Participatory video: Taking a no-editing- required approach

Participatory Video is sometimes seen as a daunting approach by those who have not worked in the areas of film, video and digital media. However, with the ubiquity of cellphones and other low cost technologies, along with approaches that place the emphasis on group processes such as storyboarding and what is termed an N-E-R [no editing required] approach, the technical aspects of PV are quite straightforward. In the webinar we will emphasize this, but also attend to critical issues related to ethics, ownership and power.


Claudia Mitchell is a James McGill Professor in the Faculty of Education, McGill University.  She has written extensively in the area of participatory visual methodologies, and has authored or co-edited numerous publications in the area of  visual research based on her research on gender, HIV and AIDS and teacher identity in Canada, South Africa, Ethiopia and Kenya. Her publications including theHandbook on Participatory VideoDoing Visual Research,  Drawing as Visual Methodology, and Putting People in the Picture: Visual Methodologies for Social Change.

Katie MacEntee is near to completing her doctoral thesis at McGill University. Her research focuses on the integration of participatory visual methods with HIV and AIDS education in South Africa. This has included conducting various research interventions with young people, pre-service and in-service teachers in rural KwaZulu Natal using digital storytelling, photovoice, and cellphilms. Katie also has interests on gender and agricultural training and development in Ethiopia and directed the documentary film, Enset: A documentary, which explores the role of women in agricultural development in rural Ethiopia.  Her co-edited volume, What’s a cellphilm? Integrating mobile phone technology into participatory arts-based research and activism will be published by Sense in the Spring of 2016

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Digital tools for qualitative research: A world of possibilities

I am looking forward to exploring the intersection of digital tools and qualitative research with you as part of the International Institute for Qualitative Methodology Master Class Webinar Series on February 11, 2016.

Technology, ever marching forward, has changed what it means not only to be human, but to engage in qualitative research more broadly. Whether described as “digital natives” or “Millennials”, researchers today need to know how to harness the power of their mobile devices, cloud computing and social media culture in their inquiries.

While most researchers have at least heard of qualitative data analysis software (QDAS) packages such as ATLAS.ti, NVivo and MAXQDA – tools that were developed by qualitative researchers, for qualitative researchers to help visualize and analyze data in powerful ways – fewer think about how digital tools are impacting every phase of the research process. From connecting with collaborators to reviewing the literature to generating data to representing findings, digital tools are, or should be, changing our practice. Blogs and social media, for example, can be used to share research updates with stakeholders and the participants themselves. Cloud-based note-taking devices, such as Evernote, can be used on smartphones to capture images, audio and video segments in the field and then synchronize them for analysis on more powerful desktop computers. Literature reviews no longer need to involve sifting through and highlighting piles of papers alone in a dark room. Instead, PDFs of articles can be stored in Dropbox, uploaded to an iPad and annotated with an app such as GoodReader, shared with collaborators on Mendeley, and synthesized using your favorite QDAS program. Interview transcripts, dry relics devoid of the emotion with which the words were spoken, can be given new life with programs such as Inqscribe which, with one click on a line of the transcript, re-plays the recorded conversation.

For those of us who came of age before personal computers and the Internet were even invented, these developments might be overwhelming. But, as inquirers into social life, and educators of the next generation of scholars, we can hardly afford to ignore them. The communities that we work with certainly aren’t.

I have been fortunate in the past couple of years to connect with like-minded folks to co-author a text on this topic, Digital Tools for Qualitative Research (link to:, published by Sage, as well as create a special interest group as part of the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry. For more information on digital tools, check out our Facebook page (link to: or follow us on Twitter at Digital_Qual.

Trena M. Paulus, Ph.D.
Professor, Qualitative Research Methods
University of Georgia

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Philosophical positioning in grounded theory: Striking the balance

Hello and welcome to this introductory blog for the webinar ‘Philosophical positioning in grounded theory: Striking the balance’.

