Sunday, 12 August 2012

The right tool for the job? Qualitative methods in HCI

It's sad to admit it, but my holiday reading has included Carla Willig's (2008) text on qualitative research methods in psychology and Jonathan Smith's (2007) edited collection on the same topic. I particularly enjoyed the chapters by Smith on Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis and by Kathy Charmaz on Grounded Theory in the edited collection. One striking feature of both books is that they have a narrative structure of "here's a method; here are its foundations; this is what it's good for; this is how to apply it". In other words, both seem to take the view that one becomes an expert in using a particular method, then builds a career by defining problems that are amenable to that method.

One of the features of Human–Computer Interaction (HCI) as a discipline is that it is not (with a few notable exceptions) fixated on what methods to apply. It is much more concerned with choosing the right tools for the job at hand, namely some aspect of the design or evaluation of interactive systems that enhance the user experience, productivity, safety or similar. So does it matter whether the method applied is "clean" Grounded Theory (in any of its variants) or "clean" IPA? I would argue not. The problem, though, is that we need better ways of planning qualitative studies in HCI, and then of describing how data was really gathered and what analysis was performed, so that we can better assess the quality, validity and scope of the reported findings.

There's a trade-off to be made between doing studies that can be done well because the method is clear and well-understood and doing studies that are important (e.g. making systems safer) but for which the method is unavoidably messy and improvisational. An important challenge for HCI (which has always adopted and adapted methods from other disciplines that have stronger methodological foundations) is to develop a better set of methods that address the important research challenges of interaction design. These aren't limited to qualitative research methods, but that is certainly one area where it's important to have a better repertoire of techniques that can be applied intelligently and accountably to address exciting problems.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for share this informative post.

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  2. No doubt,it is one area where it's important to have a better repertoire of techniques that can be applied intelligently and accountably to address exciting problems.
    analysis of qualitative data

    ReplyDelete