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Using Semi Structured Interviews Health And Social Care Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Health And Social Care
Wordcount: 2998 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Before initiating the interviews, approximately eighteen semi-structured questions were formulated, some of which were changed or re-worded during the course of the interview. Interview subjects were selected based on their position. The name of the delegation leader for each African member state was obtained from the UNFCCC secretariat. For certain member states, where the leading delegate was unable to be interviewed due to security reasons or timing, an alternative senior member of the delegation was sought. A total of 23 African leaders were interviewed. Appendix E lists the African Group leaders who were interviewed as part of the study. The African leaders who were interviewed consisted of Presidents, Ministers, Ambassadors, Director Generals, Directors and other senior personnel of the countries delegation such as the UNFCCC Focal Point Representative.

The choice of a semi-structured rather than a structured interview was employed as it offered sufficient flexibility to approach the individual respondents in different ways, while collecting the same data. All interviews were held in the various meeting rooms of Bella Centre and half

of the interviews took place during the high level segment of COP15, i.e. between the 16th – 18th December 2009. The interviews were pre-scheduled; however, due to the overrunning of a number of the COP15 Plenary sessions, a certain degree of flexibility was required by the researcher. In some of the interviews, an interpreter had to be used. In all cases, this interpreter would be a member of the same African delegation as the interviewee. The duration of each interview varied from 45 minutes to 1 hours and 15 minutes.

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Before each interview commenced, the researcher gave an introduction highlighting the purpose and background to the research, the interview questions, the length of the interview in terms of time and the confidentiality of the results. Most senior interviewees were accompanied by security officers, directors or special assistants. A number of interviewees had invited one or two members of their delegation to give comments or information in addition to their own response and these were also recorded.

The interviews were recorded using a combination or methods. Some were recorded using a tape recorder, whilst others were transcribed or a combination of both methods was used during the interview. The intention was to use a tape recorder for all interviews conducted, as this would ensure the most accurate account of the conversations held. However, due to certain reasons, some security aides and ministerial assistants did not allow the use of a tape recorder. In these instances, the interview was transcribed and a synopsis of the interview was read back to ensure the accuracy of the data captured. However, this slowed down the progress of the interview.

4.7.5 Participant Observer

According to Jorgensen (1989), participant observation is most appropriate when certain minimal conditions are present:

The research problem is concerned with human meanings and interpretations gained from the insider’s perspective.

The phenomenon is sufficiently limited in size and location to be studied as a case

Study questions are appropriate for a case.

The research question can be addressed by qualitative data gathered by direct observation and other means pertinent to the field setting.

Jorgensen (1989) further states that “participant observation is especially appropriate for exploratory studies [as it is a] a special form of observation and a unique way of collecting data […] Direct involvement in the here and now of people’s daily lives provides both a point of reference for the logic and process of participation observational inquiry and a strategy for gaining access to phenomena that commonly are obscured from the standpoint of a non-participant.”

Furthermore, according to Iacono et al (2009), participant observation can “arise from an on-going work situation where the researcher is an industry practitioner.” Given this researcher’s professional status as a practitioner in the field of management consultancy and her current assignment as the Special Technical Assistant to the Minister of Environment, participant observation was used as a method to further understand the group decision-making process of African leaders within the context of the African Group. Observed were the daily activities in relation to how decisions were made, the interaction between delegates and the group dynamics.

The formal African Group meetings scheduled from 8am – 9am daily were attended, as well as the African Group meetings relating to the Kyoto Protocol between 7pm – 8pm, each day. These African Group meetings were at the technical level. A total of 18 African Group meetings at the technical level were attended during COP15. The researcher also attended all four meetings of the African Ministers Committee on Environment (AMCEN) and the two meetings of the Conference of African Heads of State on Climate Change (CAHOSCC).

The plenary sessions of the COP15 / MOP5 were closed to party delegates. However, as the researcher was registered as a participant to the Conference, further need to negotiate access to the plenary sessions was not required. During the meetings of the African Group, AMCEN, CAHOSCC and the plenary sessions, detailed observations and field notes were made, including observations on the ‘culture’ of the UNFCCC decision-making environment. As a researcher, being in the midst of the decision-making process allowed my own understanding and notions to be continually challenged by the action and words of the African leaders within COP15.

