This exercise asks you to collect and record data about the personal and unique meanings that people take from massage.
The purpose is to give you the experience of conducting qualitative research on a very small scale, so that from it, you get a sense of how researchers design and carry out studies to investigate a particular research question.
We're going to use an ethnographic interview, which is a qualitative research method. It's a way of interviewing people, usually one-on-one, to find out basic facts about their lives, how they understand the world around them, and possibly such things as what meaning they derive from it.
Designing your project
The research design for this project is fairly straightforward:
Decide on 2 or 3 people whom you would like to interview to learn what they think about massage, and what their experience with massage is.
Decide on the setting where you would like to interview them--invite them to your place, drop by theirs, invite them out for coffee, or whatever other setting works well for you to ask questions and note down their answers.
Invite people to participate in your study. Two or three is enough for this, as it is really a demo more than it is an actual project.
Make sure that before you interview anyone, they have signed and given you a copy of the consent form later in this post.
Meet them for the interview, and record their answers to your questions.
Write up their answers to your questions, and--making sure you observe accepted practices of confidentiality--tell us in the comments below what you wanted to explore, what questions you asked in order to explore that, what their answers are, what you think their answers tell you about the meaning they take from massage, and anything else about the process that strikes you as worth mentioning.
Primum non nocere--First, do no harm.
Remember that, as a healthcare professional and as a researcher--even in an exercise as small-scale as this one--you have a responsibility and a duty above all to protect the identities of the people you interview.
Before you share information with the rest of us in the POEM community, make sure that you have removed or shielded any information that would help people to figure out the identity of the people you interview.
Perhaps the most obvious thing to do first is to make sure you don't use someone's real name. But by itself, that may not be enough to protect the identity of your participants.
Consider, for example, the following description:
"Mary", an MT originally from Alabama who now lives in the Seattle area, and who speaks Cambodian and works with refugee clients...
That description is specific enough for people who know me to figure out that "Mary" is really me; changing the name was not enough to hide that fact.
Consider changing the sex and age of your participants, as well as any other relevant demographic characteristics, that will protect their identity. In a context where it doesn't affect the meaning of the results, a 27-year-old man can become a 50-year-old woman, if necessary for the sake of protecting confidentiality in a research project.
Change details in the interviews that don't affect the meaning of the answers your participants provide. For example, with 1684 residents, Oshoto, WY is small enough that people from there might know each other well enough to recognize each other's stories. So if I interviewed someone who said something like "When I was growing up in Oshoto, ...", then I would either change the name of the town, or I would remove it altogether and just report the person said "When I was growing up, ...".
Although your sample size in this exercise is so small that this may not be practical here, for future projects you might combine two or more people into a composite character, whose identity can't be guessed because that single individual doesn't exist.
Does this changing of facts feel somehow deceptive--enough so that you're wondering about the ethics of it all? If you're new to qualitative research, and it does feel that way, then that's a good thing, because it means that you're integrating previous ethical principles with what you're learning now about research, and you're pushing at the boundaries of what you know.
You're right that integrity is at the core of research, and--although this can feel somewhat deceptive--this way of protecting your participants is squarely at the heart of research integrity.
First of all, you are doing it to protect your participants--they do not need to fear embarrassment, financial consequences, or worse, because they shared information with you. Your focus is on the information itself; nothing will happen to the participants as a result of giving you their answers to your questions.
Second, you will be faithful in the information you provide. You will not make up characters that do not exist at all, and you will not make up answers or information that someone did not share with you.
You are not changing the heart of the content of the answers. Changing someone's birthplace from Oshoto, WY to Pinson, AL, for example, or leaving it out entirely, is a detail that does not substantively change what massage means to that person, which is what this exercise is about.
On the other hand, to totally invent a person who you didn't really interview, and then to report an answer that you made up as being from that person--that would be a major ethical breach of integrity. But you're not doing anything like that here--in changing the details of real people who really exist, and who really gave you those answers you are reporting, you're nowhere near that ethical lapse.
Think about how you are going to invite your participants to talk to you. You want this to be about them, not about their trying to please you by telling you what they think you want to hear, so give some thought to your questions before you sit down with them for an interview.
Closed-ended questions, where the person being interviewed has a limited set of responses to choose from--"yes" or "no" questions, for example--tend not to be as good for this purpose as open-ended questions.
"Do you think massage benefits you?" does not encourage someone to open up to you as "Tell me about what you think massage does for people."
Decide on the questions you want to ask, and think about what you will do if the discussion goes in very different ways from what you expect. Think about what you will be reporting in future, and keep that in mind as you are deciding on the questions you will ask.
Carrying out your project
A core foundational principle of research is that the person you're interviewing should be participating willingly, and should understand why they are participating. If that willingness changes, they are free to stop participating at any time they want to.
This consent form is based on the one available at this link.
You can paste this consent form into a document, and print out two copies--one for your interview participant to keep for themselves, and one to sign and give to you to keep.
I am aware that my participation in this interview is voluntary.
If, for any reason, at any time, I wish to stop the interview, I may do so without having to give an explanation.
I understand the intent and purpose of this research, and I understand that I will be asked about my understanding and experiences of massage.
I understand that I am free to expand on the topic or talk about related ideas.
I also understand that if there are any questions I would rather not answer or that I do not feel comfortable answering, then I have the choice of stopping the interview or moving on to the next question, whichever I prefer.
I understand that the information I provide will be used in a general way for a group online discussion of how people understand and experience massage, and that my identity will be kept confidential. Only the interviewer will know my identity; none of the other participants in the discussion of the answers to the interview questions will be aware of who I am.
I have been offered a copy of this consent form that I may keep for my own reference.
I have read the above form and, with the understanding that I can withdraw at any time and for whatever reason, I consent to participate in today's interview.
Participant's signature Date
Reporting on your project
In the comments to this story, please share your findings, and outline your evaluation of the interview.
Tell us how you approached the task, and what your key findings were.
In addition, think about the kinds of quantitative data you'd like to collect to boost your qualitative findings--what are your qualitative findings, what other processes do they point to, and how would you use quantative methods to investigate those processes?
Information sources on ethnographic interviewing
Design4Instruction: The Ethnographic Interview accessed 6 May 2012
Ethnomed: "Collecting Ethnographic Data: The Ethnographic Interview" accessed 6 May 2012
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Refugee and Disaster Response (CRDR) publication: Training in Qualitative Research Methods for Private Voluntary Organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations accessed 6 May 2012
Sakai Project article: "Ethnographic Interviews - Interviewing and Observing Users" accessed 6 May 2012
Wikipedia article "Ethnography" accessed 6 May 2012