We are looking forward to discussing with you concepts relating to philosophical positioning of the researcher. In preparation for this webinar, we are posing the following questions. Philosophical concepts can be complex and so we encourage you to post your responses to these questions to promote discussion and enhance understanding from different perspectives. Remember – there are no right or wrong answers!

  1. What is philosophy? Ontology? Epistemology?
  2. How do you define reality? How do you gain knowledge of the world?
  3. What is theoretical sensitivity? How do you get it? Once you have it, what do you do with it?

We look forward to meeting you at the webinar.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Critical realism and realist evaluation: Fashion, fad and better futures

It’s great to suddenly be in fashion. For years, having been judged as niche, obscure or variously a bit of an oddball, suddenly everyone seems to want to come to the realist party.

Approaches, notably the Medical Research Council framework for Complex Interventions (Craig et al 2008), that invoke key realist concepts – including mechanisms and context – have never been more popular, frequently cited and used. Quality assurance frameworks now exist to help us accord with realist principles and practices when doing reviews (Wong et al 2013). Around a quarter of the academics I know now speak of wanting or doing forms of realist evaluation. Those of us who have, for years, toiled in relative realist obscurity now find ourselves surrounded by old colleagues making new chatter about “Pawson & Tilley”, “mechanisms” and “what works for whom, when and why.”

We should be pleased. Critical realism may not have come to the mainstream of health services research, but the mainstream has come to this realism.

Much of this makes sense. As someone who has been engaged in realist-driven work, including realist evaluation, since 2000, I truly know the heady excitement of not only thinking of interventions differently, but also of asking different and new questions on a fundamentally different ontological basis (Clark et al 2010). Questions that were once the most sensible and pressing (“Does this intervention work?”) are suddenly rendered laughably simplistic and foolish (Clark et al 2012a). Whole new doors of inquiry open to understand and explain intractable old problems in promising new ways (Clark et al 2012b). Our party indeed has an alternative vibe. It promises much to those looking in.

Yet, this does not always sit well. Is realism ready for the scrutiny that this new popularity brings? Why did some who so readily come to realism now, dismiss so much in the past? I guess that’s progress – but do you fully understand what you are getting into?

Hopefully this webinar will help. In the meantime, and for the future, for all party go-ers, I make the following suggestions:

Get deep

Seasoned realists identify with the enthusiasm of the newly acquainted realist. We have been there too – we get it. We think it’s good. But also, it’s only just the start. Don’t think reading parts of ‘Realistic Evaluation’ (Pawson & Tilley 1997) will suffice? Realist evaluation is not about method but ontology (Porter 2015).  Read Bhaskar’s earlier philosophical works, or the great concise overview from Collier (1994). Become familiar with key arguments relating to critical realist epistemology; the mind dependence and mind independence of our worlds. You won’t regret it, and will understand far more the potential of realism if you do.

Get specific

There’s more to realism than mentions of methods of mechanisms, context and “what works for whom, when and why.” Yes, that is neat and helpful – but can also be vague and messy, particularly when you are working with all-too-real quantitative and qualitative data. Too much supposed ‘realist-driven’ research includes only the most superficial of realist conceptions or ignores fundamentally central facets, notably context (Marchal et al 2012). Make sure you include all concepts necessary to the realist project in your work, define these clearly (e.g. “what are mechanisms?), and be transparent and consistent regarding how and when you will infer them from data.

Get critical

It’s easy to be caught up with new and beguiling waves. Yet, don’t merely follow the realist fashion – seek to shape its future too. Rather than ignoring the challenges of using realism in real research (Marchal et al 2012), contribute to the all-too-few published examples of realist work. Describe the unique and distinctive methodological challenges in doing this challenging work. Be part of the emerging critical scholarship that seeks to improve the use and application of critical realism and realist evaluation (Porter 2015).

Enjoy yourself and this webinar…this party is just starting. You are part of it. Who know’s where it will go?