Conversations were had and questions were asked during the African Group meetings only.

4.7.6 Focus Groups

According to Morgan (1997), ‘Focus Groups’ are a way of collecting data through group interaction on a topic determined by the researcher. Morgan (1997) also states that focus groups are especially useful when seeking to gather a “large amount of interaction on a topic in a limited period of time.” According to Greenbaum (2000), ”the goal of a focus group is to delve into attitudes and feelings about a particular topic, to understand the ‘why’ behind certain behaviours”.

Other researchers, such as Gibbs (2007) states ”focus group research involves organised discussions with a selected group of individuals to gain information about their views and experiences of a topic that is particularly suited for obtaining several perspectives about the same topic”. Gibbs further states ”the benefits of focus group research includes gaining insights into peoples shared understandings of everyday life and the ways in which individuals are influenced by others in the same situation.

According to Fern (2001) ”focus groups” can be distinguished in terms of the research purpose they serve, the types of information and knowledge they produce, their scientific status and methodological factors. Fern (2001) also states that there are three types of focus groups i.e. exploratory, experimental and clinical. This research uses the exploratory type, as this type is used to “explore a new issue, generate a hypothesis and for theory applications including generating theoretical constructs, causal relationships, models and theories.” The researcher’s choice of using an ‘Exploratory Focus Group’ can be summarised as follows: –

The nature of the topic under investigation;

The exploratory nature of the research;

The fact the researcher had ready access to members of the African Group;

The data collected would strengthen the findings of the research in conjunction with other research methods adopted for the research.

The focus group process consists of seven components. These include: group cohesion, the discussion process, the outcome, group composition, research setting, the moderator and the group process factors (Fern, 2001). Some of these can be controlled by the researcher, while others cannot. The central component is the discussion process and the exchange of information. The discussion process, in turn, affects the nature of the focus group outcome. Fern (2001) also states that group cohesion is important to the success of a focus group as it provides the reason for participants to contribute to the discussion. Group composition and the focus group setting affect cohesion, both directly and in combination.

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Morgan (1997) states focus groups generally comprised of 6 – 10 individuals, whereas according to Fern (2001), smaller mini-group focus groups are also common with 4 – 6 participants. Morgan (1997) also states that the amount that each participant has to contribute to the discussion is a major consideration in determining group size. Small groups work best when the participants are likely to be both interested in the topic and respectful of each other when the researcher desires to gain a clear sense of each participant’s reaction to the topic.

The researcher conducted 6 focus groups comprising of 4 – 9 members.

Compatibility is a major concern when determining the composition of focus groups. According to Morgan (1988), “when participants perceive each other as fundamentally similar they can spend less time explaining themselves to each other and more time discussing the issues at hand.” Morgan (1988) also states that the classic way to achieve compatibility is by bringing together homogeneous participants. A shared background or demographic characteristics, i.e. gender, race or ethnicity, age, location or residence, educational level, occupation, income, marital status or family composition are a common basis for selection. Too much homogeneity, however, can restrict the range of issues and positions discussed; therefore a degree of heterogeneity was sought in the selection of the African Group members.

In this research, the participants were selected on the basis of gender, occupation and location (in terms of the African county they represented). Gender was chosen to ensure female representations amongst members. In terms of occupation, all the respondents were leaders within the environmental sector and had a relatively good understanding of the purpose of COP15. Locality was an important factor, as the researcher’s aim was to have a member from each of the African states represented in the various focus groups. This was not achieved, due to the difficulty of getting participants together at the same time due to the volume of meetings and side events being held during COP15. The size of each focus group varied from 6 – 9 participants as stated above.

The setting refers to the space in which the focus group takes place. Considerations for setting include the ambient (i.e. tangible or physical) characteristics of a room, the tables, chairs and recording equipment (Fern, 2001). The setting of the focus group meetings was fixed for the duration of the conference. The set-up of the meeting room for the focus groups is illustrated in Figure 5 below. This is based on a group comprising of six participants.

The date of each focus group meeting was fixed; however there was need to be flexible on the timing due to meetings and plenary sessions over running. Most of the focus group meetings were held during the first week of the conference, to avoid impacting on the meetings scheduled to interview Ministers and Heads of Governments during the second week of the conference.

