Thursday, June 11, 2015

Qualitative research methods: interviewing as a way of learning and knowing #researchminded

Again I'm liveblogging a keynote from the EAHIL + ICAHIS + ICLC 2015 Workshop in Edinburgh. Johanna Rivano Eckerdal was talking about Qualitative research methods: interviewing as a way of learning and knowing.
She started by talking about how she became interested in qualitative research. This was when she was alibrarian, working with young people, and observing that they didn't seem so interested in what librarians had to offer. This made her curious about exploring issues of information literacy, and joined a PhD programme. This research was ethnographic research into young women's choices about contraception (which I've blogged before, the citation is at the end of this post).
She quoted Denzin and Lincoln, emphasising that qualitative approaches aim to uncover meaning. Eckerdal listed various kinds of approaches and data collection methods used in qualitative methods. She picked up a point made earlier by Alison Brettle, that your overall standpoint as a researcher (your view of the world and what reality and knowledge are) determines how you will talk about your research and data.
The particular focus of this presentation was interviewing. Interviews occur in context, and that is where they have key value (in helping to understanding a person in context). By interviewing we are getting to know what what people think: even if they don't say exactly what they think, communication is occurring and there can be insights.
Kvale's two metaphors for interviewing were given (interviewer as miner or traveller; seeing interviewing respectively as knowledge collection or knowledge (co)production). In the latter view, the interview is seen as a discourse, a narrative, in which both interviewer and interviewee participate.
Eckerdal gave an example from her own research, showing "understanding being created during an interview" as the interviewee talks about how she feels about contraception, finally coming up of the metaphor of "personal bodyguard". This was a metaphor, but also expressed the reality of the situation for the young women. Eckerdal also talked about the issue of the power balance between interviewer and interviewee: power is generally with the interviewer, and to encourage a meaningful discourse, the interviewer can seek to make the power balance more equal. She gave an example of asking interviewees drawing information sources horizon maps (there is an article about this here) and of their own situation. These pictures, drawn by the interviewee, could be triggers for narratives, to go deeper and get the interviewees more active in the knowledge production.
Eckerdal also talked about the importance of being transparent about the research, with the participants and with others who are reading about the research. She identified that all research has limitations: if we expect research to always give definite answers, we will be disappointed. A strong theme from her talk was research as a way of learning, and that qualitative research enables both researchers and participants to get insights into the way they engage with information in their lives.

Eckerdal, J.R. (2011). "To jointly negotiate a personal decision: a qualitative study on information literacy practices in midwifery counselling about contraceptives at youth centres in Southern Sweden" Information Research, 16(1) paper 466.
Photo by Sheila Webber: spring herbs and flowers, June 2015

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