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). http://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/IJQM/article/view/4603/3756