Qualitative Methods in Political Sciences

Qualitative Methods in Political Sciences




Introduction and Background

With the number of older people increasing as a proportion of the population in the UK, the Government is concerned that it will not meet the cost of pensions. The National Insurance (NI) fund continues to reduce in capacity because an aging population indicates fewer people paying in via NI contributions, while withdrawals are made by majority of people through the state-owned pension payments (Morey, 2014). It has been found that the percentage of young people below the age of 40 taking private pensions has diminished. Based on statistics by the Central Statistics Office, “Only 36% of workers aged between 25 and 34 years of age had pension coverage in 2015, compared to just under half (49%) in 2009” (Kavanagh, 2016, p. 1). In addition, only 14% of workers in the UK of the ages between 20 and 24 years have been covered by pension schemes. Thus, the number of persons covered under the private pension has continue to decline, which is a challenge to NI and the government in terms of its ability to meet its pension costs. As the number of the elderly in need of pension increases, the UK’s young people are faced with a huge pension shortfall (Collinson, 2015). 

The research proposal places more emphasis on the methodological aspects of the research project proposed. The outline of the qualitative research strategy and design are the research strategy adopted, qualitative research methods, unsuitable methods, and analysis of collected data, ethical considerations, and a conclusion. The purpose of this project is to develop a research strategy and design that investigates why uptake of pensions among the young people is declining with the view to engineering an increase in the future.

Research Strategy Adopted

Research strategy is a method that is used to assist the researcher while investigating a research issue. Saunders, Lewis, and Thornhill (2003) pointed out that a research strategy is simply the general plan that is used to help a researcher answer the proposed research questions in a systematic manner. An effective research strategy is composed of clear objectives, data collection resources, research questions, and different constraints that have effect on the research in various ways such as time limitations, access limitations and money limitations, as well as the ethical issue constraints. Research strategy is helpful because it provides the researcher with the ability to use particular data collection methods required to support the arguments established (Saunders 2003).

The research questions for the proposed research are: Why is the uptake of pensions declining in the UK and what measures can be used to increase it in the future? The objectives are to:

1)    Investigate why uptake of pensions is declining in the UK, especially among young adults.

2)    Determine the views of pensioners on why the UK’s government may not meet the cost of pensions.

Creswell (2009) pointed out that the research design and sampling strategies are part of strategy and they have ethical implications to a research study (Parjares, 2007).  De Vaus (2001) noted that “the function of a research design is to ensure that the evidence obtained enabled us to answer the initial question as unambiguously as possible” (p. 9).  Thus, a qualitative research design is suitable in this scenario because it could provide a better understanding of the phenomenon. Saunders et al. (2009) added that a design enhances the collection of the required outcomes. Explanatory approach will be employed in this study because the researcher could identify for key ideas, words, and themes that align with the aim of the study (Creswell, 1998; Wash & Wigens, 2003).  The Explanatory research design entails an interpretive approach to the subject under the study and it offers a platform that could be used to make sense of phenomena (Denzin & Lincoln, 2003). The research design is also suitable because it focuses majorly on why reasons. For instance, it can provide explanations related to why uptake of pensions is declining with the view to engineering an increase in the future. The Explanatory approach is suitable because it connects ideas and opinions of the participants to have an understanding of the cause and effect. In addition, it is used to achieve great validity and reliability of the study findings (George and Bennett, 2005; Ragin, 2008).

A convenience sampling technique is to be selected whereby a sample of 40 participants in the UK, especially London will be selected. Older people with pension schemes will be conducted and young adults who have not taken private pensions to establish the reasons for not. The participants will volunteer to be part of this study. Convenience sampling is selected in comparison to other sampling strategies because it will allow a researcher to select participants based on their convenient and accessibility. The setback associated with convenience sampling is its inability to present the targeted population fully (Gravetter & Forzano, 2014). However, the study is qualitative and generalization is not required.

Ethics considered during the selection and recruitment process were related to informed consent, privacy, and confidentiality. For instance, prior data collection, the participants will be informed of the study’s purpose, and consent will besought. The researcher will also make sure that participation by the participants is voluntary, and no incentives to be used. The participants are at liberty to leave the study during particular point, and the study will not be affected.  Complete confidentially and anonymity is to be ensured by concealing the true identities of all the participants.  To make sure that all the participants have an understanding of the study undertaken, a letter from the college’s ethical committee detailing the study will be provided.  The resources applicable in the study entail an interview schedule, a laptop, focus groups schedules, and financial resources.

Qualitative Research Methods

The most three qualitative methods are participant observations, focus groups, and in-depth interviews. Each method is used different when collecting data and information required answering the research questions the two qualitative research methods, which are considered suitable for your project are focus groups, and in-depth interviews.

