Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Community Renaissance: How We do Interviews

AnitaWrites is a program area of Community Renaissance.  Here is a brief explanation of how Community Renaissance does one element of its work.

How Community Renaissance and its area of focus, The Partnership for Equity and Civic Engagement (PĒCE) does Interviews for potential Community Conversations and/or Public Dialogue Projects, 1/13.

The underlying social research method of our work is ethnography. In contrast to the research perspective, or paradigm, commonly known as positivism which emphasizes quantitative methods of data collection and analysis, ethnographic methods are the tools used by the naturalism research paradigm.  Naturalism suggests that, as much as possible, the researcher should be trying to understand the issues of research in its undisturbed state.  With this perspective, human actions and interactions are influenced by social meanings, intentions, motives, attitudes and beliefs.  While positivism emphasizes hypothesis-testing and the neutrality of the researcher, naturalism sees research as a process of exploration and the researcher(s) is part of the world s/he is studying.  The tool of reflective analysis is an important method the ethnographer utilizes in order to include his/her responses to and interpretations of the world s/he is trying to better understand.

Within this preferred method of naturalism,  the approach Community Renaissance has used since 2003, the interview methodology is defined as structured conversation. These conversations are elicited in order to better understand the world of the research participants.  The conversations are shaped by the context of the participants’ world.  The essential components of ethnographic interviewing/structured conversations are the following:

  • researchers do not predesign the questions; instead they frame the issues or topics to be discussed;
  • questions are generated from the conversation;
  • researchers do not limit themselves to one mode of questioning; both directive and nondirective (open-ended) questions may be used;
  • interviews are not the only source of data; multiple sources are necessary—for examples, newspaper or magazine articles, observations, surveys and other data resources.

Once the data has been collected, it is important to use multiple modes of qualitative data analysis. Conversation-analysis is the study of talk-in-interaction.  Narrative analysis takes as its focus of research the story (heard or written) itself.  Community Renaissance uses both these modes as necessary, in addition to using limited, supportive quantitative analysis, particularly the tool of benchmarking which identifies reference point (s) in the research world of a particular research project.

Composed by Anita C. Fonte, PhD. Principal Consultant, Community Renaissance with significant resource contribution from (listed in order of contribution emphasis): 

Ethnography Principles in Practice.  Martyn Hammersley and Paul Atkinson.  1983.

Public Stories in Public Dialogue.  Anita C. Fonte, UA dissertation.  1996.

Narrative Analysis.  Catherine Kohler Riessman.  1993.

Conversation Analysis:  The Study of Talk-in-Action.  George Psathas.  1995.

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