ask a scatterbrain: qualitative informants

I’m posting this question for a friend. I suggested for a project she’s working on that she consider asking focus group participants about what they think others might say about the same issues. The idea is to think about these (relatively few) respondents as informants about the field in which they move. In this case, the focus groups are with health-care providers, typically doctors, and she wants to ask them to what extent they’d expect their own concerns to be similar or different to the concerns of other providers they know.

She’s proposing this strategy to her funder, but I can’t provide citations where people have argued for and/or used it. I see it as asking people to report on their networks and fields instead of just their own experiences.

Any pointers? Thanks.

Author: andrewperrin

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

3 thoughts on “ask a scatterbrain: qualitative informants”

  1. If I follow your question, I think Jepperson and Swidler (“What Properties of Culture Should We Measure?” 1994) cover this. Here’s the quote (p. 366):

    Consider for instance three different kinds of response that one can ask individuals for using a survey instrument (these options are not exhaustive). One can ask for:
    (1) a report of the respondent’s own preference or volition on an object or issue (e.g., for an attitude about race relations);
    (2) an assessment of the opinion of others on this issue (e.g., for an estimation of how racist others are);
    (3) an impression of what proper or legitimate opinion on this issue would be (e.g., for a report of what one can and can’t readily say in public).

    Each of these alternatives obviously employs an individual (and thus aggregate) form of measurement. Yet they generate aggregate data that would address
    different theoretical properties of culture. Responses to the first item above if aggregated produce a measure of ‘public opinion’ as normally conceived. Answers
    to the second item produce an indirect measure of one form of ‘collective representation’. Answers to the third produce one measure of ‘norms’. The point is that a level of measurement can address multiple elements (and theoretical levels) of culture.


  2. also, i’ve read somewhere (but who knows where – perhaps a very old treatise on interviewing by Payne??) that this is a good way of getting at controversial/generalized opinions, and skirting demand characteristics. eg, someone might report that *they* are ok with interracial marriage, but that the *other people* in the group wouldn’t be.

    even if that’s not what she’s getting at, it seems a useful interview question to suss out pet peeves that can derail an interview when the interviewee may be fully aware it’s just him/her.

    i would not guess that this line of interviewing would go very DEEP, though – a few generalized comments, maybe you could get an interviewee to give one example, then i’d guess they’d be about done talking about other people.


  3. As a professional qualitative researcher, asking the question about others is fine. It is an NLP technique. The depth comes from the follow-up questions you ask. Be warned, doctors are a very tough group to run groups with and they will run all over you if they think you are inexperienced!
    Hope this helps.


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