Real World Challenges in Qualitative Research in Education – Theory Meets Practice
In a recent consulting job, I worked with a group whose problem revolved around a construct that their participatory action research group described as Voice. It is a non-technical term right now that they had defined in a specific way for purposes that suited them inside their college environment. They had defined it sufficiently that it had a precise, almost doctrinal meaning for them.
The challenge is now to take that operational definition and then see if there are other words of similar meaning by other people that already exist in the world of theory, even if that theory is far afield from the area of research interest.
I am helping them conduct the literature review of theory. Based on what I find in my research, I may or may not have a lot of packaging and rework to do in order to fit it into conventional lines of theory. To the extent that I change the meaning and intent of their construct however, I’m doing a disservice to those in the participatory action research group, so I must be sensitive to their perspective as well.
It’s never cut and dried, is it?
Another issue for me is trying to figure out how deep I should go in a whole batch of overlapping theories that are quite distinct from each other in most respects but which share some underlying insights that support the current situation. Figuring out how to do the literature review and theoretical treatment of such a broad set of theories is a common and central problem for any research conducting qualitative theory review.
I am still sorting through how much of those supporting theories I need to deconstruct and examine as opposed to accepting some best practices as received wisdom for the purposes of supporting my primary research.
This case study should highlight some of the real world challenges associated with broad participatory action research studies. When we are done, we expect to have an excellent working model of our area of inquiry, informed by both theory and practice.