Mixing the methods and data – a better synthesis?

The final mixed methods workshop we had this week could not have been more timely. I like how this workshop is conducted at the end of semester because it kind of wraps up our understanding on a variety of research methods from previous workshops. 

MIxed methods workshop is unique in that it did not focus on how to use the method per se, but more on when to use it. This is because nothing new with the qualitative and quantitative methods. We already know what qualitative or quantitative methods to use. But, the challenge is how to integrate both methods to produce a useful synthesis that can answer our research questions in the most satisfying and justifiable ways.

Zaheer, the guest speaker this week, did mention about his experience using mixed methods which I find to have some resemblance with my research question (at least for now). His research question was ‘how do open source communities communicate and organise their actions in developing software?’. Similarly, I formulate my research question as ‘how do geographical-based communities (e.g. Jakarta) use social media to build resilience towards sustainable development?’. These questions share the same interest on investigating ‘the process’ or ‘ways’ communities do to achieve a particular goal.

It is interesting that a research question that starts with ‘How’ can either be approached through quantitative, qualitative or mixed-method research. In Zaheer’s case, he used content analysis as the quantitative way of analysing the data and followed that up with coding and thematic analysis to come up with interpretation of the data.

In fact, he could have gone totally quantitative by employing text mining approaches. But, he deliberately chose a more interpretivist way of analysing the data because he felt that it was the way to go in answering the research question. He also did not use grounded theory because he admitted that he was pre-occupied already with Habermas’s theory of communicative action that would inform his data analysis. This also resonates with my current obsession with sociomateriality in IS as informed by the work of Orlikowski, Scott, Leonardi, and many others. 

In my case, I imagine I would also deal with some text data from Twitter, Facebook, or other social media platforms that are relevant with the community I plan to study. These data are so rich they can be analysed and treated as numbers (quantitative) or interpreted through coding scheme as a qualitative study. Both ways of analysing social media data are emerging. There are a lot of conferences and journals emphasise the quantitative study of social media through techniques such as social network analysis. Likewise, studies that use qualitative methods such as coding and interpreting text data in analysing social media have also grown tremendously. 

I think whether I am going to use mixed methods or not is still too premature for me to decide at the moment. This is because I haven’t really formulated a neat, theory-driven, well-scoped, method-directed, and unambiguous research question in my thesis. I know what I am going to research about, the potential type of data, and some of the relevant theoretical lenses. But, it will be some time until I am confident with what research method I will be using. All in all, I can see how mixed methods can be relevant to my study and I hope see this link clearer as I go into my research further.

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