A recipe for mixed-methods research

I couldn’t figure out why, but I really didn’t like the way Creswell & Plano-Clark (2011) like to create nice neat categories for mixed-methods research. Each category is a specific recipe for how you mix quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis methods. I don’t like the forced-structure, especially since the structure needs to be determined before you know what the data looks like. I’ve already discovered that I don’t like my research processes to be constrained. I’ve also struggled with the connection between pragmatism and mixed-methods research. If I’m a pragmatist, do I have to do mixed-methods research? Reading an article by Feilzer (2010) helped me realize that there really is a paradigm shift between positivism/post-positivism/constructivism and pragmatism. The whole idea of truth is different, and validity means something completely different (yet again). I’ve also been made aware that there are different perspectives on mixed-methods research, so I need to look a little further to see if something else fits my philosophy better.

The entire purpose of pragmatic research is the idea of doing what works. I easily grasped this idea. Throughout my reflections on epistemology, I always went back to the desire to build something concrete and to do research that has a direct affect on practice. Feilzer (2010) describes pragmatic research as:

Any inquiry begs the question of “what is it for” and “who is it for” and “how do the researchers'” values influence the research, and it is these questions that need to be considered by researchers to make inquiry more than an attempt to “mirror reality”. (p.8)

Feilzer helped me see that there is really a paradigm shift here – rather than research seeking to describe a “truth” about the world, which is what both post-positivism and constructivism seek, pragmatic research is about doing something useful. The focus is on utility rather than understanding. “Research should no longer aim to most accurately represent reality, to provide an ‘accurate account of how things are in themselves’ but to be useful, to ‘aim at utility for us’ (Rorty, 1999, p.xxvi)” (Feilzer, 2010, p.8). For me, reading this was an “ah-ha” moment. I had missed the real paradigm shift, the change from research as understanding to research as utility.

Feilzer also pointed out that “in its current form a lot of mixed methods research is confining itself to a presentation of findings by juxtaposition, that is, putting the data derived through different methods alongside each other and discussing findings separately” (2010, p.9). This aligned with what I had read about mixed-methods methodologies, and helped me realized that I didn’t like the constraints of mixed-methods recipes (such as, doing qualitative first then quantitative, etc). I realized that perhaps I should be looking into mixed-methods from a different perspective. I decided to buy a copy of Tashakkori & Teddlie (2009) to see if their perspective felt little more in-line with my philosophy than Creswell & Plano-Clark. In describing it to my husband (to justify the purchase of yet another textbook on methodology), I said that Creswell & Plano-Clark was like following a recipe when you didn’t know if you had all the ingredients. That is exactly what I’m struggling with, how can I determine a detailed methodology when I don’t know what the data will look like?

I could take the analogy a step further. Your research proposal is like your shopping list. There you need to describe what you intend to do and make your shopping list. When you go to the store (aka do your data collection), you discover that not all of your ingredients are available: your data doesn’t completely match your methodology. From a post-postivism or constructivist perspective, you either choose to ignore the missing data or substitute something similar in order to make the recipe work. From a pragmatic perspective you adapt the recipe itself (sometimes changing it into a completely different recipe) to better align with the ingredients you have.

For me, this analogy works on so many levels – because I am creative cook in the kitchen. I use recipes as guidelines to help me figure out what things might work together, but I adapt to the ingredients I have in the kitchen. I don’t like strictly adhering to the constraints of a recipe, especially when I know that I can improve upon it. Now, if only I could justify a flexible/adaptive methodology to my proposal committee!

References

Creswell, J. W., & Plano Clark, V. L. (2011). Designing and conducting mixed methods research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA, USA: Sage Publications Inc.

Feilzer, M. Y. (2009). Doing Mixed Methods Research Pragmatically: Implications for the Rediscovery of Pragmatism as a Research Paradigm. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 4(1), 6-16. doi:10.1177/1558689809349691

Teddlie, C. B., & Tashakkori, A. (2009). Foundations of mixed methods research: Integrating quantitative and qualitative approaches in the social sciences and behavioral sciences. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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