Alex Clark PhD FCAHS
Professor & Associate Dean (Research)
University of Alberta, Canada
Co-Editor International Journal of Qualitative Methodology



Clark, A.M., Redfern, J., Thirsk, L, Neubeck, L., & Briffa, T. (2012a). What football can teach us about researching complex interventions. British Medical Journal, 345(e8316).

Clark, A.M., & Thompson, D.R. (2012b). Heart failure disease management programmes: a new paradigm for research. Heart, 302572.

Clark, A. M., & Thompson, D. R. (2010). What type of heart failure program is best? Wrong question, wrong assumption. European Journal of Heart Failure, 12, 1271-1273.

Collier, A. (1994). Critical Realism: An introduction to Roy Bhaskar’s Philosophy. London: Verso.

Craig, C., Dieppe, P., Macintyre, S., Michie, S., Nazareth, I., & Petticrew, M. (2008). Developing and evaluating complex interventions: new guidance. London: Medical Research Council.

Marchal, B., van Belle, S., van Olmen, J., Hoerée, T., & Kegels, G. (2012). Is realist evaluation keeping its promise? A review of published empirical studies in the field of health systems research. Evaluation, 18(2), 192-212

Pawson, R., Tilley N. (1997). Realistic Evaluation. Sage, London.

Porter, S. (2015) The uncritical realism of realist evaluation. Evaluation. 21: 65-82.

Wong, G., Greenhalgh, T., Westhorp, G., & Pawson, R. (2013). RAMESES publication standards: realist syntheses. BMC Medicine, 11, 21.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Verification Strategies

I had the pleasure of completing a three year postdoc with Janice Morse in IIQM from 2000-2003 and during this, had the opportunity to work on an article exploring issues related to rigor in qualitative inquiry— Morse et al.’s (2002) Verification strategies for establishing reliability and validity in qualitative research published in International Journal of Qualitative Methods.

Since this paper was published, at last check, it has been cited over two thousand times. In this article we try to do a number of things. First, we argue the relative place and worth of different models of rigor from reliability and validity to trustworthiness, which is a debate that continues merrily to this day and is entirely dependent on your philosophic and theoretical perspective. We try to identify the challenges that prevailing assumptions about rigor as criteria one can use during a research study or as post hoc standards of significance, relevance impact and utility of completed research, to be applied at the end of a study – often by the reader or adjudicator. The seminal work by Guba and Lincoln in the 1980s developed trustworthiness, within which there are specific methodological strategies to demonstrate credibility, transferability, dependability, confirmability (and authenticity). Following this was an explosion of terms, to say the least!

It seemed to us that over time these dimensions moved from a set of guidelines to another orthodoxy. There was a significant shift from constructive – i.e., strategies used during the research process to evaluative standards applied after the completion of the research means that researchers run the risk of missing serious threats to rigor until it is too late to correct them, or that such standards and criteria are minimal or an unobtainable gold standard that fails to appreciate the realities of emergent field work. So, the challenge, particularly for novice researchers is how to retain a strong grasp on how to ensure certainty that “you go it right” throughout an every changing project.

Lastly, we introduce verification as an approach that harnesses the key features of the principles of inquiry that can stop qualitative researchers from getting into problems in the course of their research. The approach we discuss in this paper is so practical and involves thinking, assessing, reflecting at each stage of the research processes to check that there are no errors that can subvert the analysis. Because it is based on principles of qualitative inquiry, it is self-correcting. It is a constant reminder that the design is iterative and there should always be checking for congruence among the questions that guide the inquiry, knowledge in the literature, and the decisions and strategies you use for sampling, recruitment, data collection and analysis.

I think the reflection of principles of qualitative inquiry provides flexibility so that some strategies may turn out to be more or less important depending on the varying philosophical perspectives one is using. Verification is also active—it is not something to demonstrate in a final report, but is reflected in each decision to be made—and perhaps most of all, recognizes the craft that is qualitative inquiry.

