse analysis). In addition, we will consider how forms of visual art, film, popular media, historical documents, poetry, and theory can be used as important forms of data collection in qualitative research.