Methodological challenges encountered in research: Symposium I

Svanborg R. Jónsdóttir

SVANHAF samfélag leiðbeinenda og doktorsnema

Methodological challenges of doing research in a foreign culture

Guðlaug Erlendsdóttir, doktorsnemi og grunnskólakennari, MVS HÍ

My research is based in Mangochi District, Malawi. I explored different aspects of the school community, such as teachers’ living and working conditions, parental involvement with their children’s education and the community’s attitude towards teachers and teaching. Having obtained permission for my research from the Ministry of Education in Malawi and district authorities, four rural primary schools were selected for participation. I used a qualitative approach for my research and collected data through semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions. In total, 124 participants contributed directly to my research, including the director for primary education at the Ministry of Education, the District education manager, teachers, headteachers, primary education advisors, parents, local leaders, and members of the communities through various groups associated with the participating schools. Embarking on research can bring various complications and potential difficulties which need to be addressed. In this presentation, I will limit my discussion to some comparatively complex aspects which I encountered in the data collection phase of my research, namely: The role of the researcher as an outsider and an insider. In data collection, I had to use two languages, English and the local language. Thus, interview questions were translated and verified for situational relevance and translated back into English and independently verified. These approaches helped me to establish trust, good teamwork, and collaboration between my two research assistants and myself.

Doing participatory action research with children – challenges, experiences, and learning

Ruth Jörgensdóttir Rauterberg, aðjúnkt, MVS HÍ

The presentation builds on my experience of doing participatory action research with children in a compulsory school in my PhD-study. It is the aim of the study to identify, develop and strengthen inclusive practices within the school and promote children’s participation in school development. The methodology of PAR builds on the participation of all stakeholders. Participants research their own professional and social sites, investigate practices, engage in dialogue and collaborative inquiry, produce knowledge, change current practices, and develop solutions. Doing PAR in cooperation with children can provide valuable insight into children’s experiences of inclusive and exclusive school practices and lead to successful solutions that respond to issues brought up by the children. However, collaboration with children in PAR also implies various methodological, ethical, and conceptual challenges, and various questions arise: How can children be involved in creating a feasible research framework and finding suitable methods? How can we safeguard children´s interests and wellbeing, deal with power-imbalances and ensure equal opportunities for all children to participate? How do we engage with children in iterative data analysis? How do we collaborate in finding solutions and evaluating success? In the presentation, I will outline how we tried to meet these challenges in the study and what we have learned from the process so far. I will then discuss the upcoming challenge of making changes and developments sustainable within a framework and how the PAR methodology could come in useful for creating the framework.

Whose story is this?  On the importance of awareness of one’s own biases and preconceptions while conducting a qualitative study

Soffía Valdimarsdóttir, lektor, FVS HÍ

Qualitative research is characterized by a process of methodological reconsiderations and adaptations as an understanding of the research subject develops. The interpretive nature of that process must account for the researcher’s biases and preconceptions. Awareness of these factors as well as critical self-reflection is key to establishing rigor in qualitative research. This presentation is based on my experience while conducting a qualitative study among self-employed craft makers as part of my PhD-project. The aim of the study was to identify the experience of those who have chosen to utilize craft knowledge as a means of making a living. In the presentation, I will discuss two methodological challenges I have struggled with in the study. Firstly, doubts about my research design/criteria for participation. Secondly, probable preconceptions about the participants experiences due to my positive biases towards crafts activities. For a critical reflection, I applied content analysis to the interview data and field notes looking for examples of it and then looking especially for how my preconceptions may have influenced the research design and outcome. Findings indicate that doubts about criteria were unnecessary but also that my preconceptions were influential in the early stages of the study. Guidelines for the interviews lack critical questions about e.g., income and workload. My biases therefore might have ended up influencing research outcomes. In the presentation I will discuss how I met these challenges and established rigor for my research by applying methods of hermeneutical interpretations, enabling me to adapt further data collecting and analysis.