Morse, J. M., Barrett, M., Mayan, M., Olson, K., & Spiers, J. (2002). Verification strategies for establishing reliability and validity in qualitative research. International Journal of Qualitative Methods 1 (2), 13 – 22 (Article 2).

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Talking about photos: how does photo-elicitation work and how can we use it productively in research? By Dr. Penny Tinkler

People often like talking about photos. It’s not surprising therefore that photo-elicitation is increasingly used in qualitative research projects alongside, sometimes instead of, traditional talk-alone interviews. At its most basic photo-elicitation is an interview in which the interviewee is invited or encouraged to look at, and talk about, one or more photos. These may be personal or found photos or ones generated for the research by the interviewee or researcher.

Proponents of photo-elicitation claim that the dynamics of photo-interviews can be more productive than talk-only ones. They point out that photos stimulate dialogue. They can serve as icebreakers. They can foster a relaxed atmosphere in an interview by taking the pressure off an interviewee; the interviewee is no longer the sole focus of the researcher’s attention. Photos can also help ‘build bridges’ in an interview as the interviewer and interviewee work together to examine the details in a picture and reflect on what it means.

Photo-elicitation is also valued because it can generate very rich data. Photos often stimulate people to talk about what they know, think, experience, feel and remember. They can sometimes nudge people to reflect more deeply than they would in response to a verbal question. Looking at photos and thinking about them can enable people to work through, and express, their experiences and views. For many researchers it’s particularly important that photos can create space for people to talk about what is important and meaningful for them. Photo-elicitation can foreground the interviewee’s priorities and provide space for their voices to be heard, particularly if the photos belong to the interviewee or have been made by them for the purposes of the research. Following from this, making and talking about photos is widely acknowledged as a means for people to identify their needs. This engagement with photography can have radical results. It can, for instance, empower people to bring about personal and social change.

Unfortunately, photo-elicitation doesn’t always meet a researcher’s expectations. Not all photos get people talking; some photos prompt an uninterested response or they silence the viewer. Alternatively, some pictures prompt lengthy, rambling accounts that seem tangential or unrelated to the researcher’s agenda. The radical potential of photo-elicitation can also be elusive. Whether or not photo-elicitation gives participants a ‘voice’ and facilitates change depends greatly on how research is designed. There’s also a tendency for researchers not to make the most of photo-elicitation and to gloss over the complexities of the data that is generated

Understanding how photo-interviews work is pivotal to making good use of them and making sense of them. This is the focus of my webinar. I’ll explain how the visual-verbal relationship is of fundamental importance. This relationship isn’t just about looking and talking, but involves a complex network of sensory and temporal relations. The visual-verbal relationship sets photo-interviews apart from talk-alone ones; it’s also key to designing productive photo research.

Please join Dr. Tinkler Thursday, May 28 1:00 MDT

To register:

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Universals, Particulars, and the Heartbreak of the Excluded Middle

Written By: Michael Agar, PhD

*In conjunction with IIQM & ATLAS.ti Free Qualitative Methods Master Class Webinar Methods Series:

I’m assuming that “we”—those who do or those who are interested in a particular kind of human social research–are the audience of this IIQM webinar. That kind of research requires an understanding of meaning and context among those whom the project deems “subjects.” Between the lines of this job description lurks a complication, one long ago recognized in anthropology with its two definitions of “culture.” On the one hand, culture is what we Homo sapiens share that makes us all human. On the other hand, culture is a specific historical situation of some group of those humans that differ in massively important ways from other groups. Clearly both versions of culture are relevant to a research project of any type. Any group will be both familiar and strange to a person not a member.  How is it that we—any two “we’s”—are both the same and different?

