Trustworthiness Criteria for Qualitative Inquiry
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A fragment from an article about criteria to evaluate trustworthiness
Trustworthiness Criteria for Qualitative Inquiry (Fragment of an article entitled: The Qualitative Paradigm: An Overview of some basic Concepts, Assumptions, and Theories of Qualitative Research by Lisa Joniak, Ph.D.) Author’s Note: This paper serves as the starting point for a course in qualitative research. The author provides a general overview of the qualitative paradigm and then goes on to discuss four major theories used in qualitative inquiry. … Trustworthiness Criteria for Qualitative Inquiry Qualitative research endures attacks on its unique and distinct approach to examining the world and seeking understanding from it. The present section looks at alternative paths to producing research that merits attention, respect and acceptance. Lincoln and Guba lay out the charges often thrown against naturalistic studies, including qualitative research: The naturalistic inquirer soon becomes accustomed to hearing charges that naturalistic studies are undisciplined; that he or she is guilty of “sloppy” research, engaging in “merely subjective” observations, responding indiscriminately to the “loudest bangs or brightest lights.” Rigor, it is asserted, is not the hallmark of naturalism. Is the naturalist inevitable defenseless against such charges? Worse, are they true? (Lincoln 1985, pp. 289-290) Lincoln and Guba give a definitive “no” to both questions posed above. They start by explaining that traditionally in the social sciences there have been four criteria used to evaluate the merit of research: internal validity, external validity, reliability and objectivity. Critics of qualitative research have long argued that there is no merit to qualitative studies because they do not achieve internal and external validity. Perhaps, some have refuted, that is because validity criteria are inappropriate measures for evaluating qualitative work. Deniz and Lincoln explain the traditional notions of validity and offer up the concept of trustworthiness as a replacement: Some analysts argue that validity may be an inappropriate term in a critical research context, as it simply reflects a concern for acceptance within a positivist concept of research rigor. To a critical researcher, validity means much more than the traditional definitions of internal and external validity usually associated with the concept. Traditional research has defined internal validity as the extent to which a researcher’s observations and measurements are true descriptions of a particular reality; external validity has been defined as the degree to which such descriptions can be accurately compared with other groups. Trustworthiness, many have argued, is a more appropriate word to use in the context of critical research. It is helpful because it signifies a different set of assumptions about research purposes than does validity. (Denzin 1994, p. 151) Lincoln and Guba outline the assumptions of trustworthy qualitative research and contrast them with their nonqualitative counterparts. Lincoln and Guba discuss each criterion and explicate steps qualitative researchers can take to ensure that they are achieving results that are credible, transferable, dependable, and can be confirmed. Here, we will briefly outline the four criteria for trustworthiness and explain how each is achieved. Credibility, Lincoln and Guba maintain, can be achieved through five activities: Credibility-5 Activities: 1. Activities that will increase the probability that credible findings will be produced: • Prolonged engagement—the investment of sufficient time to achieve certain purposes: learning the culture, testing for misinformation, building trust (Lincoln 1985, p. 301) • Persistent observation—identifying and assessing salient factors and crucial atypical occurrences (Lincoln 1985, p. 304) • Triangulation—the use of different sources, methods, theories and sometimes investigators to resist easy interpretation of phenomena (Lincoln 1985, p. 305) 2. Activity that provides an external check of the inquiry process: • Peer debriefing—helps keep the inquirer “honest,” exposing him or her to searching questions by an experience protagonist playing devil’s advocate and tests working hypotheses emerging in the inquirer’s mind (Lincoln 1985, p. 308) 3. Activity aimed at refining working hypotheses: • Negative case analysis—refining hypothesis until it accounts for all known cases without exception (Lincoln 1985, p. 309) 4. Activity for checking preliminary findings and interpretations against raw data: • Referential adequacy—testing archived data against raw data, using external analysts (Lincoln 1985, p. 313) 5. Activity providing for the direct test of findings and interpretations with the sources: • Member checks—data, analytic categories, interpretations, and conclusions are tested with members of those stakeholding groups from whom the data were originally collected (Lincoln 1985, p. 314) Covering these five steps is not a necessary condition for achieving credibility, but is a sufficient condition for credibility. Next, let’s look at Lincoln and Guba’s transferability guidelines. Transferability is very different from it is conventionalist counterpart external validity. Lincoln and Guba explain: …[T]he naturalist cannot specify the external validity of an inquiry; he or she can provide only the thick description necessary to enable someone interested in making a transfer to reach a conclusion about whether transfer can be contemplated as a possibility….Clearly, not just any descriptive data will do, but the criteria that separate relevant from irrelevant descriptors are still largely undefined….The naturalist inquirer is also responsible for providing the widest possible range of information for inclusion in the thick description…(1985, p. 316) Lincoln and Guba stress that it is not the qualitative researcher’s “responsibility to provide an index of transferability; it is his or her responsibility to provide the data base that makes transferability judgments possible on the part of potential appliers” (Lincoln 1985, p. 316). In fact, it is impossible for a researcher to know whether or not his or her data is transferable to some other study in the future because he or she is ignorant of the specific context in which the subsequent study is taking place. Therefore, qualitative researchers must provide the tools (data) for future researchers to determine whether or not transferability applies. Dependability and confirmability are primarily achieved through the use of audit trails. In an inquiry audit, the auditor examines both the dependability of the process and the confirmability of the product (Lincoln 1985, p. 316-318). Finally, Lincoln and Guba wisely note that the procedures they outline for achieving credibility, transferability, dependability and confirmability are merely one way of achieving trustworthiness, not the way. Thus, researchers should resist regarding these criteria as “prescriptions” of how qualitative inquiry must be done, instead utilize and build on these guides as the context and phenomena require. … Taken from Joniak, L. (2000). The qualitative paradigm: an overview of some basic concepts, assumptions, and theories of qualitative research (online). Retrieved April 23, 2012, from http://www.slis.indiana.edu/faculty/hrosenba/www/Research/methods/joniak_qual_par.pdf Other references Denzin, N. K. & Lincoln, Y. S. (Eds). (1994). Handbook of Qualitative Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Lincoln, Y. S. & Guba, E. S. (1985). Naturalist Inquiry. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.