Examining Interview Data in Phenomenological Research

 Examining Interview Data in Phenomenological Research

Azher Hameed Qamar, Ph.D  (www.drazher.com)

Hello, and welcome to my channel Social Research. Today I will talk about examining interview data in phenomenological studies. Before doing data analysis, it is a wise decision to examine your interview data to see what is the source of knowledge and information that participant is sharing with you. Let us begin with the type of participants and their source of information. 

Generally, when someone will tell a story, you can categorise it three sources of information. 

First, It is my experience and it happened to me

Second, I was there, I am an insider eyewitness, I belong to that context where it happened

Third, I heard from someone, I had an indirect observation, I came to know about it etc etc.

Now think about it. Which source of information will you consider more reliable and verifiable.? First person the one who is an insider in two ways, first through the direct experience, and other through the direct witness. So the source of information in both these cases is more valid and strong. And off course the experience is even more valid evidence. 

The third person narrative is the outsider’s narrative, that is narrative of the person who is not in the story and provides you other important information, including opinions,  information based on heard stories, history, indirect observation etc. This source can be used as data but this is not the required source for a study on lived experiences. Anyhow, you can get supplementary information that may be helpful during analysis.  

Now, let us keep things more simple here. Broadly speaking you may interview two type of participants in your study. 

First, who have a direct experience of the phenomenon you are exploring. They are your key participants. 

For example, in my study on childlessness in rural Punjab, the women who did not have children and experienced miscarriage and other reproductive issues were the key participants. So interviewing them will provide me knowledge about how the participants go through all this. And my task is to give voice to their experience.
Whereas there were elderly women in the village who have knowledge about childlessness and they were known as experts in connection with their knowledge and folk wisdom. They were important source of knowledge for me because they were not only able to share their knowledge but also the stories of others while giving their opinion. So to include these other participants in my study was valuable for me to have in-depth knowledge. 

Let us take another example; To explore the cancer survivals experience when they were going through it, you may consider to seek information from three types of participants.

First: Participants are cancer survivals and they have recovered from it. 

Second. Participants who were immediate care givers of the patient.

Three. Neighbors, relatives, and consultant doctors and nurses

Now it is obvious that the firs category will be your key participants. Whereas second and third categories will be other participants. Even from second and third categories, second category are the immediate caregivers who have been with the patient throughout this time of recovery and they can provide you valuable information, as they are insiders. And then the third category may also be a useful source of information. 

Overall, it is the researcher who will decide how to gain the depth of the information required to investigate the phenomenon. 

Now, let us expand this idea, and see that what may be the source of knowledge and information that participants are providing.  

As you know that your key participants are those who will share what do they experience and how do they experience. 

However, it is also possible that during the interviews they will tell you about others’ experience or others knowledge that they share because it somehow relates to their experience. 

It means, that they are trying to give meanings to their experience while providing you information that are not from their direct experience. 

Hence, you should carefully examine the interview data and see where the participants is, ….for example, ….likely to say….. (I experience)

 and where the participants is referring others, …such as…. (I heard, I saw, I was told or informed etc). 

One common mistake that young researchers commit while doing interview with key participants is that, …they could not form their questions and probes properly to unearth the ‘experience’ of the key participants. …..That is why conducting interviews about lived experiences is difficult and it requires proper and relevant training. ….For more information, You can watch a video on conducting interview on my channel. 

Ok, now , as you see in this slide, the word experience matters a lot – whereas the other words may provide you rich supportive information that you can use in thick description of the phenomenon. ……

In short, it is important to examine the whole interview to see how the information are being provided by the participants / then accordingly distinguish the source of information, if it is voiced through direct experience or other sources. 

Well, to conclude this talk, I will suggest three important things that you should consider while examining data.

First, examine the responses of the participants how they respond to your questions and make notes what source of information participant is using to provide you information

Second, find connections between different sources of information that participant is using during the interview, for example, the connection between what the participant tells as experience and what is being shared as observation or others’ stories. 

Third, prepare notes in connection with these two suggestions to get help for further analysis. 

I hope this short presentation will help you to prepare your interview guide and to examine the data sources within the interviews. 

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Thank you