Qualitative Data from Interactions
Our page on Analysing Qualitative Data discusses techniques for analysing language-based data. This page explains more about how to generate, analyse and present data identified through interaction with your research subjects.
Here, the analysis is almost part of the process of generating the data, rather than something done later on data gathered in a separate process.
In particular, this page discusses two techniques, repertory grid analysis and cognitive mapping, which may be helpful for identifying individuals’ views of the world.
Repertory Grid Analysis
A repertory grid allows you to represent someone’s view of the world.
Repertory grids are particularly useful for investigating ideas that people may not have thought about in any detail, or which are hard to articulate, as it puts a framework around the discussion. It’s also based on the interviewees’ own constructs, and not those of the researcher, which means that it avoids the researcher imposing their views on the research subject.
However, creating a grid can take quite a long time, so you need willing interviewees. It also requires considerable skill from the interviewer to explore all the constructs adequately.
See our page on Interviews for Research for more about interviewing skills.
Repertory Grid Analysis Step-by-Step
Decide on the focus of the grid, which should be quite specific. Examples include the qualities that make a good manager or even what makes the ideal kitchen or similar.
With the interviewees, select a group of between five and ten elements that are both relevant and will provide a good range. For example, for the features that make a good manager, the elements should be managers known to the interviewees, some of whom they regard as good and some of whom are not so good, with a range in between.
Write each element onto a separate card.
Pick three at a time, and ask the interviewees to identify the ‘odd one out’, and provide one word that describes the two that are similar, and another for the one that is different. These two words become a construct on a continuum between the two.
Continue selecting trios of elements until you have between six and ten constructs.
Rate each of the elements against each of the constructs. You can either just allocate them to one end or the other, or you can use a five-point scale in between the two.
You can analyse small grids by eye, looking for relationships between elements and constructs.
Larger grids often need computer assistance for analysis. The idea is to group the constructs together in some way to form two or three bigger constructs which explain the variation. At this stage, it may be clear why you’d need a computer programme to help with the analysis of a large grid! Examples of suitable programmes include GridSuite.
You can either represent your findings as:
A map or graph, with two axes representing the two main ‘grouped constructs’ that explain the most variation; or
A dendrogram, where the distance between ‘branches’ shows the relationship between the constructs.
These visual representations are very helpful in showing a picture of the findings. Your final step in any analysis is to reflect your findings back to your interviewees. This may well produce new insights from them into the constructs or elements.
Repertory grids are not easy to prepare or analyse. They take considerable time and skill in interviewing to draw out all the aspects of each construct. Care is also needed to ensure that the results are meaningful to the interviewees and to the researcher.
Cognitive maps are a little like mind maps. They are a visual representation of an individual or group’s way of looking at the world, including values, beliefs, attitudes and ideas, and how they relate to each other. It’s very much a subjective view, and can only be drawn up with the full cooperation of the interviewee(s).
By using the technique of laddering, described on our page Interviewing for Research, you can explore values and beliefs as well as experience. As you elicit ideas and values, you draw a map linking them to others.
It’s good to keep reflecting back to your interviewee to ensure that they agree with your suggested links.
Dominoes is a specific technique used to explore values and beliefs when there may be issues of power or control.
The researcher identifies elements, which may be people or objects, and places cards with one on each in front of the interviewee, all at the same time. The interviewee is asked to group them according to patterns, and explain their thinking.
They should reform the groups in as many ways as they can. Their comments are recorded by the interviewer, who can also ask questions to clarify where necessary. This technique can speed up the process of identifying constructs.
Although not used so often in pure research, group maps are often used by facilitators to help groups to think through strategic issues. They can also be used as part of mediation to help groups to understand each other’s points of view. They are a useful way of making a visual representation of values, concerns and issues, and, as with many visual techniques, are easy to understand quickly.
Both repertory grid analysis and cognitive mapping produce visual representations of quite complex situations.
They are therefore helpful in simplifying and visualising ideas. However, it’s important to remember that both require skilful interviewing and interaction with people to obtain the best results. That said, even a fairly unskilled approach will produce some usable results, and it’s always worth having a go at a new technique.
To get maximum value, however, it is worth trying to find someone else with more experience to help you, at least the first time.