In-Depth Interviews

In-depth interviews are optimal research method used when collecting data on individual’s personal histories experiences, perspectives, and views. According to Gill, Stewart, Treasure and Chadwick (2008), research interviews can be unstructured, semi-structured and structured.  Gill et al (2008) pointed out that “Structured interviews are, essentially, verbally administered questionnaires, in which a list of predetermined questions are asked, with little or no variation and with no scope for follow-up questions to responses that warrant further elaboration” (p. 292). Conversely, unstructured interviews are designed such that any preconceived ideas and are not reflected (Silverman, 2000). Lastly, Semi-structured interviews comprise of numerous key questions that assist to defining the areas that need exploration, but also makes it easier for the interviewer as well as the interviewee to diverge so as to pursue a response or an idea in more detail (Easterby-Smith, Thorpe, Lowe, 2008). With regard to this proposal, face-to face in-depth interviews that are semi-structured will be used to collect data from the targeted audience. This is because interviews are easy to undertake, are time saving, and effective when collecting qualitative data (Easterby-Smith et al, 2008).

Rationale for Using Interviews

The qualitative interview has been chosen because it is characterised by dialogue, open-ended questioning and discussion between the interviewer and the interviewee (Payne 2000; Stroh 2000). In addition, the primary purpose of semi-structured interviews is to specifically explore the views, beliefs, experiences, and motivations of persons on particular matters. For example, it is applied to explored decline in the number of pensioners, especially young adults. Qualitative methods, like semi-structured interviews provide a 'deeper' understanding of the issue under the study and in this case, it can be effective in addressing the scenario. Moreover, it is hard to understand the phenomenon from a purely quantitative method, including the use of questionnaire (Easterby-Smith et al, 2008). Interviews are, thus, most suitable because little is already known with regard to the study phenomenon.

The discursive nature of semi-structured interview allows the researcher to have answers related to ‘why?’ and ‘how’ questions in this study (Stroh 2000). Collis and Hussey (2003) have pointed that semi-structured interview schedules used in face-to-face- interviews though limited in provision of statistical data, when used in social sciences they provide the researcher with the ability to probe more compared to questionnaires (Zikmund, 2003). For example, when an investigator has limited understanding of an answer, there is always a room to probe and get a better understanding what the interviewee meant. Interviews are tape-recorded, transcribed and the responses used to make comparisons and contrast in order to derive major themes. The interviews will be conducted for a period of 30 minutes and this provides the researcher with the opportunity to fully probe and have the questions answered. Semi-structured interviews compared to structured interviews are suitable because the interviewees are not forced to choose between alternative answers given by the interviewer.

Limitations of In-depth Interviews

The semi-structured interviews allow interviewees to provide different answers, which make it hard to directly compare the outcomes of in-depth interviews because each of them provides unique answers (Gill et al., 2008). This problem will be solved by content analysis to derive the major themes from the interviews. The interviews can be time-consuming, but each interviewer will be allocated approximately 30 minute. Lastly, a small sample will be used (40 participants), and this makes it hard to generalize the findings. However, given that the research is qualitative in nature, there is no need for ensuring that the results are representative of the population (University of Portsmouth, 2010).

Focus Groups and Rationale

Powell, Single, and Lloyd (1996) defined a focus group as “a group of individuals selected and assembled by researchers to discuss and comment on, from personal experience, the topic that is the subject of the research” (p. 499). Thus, Focus groups are qualitative methods that are based on group interviewing. Focus groups and different from group interviewing in that they focus on interaction between participants within the group, while the later emphasis on answering questions as a group (Morgan 1997). For instance in this case scenario two focus groups will be developed: one consisting of young adults (20), and the second composed of elderly persons (20).  A moderator will be responsible for asking the research questions and getting definitive answers. The focus groups are more qualitative than quantitative because they concentrate on the participants’ views and opinions. The focus groups are easy to carry out, saves time, and effective especially when qualitative data is needed (Easterby-Smith et al., 2008). Nonetheless, they can be time-consuming. In this scenario, the focus groups will be carried out in a peaceful environment in order to ensure an effective discussion of the problem (Saunders et al., 2007).

The primary purpose of using focus group research method for this study is to draw upon the participant’s feelings, attitudes, beliefs, reactions, experiences and reactions in a manner that other methods such as observation or questionnaire surveys could not (University of Portsmouth, 2010). The opinions and experiences of pensioners may be different but via a social setting, they could be revealed. Compared to face-to-face interviews, focus groups prompt a multiplicity of emotional processes and views within the context of a group. Compared to observations, the use of focus group will allow the researcher to gather information related to a phenomenon in a shorter period of time. Focus groups are mainly suitable given power differences between the different sets of groups involved in the study (University of Portsmouth, 2010).