The majority of the respondents used for the focus group interviews, were technical members of their delegation, but all were in a position of leadership. Suggestions about the optimal number of focus group sessions range from 2 to 8 (Fern, 2001). Though most focus group research shows that fewer than five sessions are adequate, if the purpose of the research, as is the case with this study, is to collect a total population of thoughts rather than common or unique ones (Fern, 2001).

Appendix F gives a breakdown of the focus groups held, the participants and the country of origin of the participants. The aim of the researcher was to achieve a good representation of leaders across the continent.

Morgan (1997) identifies some more considerations in determining the number of focus groups. Probably the most important of these is the variability of the participants both within and across the groups. Within groups, when there are more heterogeneous participants, this will typically require a larger number of groups to sort out the different sets of opinions and experiences. Degree of structure of the interview also has an impact on the number of groups required.

Less structured interviews, with lower levels of moderator involvement, require more groups. Another significant consideration concerns the availability of participants. If there are fewer potential participants available or if they are highly dispersed, several smaller groups of a smaller size are required to address the criterion of saturation. All these factors were considered in determining the exact number of focus groups used in this research.

Discussion process (Foulkes, 1964, as cited in Fern, 2001) provides a series of factors which guide the focus group discussion process. These factors represent sequential stages in the group discussion. The first factor, social integration, is the opportunity for equal participation of all group members in the discussion. The second, the mirror reaction, is the individual participant’s realization that others share similar ideas, anxieties, or impulses and this then relieves the anxieties they feel in relation to participation in the focus group. Condenser phenomenon, as the third factor, is an activation of the collective conscious and unconscious that makes it easier to talk about the issues raised in the discussion. Finally, exchange, is the process of sharing information and explanations that makes up the bulk of the discussion.

In the 90 minutes scheduled for each focus group, the first 10 minutes were devoted to the first two factors, social integration and mirror reaction. This included time for participants to check in and become acclimatised to the room and engage in light conversation with the researcher and other participants. Introductions were made and participants got to know a little about each other. Participants were then asked to take a seat around the table. The researcher set the stage in terms of the role of the researcher, the purpose, and the ground rules (i.e. use of audio recorder) and the role of the researcher as the moderator for the session (Greenbaum, 2000).

Interview questions were tailored for about 80 minutes of discussion. Each focus group was conducted in a moderately structured manner. As such, the researcher was guided by a set of questions, but neither the exact wording nor the order of questions was predetermined. Likewise, the questions themselves were adjusted from focus group to focus group as information gleaned and data analysed from previous groups was used to guide each subsequent group.

As previously explained in earlier chapters, fully structured style was not used as this research is exploratory and the intent was to determine the participant’s perspective. On the other hand, a fully unstructured approach was not considered suitable as the researcher possessed insights into the relevant discussion topics from an extensive review of the literature and her personal experience as a consultant/practitioner.

Generally, the focus group began with each participant providing a brief personal introduction. Questions were then asked about Africa’s preparedness for the COP15. This was followed by questions relating to how the African Group worked. These questions were used to ascertain, whether there was an understanding and awareness amongst members on the decision-making process of the African Group, and whether the Group leaders fully understood the process. Furthermore, it was important to ascertain whether members of the group were aware of the background and commencement of Africa’s common position. Other questions that were discussed included those relating to the participants’ views on the impacts of Climate Change on Africa and the main concerns of the African Group. In addition there were questions relating to their views on whether they felt the decisions made by African leaders were rational and what the likely outcome from COP15 in terms of the expectations of the African Group would be.

A final important component to the discussion process is the moderator. In a focus group, the moderator is a facilitation or discussion leader, not a participant to the discussion (Fern, 2001). Two important considerations must be taken into account when deciding on a moderator. These are prior experience and relationship to the participants (Morgan, 1998). As the researcher had both, she made the decision to use an independent moderator for the focus groups.

Focus Group Outcomes – The focus group outcome refers to the success of achieving the researcher’s goal. Fern, (2001), defined ‘outcome’ as:

”Task performance effectiveness (i.e. quality, quantity, and the cost of information);

The user’s reaction (i.e. satisfaction with the process and output), and;

Group member relations (i.e. cohesive, compatible, and lively groups)’

(Fern 2001).


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