Ostensibly this meeting was to discuss the paper that Ben had forwarded around the group on Grounded Theory. Actually this paper was more of an entry point for discussion. Nick Collins (a colleague from Music Informatics) has recently started some qualitative research, and was looking to discuss some of his reservations about the methods that he was having.

In a way, this made starting from Grounded Theory an interesting choice. Whilst many of the group members have conducted qualitative research, none of the group who were present have actually used Grounded Theory itself. So although we did spend a little time discussing the area the more interesting discussion came when we started talking more specifically about Nick’s current research interest and problem, and how the group’s experience could help.

Nick is doing a series of semi-structured interviews, the questions for which came from the results of a previous online study. Judith suggested that perhaps he should look at Thematic Analysis as an approach, but Katy has had some trouble finding a good reference for how to go about that.

Lesley uses an iterative approach to coding, starting potentially with very low level coding (examples used were “red flower” and “my mum said” – which did make sense in the context, honest!) and use those to then create higher level categories (e.g. “External objects”, “other people”) and recode. She says she tries not to have any preconceived ideas about what she’s looking for, but accepts that on some level she does.

Bias (which is introduced by the preconceptions) came up repeatedly. It seems that different studies have quite different approaches to this problem. Some work around it by having a large number of coders and looking for a high degree of inter-coder reliability. Others use two coders, who only confer when there is a disagreement. Still others use a single coder (and it was a real shame that Gareth wasn’t here at this point) who provides a single clear viewpoint. As always, the problem is finding the approach that is most appropriate for each particular study.

A related question was when to start looking at the data. Nick was very worried about looking back on it too soon, in case it changed the way he conducted later interviews. Lesley had examples where tweaking the questions on the way through had uncovered important information that would otherwise have been missed, although the change had to be documented when writing up the study. She also said that when you carry out your own interviews to code you can’t help but know what’s been said previously. Judith queried about the difference between knowing what had been said and reflecting on it, forming further ideas about it. The group consensus seemed to be that leaving it as long as possible before that happens would be preferable – which may explain why none of us have used Grounded Theory!

All in all it was a good discussion of the practices that the group have used when conducting research in the past. We hope Nick found it useful and not too overwhelming. We also hope that he might find time to come back and tell us about what he finds.

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