Apr 26, 2006

Reached an Impasse?

I came across this post on methodological woes that got me writing this one…

The problem described there is not uncommon. Quite often one finds oneself in a situation asking a bunch of respondents with sheer passion and enthusiasm to recall an incident / offer an opinion and – all you hear is – I really don’t know. There is nothing I remember that I can tell you. – And it’s heartbreaking to hear that as much as it is frustrating.

Sometimes, it could just be a result of Lazy Thinking on part of the respondent. But there is a bigger possibility that the details / events that one wants to hear about – are not particular significant in the respondent’s life. There is only so much anyone can remember and people do not want to waste precious memory on some political event in 1999. So what does one do?

The method used in the case with the woe is ‘focus groups’. I have nothing against focus groups but - my understanding is that doing depth-interviews can offer not only a more intimate environment for the person to talk about how the event could have impacted them, but would also allow a researcher - greater freedom to build rapport, probe and explore – since she is not affected by angry and bored looking respondents watching her, which could happen in a group. Also, when one person in a group says they don’t remember anything significant - it could rub off on the others who may fall prey to 'group think' since no one really does want to make the effort of jogging their memory.

The timeline / track back approach does help - I have found it working better - when going backwards from the most recent year - since a free trip of nostalgia may just take them back to the memories that are significant in their life - and those may not be necessarily the ones you want to hear about. A rather structured approach - going back year on year and encouraging them to recall details - is what I have followed - though the style of the interview has been Narrative - telling the respondent - 'tell me a story about your life' as opposed to - 'what happened next / then what happened etc' - which may seem like a memory exercise and tire them out.

Some other aids you could try in such situations are –
• Taking the help of photos they may have from that year or a visual / imaginary - opening up of a photo album exercise - to aid recall. If you are doing the visualization, have a script ready and one that will encourage the respondent to use as many ‘senses’ as you can
• Interviewing a family unit - as opposed to the individual - that will allow you the advantage of people building on each others memories as happens in groups - yet their past would not be very different so as to pull people in different directions.
• And lastly if you / anyone in your team are qualified - to put the respondent in trance - it greatly aids recall especially mundane / insignificant details which we all tend to forget. Though using hypnosis in research is fairly niche, it does have its merits.

research method, qualitative research,qualitative research and impasse,

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