Data Accuracy, Reliability and Triangulation in Qualitative Research

As a researcher, you might want to make sure that whatever information you gather in the field can be depended upon. How will you be able to ensure that your data is accurate and reliable? This article explains the importance of verifying information through a technique called triangulation.

Data Accuracy and Reliability

Do you know what the GIGO rule is? GIGO is acronym for Garbage In, Garbage Out. This rule was popular in the early periods of computer use where whatever you input into the computer is processed without question.

Data accuracy and reliability are very important concerns in doing good research because inaccurate and unreliable data lead to spurious or wrong conclusions. If, for some reason, you inadvertently input wrong data into the computer, output will still be produced. But of course, the results are erroneous because the data entered is faulty. It is also possible that you input the data correctly but then the data does not reflect what you really want to measure.

Thus, it is always good practice to review whatever data you have before entering it into your computer through a software application like a spreadsheet or a statistical software. Each data should be verified for accuracy and must be input meticulously. Once entered, the data, again, must be reviewed for accuracy. An extra zero in whatever number you entered in a cell will affect the resulting graph or correlation analysis. Or data input into the wrong category can destroy data reliability.

This data verification strategy will work for quantitative data which are obtained mainly through the application of standardized measurement scales such as nominal or categorical, ordinal, interval, and ratio. The latter two measurements offer the most accurate measurement scales by which the data obtained will allow for sound statistical analysis. Although measurement data will vary between observers as some researchers apply a meticulous approach to what they are doing while some do it casually, the errors of measurement can be controlled to a certain degree.

In the case of qualitative research, which in nature is highly subjective, there are also ways by which data can be verified or validated. This is through the so-called triangulation method.

What is the Triangulation Method?

Triangulation is one of the popular research tools that researchers commonly use in an attempt to verify the accuracy of data obtained from the field. As the word connotes, it refers to the application of three approaches or methods to verify data.

Why three? This works just like a global positioning system or GPS where you need at least three satellites to tell you your exact location. Simply put, this just means that you need not only one source of information to provide answers to your questions. And at least three should be put to practical use.

At best, the questions you pose in qualitative research represent people’s viewpoints, and these viewpoints should be verified through other means. If it so happened that you have only one source of information and that information is false, then that becomes 100% erroneous. Consequently, your conclusions are faulty. Having several information sources give researchers confidence that the data they are getting approximates the truth.

Data

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Methods of Triangulation in Qualitative Research

The most common methods used as a demonstration of triangulation are the household interview or HHI, key informant interview (KII), and focus group discussion (FGD). These approaches rely on the information provided by a population of respondents with a predetermined set of characteristics, knowledgeable individuals, and a multi-sectoral group, respectively.

HHI utilizes structured questionnaires administered by trained interviewers to randomly selected individuals, usually the household head as the household representative. It is a rapid approach to getting information from a subset of the population in an attempt to describe the characteristics of the general population. The data obtained are largely approximations and highly dependent on the honesty of the respondents.

Second, the KII approach obtains information from key informants. A key informant is someone who is expected to be well-familiar with issues and concerns besetting the community. Almost always, the key informants are elders or someone who had lived the most and familiar with community dynamics or changes in the community through time.

Third, FGD elicits responses from representatives of the different sectors of society. These representatives are usually called the stakeholders, meaning, they have a stake or are influenced by whatever issue or concern is being investigated. Fishers, for example, are affected by the establishment of protected areas in their traditional fishing grounds.

Conclusion

Data accuracy is threatened by the inherent subjectivity of data obtained through qualitative methods. Therefore, a combination of qualitative methods such as household interview, key informant interview, and focus group discussion can reduce errors and provide greater confidence to researchers employing qualitative approaches. This is referred to as triangulation.

Reference:

Janssen, C. n.d. Garbage In, Garbage Out (GIGO). Retrieved on July 28, 2013 from http://www.techopedia.com/definition/3801/garbage-in-garbage-out-gigo

© 2013 July 28 P. A. Regoniel

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