We recently attended a two-day hybrid workshop about mixed methods in interdisciplinary health research facilitated by Dr. Chad Hammond at the University of Ottawa. This workshop aimed to prepare students to design mixed methods research projects through blended learning (online + in-class) activities. Four modules were covered in this workshop including; comparing different forms of health research, purposeful mixed methods designs, articulating mixed methods research plans and ethics in mixed health research. Around 20 graduate students from different faculties took part in the workshop. All of us read assigned articles and book chapters before each session and reflected on our understandings in the online discussion thread and class. In the workshops, we also wrote a one-page proposal using mixed methods and then reviewed others’ assignments.
In this blog, we share our knowledge and reflection on some basic questions in mixed methods research.
What is a mixed methods study?
Different terms have been used for mixed methods, such as integrating, synthesis, quantitative and qualitative methods, multi-method, and mixed methodology, however latest studies tend to use the term mixed methods (Tashakkori & Teddlie, 2010). Four key features in the definition of a mixed methods study are: 1. Collecting and analyzing qualitative and quantitative data in response to research questions; 2. Using rigorous qualitative and quantitative methods, 3. Combining or integrating quantitative and qualitative data using a specific type of mixed methods design, 4. Framing the mixed methods design within a broader framework. For better understanding, we use a metaphoric example here. If we consider a mixed methods study as an orchestra, the researcher would be the conductor. The conductor leads different instruments players (e.g. string and percussion instruments) in the team to play the symphony (feature 1). Symphony will be performed well, if both string and percussion instruments are played well (feature 2). Also, the conductor needs to lead these two different instruments players to be synchronized or integrated (feature 3). Lastly, every instrument player in the orchestra should has the same understanding about the symphony. In order to coach a musical group efficiently, the conductors not only need to focus on their own written compositions, but also have to consider a bigger picture of the symphony (feature 4).
Why do we need a mixed methods study?
This question is actually based on the question “what is the nature of evidence that we use to study research questions?” We use the NBA (National Basketball Association) player Andre Iguodala as an example. If we are the managers in the team “Warriors” and want to know whether he is an important player or not, what nature of evidence could we use to answer this question? We could use the quantitative data, such as “scoring points”, “assists”, “stealing”, “rebounds” and “blocks”, to evaluate him. As a result, he scored few points, snagged few rebounds, stole few balls and dished out few assists. Based on these, we might decide to trade or resign him in 2015 regular season. However, if we went into the NBA court and observed his play, we might make different decision. He occupied the room for his teammates to grab the rebound easily, blocked opponent’s vision with hand, and talked to his teammates to organize the ball passing. All of the qualitative evidence is supplemented to the quantitative. Finally, we decided to keep Iguodala in the team just like what “Warriors” did in 2015 regular season. As a result, in the playoff games, he played a significantly important role in the team and “Warriors” won the first championship in the team’s history. In conclusion, we use quantitative or/and qualitative data to study research questions. Mixed methods could help us to combine both of quantitative and qualitative data and get a better understanding of research the question.
How to design a mixed methods study?
Designing a mixed methods study is not just about the method. It is actually designing your stance, purpose and the integration approach (Greene, 2007). You could integrate different methodologies, methods or findings in one paradigm and theoretical framework (Greene, 2007). Or you even could integrate different paradigms or theoretical framework (Greene, 2007). So you have so many choices. But you need to provide a strong defense for your decision and keep the consistency through all the process in your research.
Although mixed methods design could be complicated, there are three basic ways to integrate quantitative and qualitative data (Figure 1). The first one is convergent design; collecting and analyzing quantitative data (e.g. questionnaire and statistics) and qualitative data (e.g. interview and content analysis) at the same time, and then synthesize, compare and interpret both findings from the quantitative and qualitative parts. The second one is explanatory sequential design. We will start by collecting quantitative data. And then we will design the qualitative design from the results. So the quantitative results will be further explained by the qualitative data and the results. When the sequence of the quantitative and qualitative part is reversed, it will become the third one, exploratory sequential design. We will start by collecting qualitative data to explore the findings. And then we will use the findings to develop the quantitative data collection. So the whole idea in this design is qualitative exploration leads to a quantitative test.
Figure 1. Three basic ways to combine or integrate quantitative and qualitative data
Today’s research world is becoming interdisciplinary, complex, and dynamic. As our research is focused on pain, and pain experience is a bio-psycho-social phenomenon, mixed methods could be an approach to provide a better understanding of pain.
If you are looking for more information about mixed methods, we recommend the chapter and the example article recommended by Dr. Chad Hammond.
Creswell, J.W. et al. (2013). Best practices for mixed methods research in the health sciences. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health.
Fetters MD, Yoshioka T, Greenberg GM, Gorenflo DW, Yeo S. (2007). Advance consent in Japanese during prenatal care for epidural anesthesia during childbirth. J Mix Methods Res. 1, 333–65.
Greene, J. (2007). Chs. 5, 6, 7. In Mixed methods in social inquiry. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Tashakkori, A., & Teddlie, C. (Eds.). (2010). SAGE handbook of mixed methods in social and behavioral research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
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