Chapter 10: Qualitative Data Collection & Analysis Methods

10.4 Other Qualitative Data Collection Methods

In the following sections we will look at some traditional (e.g., focus groups) and not-so-traditional (oral & research histories, and videography) data collection techniques often associated with interviews and qualitative research methods.

Focus groups

When multiple respondents participate in an interview at the same time, this is referred to as a focus group interview. Occasionally more than one interviewer may be present as well. Focus groups can be an excellent way to gather information because topics or questions that had not occurred to the researcher may be brought up by other participants in the group. Having respondents talk with and ask questions of one another can be an excellent way of learning about a topic; not only might respondents ask questions that had not occurred to the researcher, but the researcher can also learn from respondents’ body language around and interactions with one another. There are some unique ethical concerns associated with collecting data in a group setting.

Oral histories

An oral history is a less traditional form of data collection that can take the form of an interview. Its purpose is to record, in writing, material that might otherwise be forgotten by those who are unlikely to create a written record or produce archival materials (Fontana & Frey, 2003; Reinharz, 1992). It involves interviewing people about their past to ensure that their history is not lost and is therefore available to future generations (Palys & Atchison, 2014).

History is broadly defined as everything that happened before this moment in time (Palys & Atchison, 2014). The fact that we do not know everything about history has not prevented historians from studying what has happened in the past. Indeed, the only way to study history is to examine the artifacts that remain. When we speak about artifacts, it is not just those we can tangibly see, touch and/or taste. It also includes other types of artifacts, such as oral histories. Generally, there are two types of oral histories: Aboriginal oral histories and oral history in research. In the following sections we will briefly examine both of these methods (Palys & Atchison, 2014).

Palys and Atchison (2014) attempt to explain oral history in research by an analogy to a box that contains historical facts. As they explain, the box is filled with items that have been placed there by historians who have taken the time to document them and place them in the box. However, it is the selection of some items and not others that Palys and Atchison refer to as “one of the tragedies of history.” They say this because interesting and important facts will remain outside our realm of knowledge, due to the fact that someone did not place those facts into the box (p. 156).

In addition to what issues go into the box, there is also the issue of power and access to the box. As Palys and Atchison (2014) observe, some people have better access to the box than others. For example, governments, the wealthy, the powerful, the upper classes of society, and the educated all have more ease of access to the box than others. Similarly, throughout the course of history, men have had better access to the box than women. Consequently, when we read historical accounts from, e.g.,  17th century England, we are reading historical accounts from the points of view of the wealthy, the upper classes, the powerful, the educated, and the males of that time period. The historical accounts of the poor, the lower classes, females, those without power, and the uneducated often did not make it into the box.

The University of Toronto has an excellent website with an emphasis on primary sources and more than 2,700 collections of oral histories in English from around the world (see

Aboriginal oral histories

Figure 10.1: NEyēʔ Sqȃ’lewen staff at pit cook, Camosun College, 2016.

Fig 10.1: Camas Pit Cook Oct 27 2016-071 by Camosun College AV Services © CC BY-NC (Attribution NonCommercial)

European and non-Aboriginal peoples’ reliance on written documentation and written archival material has led to the assumption that the lack of written documentary evidence related to the history of Aboriginal people means there is “no history” (see Wolfe, 1982). On the contrary, Aboriginal cultures have been quite successful in preserving their history, despite their reliance upon oral histories. Indeed, each new generation was tasked with accurately remembering and preserving the historical stories passed down from previous generations (Palys & Atchison, 2014). The accuracy of the oral history rests on two facts. First, the memories were not merely recollections of stories. Rather, they were the lived memorialization and verbatim accounts that were repeated throughout the ages. Second, the stories are shared in the context of the potlatch (feast) system, where each speaker provides a recounting of the history of his or her clan, including the clan´s territories and the way its crests and songs were acquired. As Palys and Atchison (2014) note, anyone attending these feasts could challenge the presented oral history, and, as such, this public sharing of a clan´s history helped to preserve the histories.  Consequently, it is not uncommon to find that the oral histories told today are much the same as those recorded by anthropologists at the turn of the 20th century (Palys & Atchison, 2014).


Like an interview, videography can be an effective means for collecting data, both during researcher/ participant interviews and during focus groups. However, videography can also be employed to collect data in more natural settings and, therefore, is a popular tool for those undertaking ethnographic studies (Asan & Montangue). While videography has been under-utilized, mainly due to confidentiality and privacy issues, it has many benefits as a data collection tool (Asan & Montangue, 2015). It can accurately record events, enable researchers to verify their observations through multiple raters, and permit the researcher to repeatedly review the video record. It is particularly valuable for measuring performance (Seagull & Guerlain, 2003) and verifying self-reported behaviours against observed behaviours (Asan & Montangue, 2015). Researchers have also used videography to capture more detailed data, such as body language and gazing direction (see Kumarapeli & Lusignan, 2013; Leong, Koczan, de Lusignan & Sheeler, 2006).

Effectively using videography to collect data requires the careful construction of effective research questions, and the identification of the type of data required. Both of these steps will inform the study design (Asan & Montangue, 2015) and are primary considerations at the outset of any study. Choosing to employ videography to collect data also requires knowledge of cameras, including the various types of cameras, the various levels of quality and functions, and positioning of cameras–things that appear easy but are crucial to ensuring that the video has captured what you wanted (see Asan & Montangue, 2015).