The wrong way to look at this complication is to try and figure out how to sort the all-human part from the unique local part. It’s the wrong way because it means you slice the social world into two pieces before you try to understand it, the universal piece and the locally different piece. In other words, you destroy the coherence of the data before you analyze it. That’s the heartbreak of the Law of the Excluded Middle in logic, either it’s this or it’s not this. What I want to argue in the IIQM webinar is that it’s not “either/or,” the so-called “exclusive or.” It’s “both/and” instead. Both/and, as it turns out, leads into controversies over Eastern or Buddhist logic. And since Lofte Zadeh introduced “fuzzy logic” in the 1960s in a “Western” format, the exclusive  “Eastern” claim doesn’t work anymore anyway. I won’t try to deal with all that now.

In the IIQM webinar I will give in April, I’ll start with a story from the history of ethnographic research. It is a story about the terms “etic” and “emic.” The terms come from phonology in linguistics, “phonetic” and “phonemic.” In the old days, phonetic meant a system of notation that captured many distinct sounds that humans could make given the configuration of their articulatory biology. Phonemic meant the subset of those possible sounds that mattered in a particular language. I’ll give a few examples in the lecture to show how this works. Phonetic, the universal human part, was used to figure out the phonemic, the locally important part. But then when mainstream anthropology took the emic/etic distinction over, they lost the relationship between the two. Either you did etic ethnography or emic ethnography, never both. The heartbreak of the law of the excluded middle, a blow against clarity, and the creation of a lot of academic arguments that didn’t make any sense.

Next we’ll fast forward to the late 90s, when Donald Brown published his book on cultural universals. There is a brief YouTube of a public presentation he gave that we’ll look at to get the general message. Anthropologists have always been biased towards the discovery of human social differences. They ignored the fact that differences could only be made sense of if there is some kind of connective tissue to make a translation across those differences possible. In 2013 I wrote a book, The Lively Science: Reconstructing Human Social Research, where I made that argument. (The book is written for a general audience and suitable for birthdays and bar mitzvahs.) In the last few years I’ve given several talks, based on the book, that feature the emic/etic issue. Interesting to me is that the topic of universals makes most audiences nervous. It seems to me that the norm remains, that differences are the right focus and that universals run from problematic to threatening. The heartbreak of the excluded middle again, not both/and, but rather either/or.

Finally, though I’m no expert in the area, we’ll sample a few themes from the many fields that now blur the differences between cultural variability and universals with issues like the nature of cooperation, the ubiquity of social network power laws, the universality of fairness, and theory of mind. This sample won’t be a conclusion, but rather what I think of as a promising and comparatively recent direction that looks like a road to the both/and logic that will move us towards a single theory of what it is to be human and how it is that that humanity takes different forms. One theory, minus the excluded middle.

Where do we end? Most important is a mindset that rejects the law of the excluded middle. True, we need to guard against using the call to universals to justify naive realism. But we also need to hold off conclusions that differences are all that matter. We need to think of universals as the figure against which the ground of differences can be understood. Most importantly, we need a coherent theory that includes them both and considers how to mix evolutionary and historical explanation with contemporary ethnography. Time permitting, a final focused example from a serious game language/culture training project that I recently participated in will conclude the seminar and open up the digital gathering for discussion.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“The Democratic Case Against Ethical Regulation”

Written By: Robert Dingwall
Consulting Sociologist, Dingwall Enterprises Ltd.

The system of pre-emptive ethics regulation developed in the biomedical sciences has become a major threat to research in the humanities and the social sciences (HSS). Although there is growing criticism of its effects, most commentators have accepted the principle of regulation and gone along with the attempts to impose it as a global standard. This webinar argues against that concession. Ethics regulation is fundamentally wrong because it damages democratic societies in ways that far exceed any harm that HSS research can cause to individuals.

The evidence of regulatory failure has had little impact for two main reasons: first, there are now strong interests vested in the regulatory system; and, second, the case for reform has been too easily dismissed as self-serving. This webinar focuses on the second issue. The case for reform does not rest on inconvenience to researchers but on the costs to societies. Ethics regulation obstructs innovation, creates profound areas of ignorance, and infantilizes human subjects. These obstructions contribute to the use of societal resources in ways that are inefficient, ineffective, inequitable, and inhumane.

