Reflexivity - the researcher's voice in qualitative research

This is a short paper that I worked on as part of my early PhD studies (2010).

Reflexivity is …
Reflection on the researcher’s journey


Context – how reflexivity relates to my research 

My research journey – a new journey that started September 2009 ‘for real’. As someone with a background in experiential learning, training and evaluation I naturally find it helpful to reflect and record my research journey as a PhD student. I completed my Masters studies at Dundee and found myself particularly attracted to the approaches of collaborative inquiry drawing on the knowledge and experiences of professional peers. My final study was about how individuals in organisations Becoming a Thriving Leader. In my professional practice – I work as a trainer and evaluator with community and voluntary organisation. My PhD research topic is: Evaluation that Empowers

A major theme in my study is empowerment and how evaluation plays a role in giving ‘voice’ to experience. An initial question I have been looking at is ‘whose voices and why do they need to be heard?’ 

Participant voices - On the one hand there is the ‘voice’ of the participants in research as a means of: validating experience and raising awareness of particular issues in society; as a means of generating stories that illustrate impact and personal change resulting from activities and programmes.

Practitioner voices - There is also the ‘voice’ of the practitioner as an important way for informing practice, decision making, policy development and change. 

Organisation voices - organisations also want to have a ‘voice’ in terms of influencing policy and credibility as leaders in their field.

Researcher voices - Within these collaborative research relationships it is also important to take account of the researcher’s voice.

My research paradigm and methodology are qualitative, participative and inclusive of other ‘voices’ as co-researchers. So for me, learning about how to use reflexivity provides a sort of quality assurance check within my research.

Questions and challenges …

How do you do reflexivity in practice?
Introspection or peer critique and mutual collaboration?
How do you use reflexivity in relation to a particular study?
How do you account for it within your research writing?

Some starting points …

How has my personal history led to my interest in this topic?

"My previous Masters study has introduced me to a particular research paradigm, my range of work experiences have led me to work with particular groups, my background in adventure activities lead me to exploration, discovery and creativity as a characteristic of my research."


What are my personal value systems and what areas do I know I am subjective about?


"A belief in others’ voices and their right to participation and contribution, and the role of human experience as a source of knowledge and learning."
 

How does my gender / social class / ethnicity / culture influence my positioning in relation to this topic and my informants?


"Intuitive, interest in process and what makes things work. As a woman I feel that the female voice has to constantly assert itself in a male world, and as a practical doer/action orientation I believe in the significance of process in achieving goals and outcomes."
 

Where is the power held in relation to my research project and where am I in the power hierarchy?


"Power and empowerment are important questions in my research studies and I will be exploring how I fit into this and influence my research by aspiring to be a Reflexive Researcher."


References

Ahern, K. J. (1999). Ten Tips for Reflexive Bracketing. Qualitative Health Research, 9(3), 407-411.
Etherington, K. (2004). Becoming a Reflexive Researcher - Using our selves in research. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Finlay, L. (2002). Negotiating the swamp: the opportunity and challenge of reflexivity in research practice. Qualitative Research, 2, 209-230.
Mansfield, S. (2006). Keeping a critically reflexive research journal, University of Dundee

© Lesley Greenaway 2010
 
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Lesley has carried out several pieces of consultancy work for the Voluntary Action Fund, particularly around evaluation, impact measurement and group facilitation. Lesley has in depth knowledge of a range of evaluation methodologies...

Keith Wimbles, Chief Executive, Voluntary Action Fund
Lesley is a very motivated professional who is undertaking high level participatory evaluation that seeks to empower. She is very reflective and reflexive, and has brought innovative ways of approaching her doctoral work.
Divya Jindal-Snape
Professor, University of Dundee (academic)

Lesley is one of the most inspirational of the trainers, managers and thought leaders I have worked with over more than 20 years in the learning & development field. She has a deep and wide understanding of people, of...

Nick McBain
Director, Clarity Coaching Scotland

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