Asan and Montangue (2015) developed a series of helpful steps to ensure a successful video study. See Table 10.1

Table 10.1 Steps for a successful video study (adapted from Asan & Montangue, 2015

Conceptualizing the study

  1. Choose an appropriate research question that can be answered by video data.
  2. Identify the potential time frame of the study.
  3. Decide on the scope of the data collection.
  4. Decide on any additional data collection instruments, such as interviews and surveys.
  5. Decide on the required number of personnel for data collection.
  6. Decide how to link the data from video recording with other interview and survey data.
  7. Choose method to analyze the data (quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods).

Legal and Ethical issues

  1. Ensure that the study meets with ethical guidelines for human participant’s research.
  2. Describe all details of the procedure of the study.
  3. Comply with all legal requirements for recording in real environments.
  4. Obtain legal consent for video recording.
  5. Ensure all privacy and confidentiality issues related to the preservation of participants’ identification, and identifiable video data storage are addressed.
  6. Complete and comply with all local regulations regarding eligibility for human subject research.
  7. Submit IRB application and gain final approval in order to start the project.

Participants and Sampling

  1. Determine the number of participants you need.
  2. Determine the unit of analysis and sampling frame that will most effectively help answer your research question (e.g.:, Do you need a certain number of participants? How will you recruit your participants? Will you randomly recruit the participants or will they have certain eligibility requirements, such as people within a certain age range? Will participants be paid?).
  3. Inform all participants about the benefits and risks of your study.
  4. Conduct the recruitment as planned in the IRB.
  5. Get informed consent from all people who agree to participate in the study

Data Collection and Management

  1. Decide on all technical specifications of the equipment you need.
  2. Choose an appropriate high-quality camera or cameras.
  3. Choose the best audio recording style (built into camera or separate).
  4. Determine the camera layout of the room; get the best angle to ensure a clear view of the participants.
  5. Establish a protocol for recording the interactions.
  6. Maximize the captured area by adjusting the camera angle.
  7. Create protocols to link the data.
  8. Sync the audio and video data for the analysis.
  9. Determine protocols for storing video recordings.
  10. Secure the hard drives for privacy protection.
  11. Back up the data.
  12. Train all researchers, camera persons, interviewers, and other members of the research team.

Data analysis

  1. Review the quality of all data.
  2. Identify the software you will be using to analyze the data.
  3. Clearly distinguish the research questions and analyze accordingly.
  4. Create coding schemes to analyze the video based on the variable of interest.
  5. Conduct a pilot run/trial analysis after collecting the data from a smaller sample to prevent potential mismatch.

One of the most significant concerns related to collecting data via video is confidentiality of the participants. Most institutional research ethics boards require that researchers outline how they will ensure participant confidentiality. Outlining how video data will be collected, how it will be stored, who will have access to it, and at what point and how it will be destroyed, are important considerations for all researchers. Assan and Montangue (2015) outline a variety of pros and cons for those wishing to collect data via video. See Table 10.2.

Table 10.2 The pros and cons of collecting data via video (adapted from Assan & Montangue, 2015)

Traditional Observational Method Enables rich data

Can capture events before and after the consultations

Allows researcher to ask follow up questions during the observation

More effective while shadowing a specific person in multiple locations

Researcher is able to see all space in the room

Gives opportunity to concentrate on one individual continuously

Effective for medical students for training purposes

Allows researchers to capture activities in much of their complexity in their natural settings over an extended period of time

Allows for scientific rigor when conducted by trained researchers

Can be reviewed by both researchers and participants, increasing the scope of interpretation

Researcher may be intrusive

Aspects of interactions may be missed

Does not allow for data validation through cross-coding

Prior work is necessary to prepare organized and standard observation tools

Hard to catch nonverbal cues during the encounter

Cannot capture all interactions in a complex clinical environment such as a surgical room

Possibility of Hawthorne effect

Prior training of observers necessary

Cognitive workload for observers

Low inter-rater reliability

Video Method Less intrusive method for data collection (avoiding the observer effect)

Provides enough detail to analyze the work environment and human interactions qualitatively and quantitatively

Allows researchers to analyze events retrospectively

Allows researchers to capture simultaneous complex interactions

Allows researchers to review consultations repeatedly

Creates a permanent and complete record

Potential for multiple viewing/ reviewing

Higher inter-rater reliability (with the help of practice coding)

Can be used to establish connections between perceptions and the observed activities during the visit

Retains the captured data with no loss of its richness for reviewing

Enables self-evaluation and reflection

Generates a large amount of data

Allows researchers to capture activities in much of their complexity in their natural settings over an extended period of time

Allows for scientific rigor when conducted by trained researchers

Can be reviewed by both researchers and participants, increasing the scope of


Reviewing and coding video data is labor intensive

Requires additional IRB procedures

Raises concerns about the discoverability and confidentiality of participants

Additional equipment cost

Additional data management concerns

Aggregation can be difficult and intrusive

It can limit range of settings

Possibility of Hawthorne effect1

Higher overall cost

To learn more about the use of video for research, here is the link to an excellent resource produced by Jewitt (2012) for the National Centre for research methods:

The Hawthorne effect describes the tendency of people to modify their behaviour because they know they are being studied.  This is a particular challenge of social experiments and such behaviour changes can distort a study´s findings (Payne & Payne, 2004).