Limitations of Focus Groups

The individuals’ part of a focus group will be expressing their personal definitive view. Thus, the will be speaking in a particular context, and so sometimes it may be challenging for the researcher to have a fully understanding personal message. To counter this limitation, an experienced moderator with experience in the field will be used.  On a practical note, it could be challenging to assemble focus groups. In addition, it may be difficult to have a representative sample; hence, focus groups discourage particular persons from participating. The research method of focus group discussion discourages people from have trust on others with regard to personal information. As a final point, focus groups are not entirely confidential as well as anonymous, because information is shared within the group (University of Portsmouth, 2010).

Ethical considerations for interviews and focus groups are similar to other methods used in social research. For instance, when selecting and recruiting the participants, researchers have to ensure confidentiality and privacy of the participants. Thus, the researcher will not write down the full names of the participants, but rather their first names. A particular ethical issue that may arise and must be considered when using focus groups is dealing with sensitive material as well as confidentiality because of the different number of participants in the group (University of Portsmouth, 2010). To solve this limitation, the moderator will clarify the contributions of each participant. In addition, during the focus group session, the participants will be encouraged to keep confidential and private what they hear during the meeting. On the other hand, the researcher has the responsibility of anonymising the data from the group and interviews.

Unsuitable Method for the Project

One of the unsuitable qualitative research methods that cannot be used in this project is a participant observation. This method is suitable for collection of data related naturally occurring behaviours experienced in usual contexts. Participant’s observation is a method that allows the researcher to observe the behaviours of people being in a natural setting.  Techniques for collecting data via observation are written descriptions, video recording, artifacts and photographs as well as documentations. Although applicable in social sciences, participant’s observations cannot be suitable for this proposal because it creates a room for subjective interpretation. Saunders and Thornhill (2009) found that an investigator when using this method plays a clandestine role or engages as a full participant, or observer. Given the nature of this proposal, observation is unsuitable because a researcher cannot investigate the current decline in pension by young adults by just observing a sample of them (Saunders, Lewis & Thornhill 2003). Moreover, observation entails undertaking a research in natural settings and involves the researcher taking descriptive and lengthy notes of what is taking place. Thus, because the investigator makes the observations, it can become a challenge to collect reliable data because of the ethical issues related to privacy and confidentiality.

It is also argued that there are limitations to the situations found in their 'natural' settings and that the research may lead to complications with validity. The limitations of observation include: (i) possible change of the people’s behaviour especially when they know they are observed; (ii) provides a snapshot view of the entire situation; (iii) there is a possibility of missing something when an investigator watching and at the same time taking notes; and (iv) there is a likelihood that an investigator could make own judgements thus interfering with the validity and reliability of the results (Saunders et al., 2003). Nonetheless, participants observations has some strengths: it provides information on what is happening; provides an insight on the whole picture; demonstrate sub-groups; and can be applied to help in designing a research study (Gill & Johnson, 2010).

Although Participant’s Observation can be more reliable about certain things such as the manner in which people behave, this method does not give reasons related why they behaved in a specific way. People can be observed (Gill, Stewart, Treasure & Chadwick, 2008). Based on the limitations and weaknesses of this research method, then the investigator cannot use observations to answer the research questions

Analysis of the Findings

The findings will be analysed qualitatively via the use of thematic and content analyses (Braun & Clarke, 2006). The content analysis will ensure that primary contents recorded from the interviews and focus groups will be used in terms of quotes. The interviews audio recorded will be listened and transcribed and the outcomes stored in a safe and secure place which is accessible from third parties. In addition, they will be stored under lock and key as well as a password protected laptop to safeguard the privacy and confidentiality of the participants.  The content analysis will be used to describe written, spoken as well as visual communication between the interviewer and the participants.  The coding process will be applied to develop a matrix of common concepts, words, phrases or concepts that appear to have been repeated in the transcripts (Braun & Clarke, 2006). The researcher will read the transcripts over and over, to establish the links between the themes and make validity and reliability of the findings (Smith, 2008; Smith 2015).  The main challenge linked with thematic analysis is time consumption, because it limits the researcher in terms of the number of participants.

Conclusion of Design and Methodology

            The research methodology used will be used to answer the question: Why is the uptake of pensions declining in the UK and what measures can be used to increase it in the future. The explanatory research will be used because there is little understanding of the phenomenon and it can be used to answer the research questions. The research design is effective in answering the why questions and it provides a basis for providing solutions to the scenarios. Also, the convenience sampling used is suitable because it only targets persons of interest in this study.

            The study design and methods are limited in terms of time and sample constraints. For example, the time for data collection could be short, while a small sample of 40 subjects is proposed in spite of the people living in London. Nevertheless, the research method used (interviews and focus groups) will allows probing and the participants can explain their answers when the researcher feels that they are not exhaustive. Given that the time proposed is 30 minutes for the semi-structured interviews, the research may not have adequate time to probe. Time will likely be wasted when undertaking thematic and content analysis because the transcripts will have to be read more than once.



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