Rawls describes a society as a ‘cooperative structure for mutual advantage.’  Everyone benefits from a society to which everyone contributes. The social sciences are part of an institutionalized system of audit, identifying contributions and benefits. Ethics regulation steers research away from ‘difficult’ populations, topics, and methods, creating systematic areas of ignorance. Without such knowledge societies cannot create the transparency among people that promotes better lives. As Dewey observed, ‘free social inquiry is indissolubly wedded to the art of full and moving communication’ contributing to ‘a life of free and enriching communion’.

If regulation cannot be abolished, it must comply with four principles: First, it must exclude all research that presents no more risk to participants than they already accept in their everyday lives. Second, it must recognize that research participants are normally in a more powerful position than researchers because of their ability to grant or withhold access to information. Third, all citizens must be assumed to have a right to participate. Finally, any regulatory system must conform to standards of due process and be strictly confined to matters of ethics: if an institution is concerned about reputation management, legal liability, or offence to patrons, these are management decisions that are irrelevant to the integrity of researchers or their projects.

Please join us for Robert’s joint presentation in conjunction with this blog piece during our Qualitative Methods Master Class Webinar Series on March 26th at 1PM MST! Register  today: 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Interviewing in the context of qualitative research” – Dr. Karin Olson

This month IIQM is focusing on teaching interviewing techniques and best practices with our audience in the 2015 Qualitative Master Webinar Methods Series!  Dr. Karin Olson will be presenting her free webinar on February 11th, 2015 at 1:00pm MST.

Registration Link:

This session will begin with a discussion about how interviewing in qualitative research is different from interviewing which happens in other contexts.  Topics to be addressed will include how to decide whom to interview; issues related to the transformation, management, and analysis of interview data; and related ethical issues.

In preparation for the session, please view the series of videos located at this link:

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Leave Comfort Behind in 2015!

Who doesn’t like to be comfortable? Comfortable ways, places and tasks make us feel safe, secure and confident. Familiarity provides reassurance. When we carry out research that is comfortable, we get the benefits of doing what we know, publishing where we know, and disseminating to whom we know, how we know.

Yet, comfort does not just shelter from sorrows, it contributes to them too. In his book, ‘The Accidental Creative’, Todd Henry casts comfort as an enemy of personal growth, creativity and innovation. Comfort beguiles into stagnation and stasis – ultimately harming the work we do and ends we seek. Instead, Henry challenges us to step beyond comfort to engage in that which truly challenges our knowledge, skills and experience.

If your research were to move beyond comfort in 2015, how would it be different? What new ways of thinking, seeing and funding will you engage with? What new designs and methods will you learn? What journals will your qualitative research be published in to reach new and different audiences? What new ways will your research change the world?

Stepping beyond comfort is challenging for any of us. Yet, doing so is important for all of us – from those doing early graduate work to seasoned senior professors sustaining long-term research programs. Nor is this step beyond comfort easy. Mentors can help by supporting us and organizations by rewarding us, but ultimately, the onus rests on the individual scholar.

As you move beyond comfort in your qualitative research in 2015, the International Institute of Qualitative Methodology (IIQM) is here to help. The IIQM-Atlas.ti Qualitative Master Class Webinar Series enables you to learn about the latest cutting-edge methods from international experts. IIQM’s workshops address the key skills needed for all types and stages of qualitative research in the modern world. The open-access International Journal of Qualitative Methodology (IJQM) publishes new methodological innovations and proposals and IIQM’s world-renowned international conferences disseminate your work and build your life-long networks.

We thank you and IIQM’s sponsors for your ongoing support and look forward to empowering and sustaining you to keep stepping beyond comfort in your qualitative research for 2015 and beyond….

Alex Clark, Chair, IIQM Strategic Advisory Board

Bailey Sousa, Acting IIQM Director

For more details on IIQM’s webinars, workshops and events, please visit the IIQM website (

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment