Including the temporal elements of experiences

Capturing the temporal elements of individuals’ experiences¬† ‚Äď that‚Äôs something I am setting out to do. I really hope I can achieve it! I am a first year PhD student and this blog post piece is about my plans to use a longitudinal qualitative design, primarily using interview-based techniques. My project is about educational experiences for forced migrant parents as they go through the asylum process in Wales. (The term ‚Äėforced migrants‚Äô means, for the purposes of my work, asylum seekers and refugees.)

I would like to truly explore the temporal element of the asylum claim process in Wales, as a factor in the experiences of forced migrants. I would like to explore how perspectives and experiences develop as an individual’s legal status changes. This is because legal status is such a critical factor in access to housing, funds, and (most importantly for my project) education for those going through the asylum process. In order to truly trace experiences temporally, through the claim process, I need to capture them in a temporal manner. I will be attempting to do that with a  longitudinal qualitative approach (Neale, 2017). My primary tool will be semi-structured interviews and my core plan is for 3 sets of interviews across a 12-18 month period.

I know that my biggest risk, especially with a vulnerable and transient/mobile population group, is attrition. If I lose too many participants along the way, then my design will not work. I will not capture the data that I wish to. I need sufficient numbers for my initial interviews and ways to ensure I do not lose too many participants. So far, the numbers suggested to me by those with more experience range from 25 to 40. Essentially, I need enough participants at the start that should I lose a high proportion along the way, I will still have sufficient interviews by ‚Äėround 3‚Äô but I also do not want so many interviews that they numbers in the first round become unmanageable or affect the quality of the data I can collect. I have been advised that building relationships is key to minimising attrition rates. At the same time, I need to ensure that I maintain a professional distance. I was given a tip to get details of other people who have contact or relationships with each individual participant, both details of personal contacts (friends, family) and professional ones (for example a health visitor). This will require appropriate consent from everyone concerned but should enable me to maintain contact with any participants who move or change their contact details and do not tell me (after all, my research is not their priority). I have a collaborative partner for my project and that organisation will be my primary source of recruitment but I also plan to cast my net wide to ensure both a range of participants and also to reduce my dependency on a single source. This will require the development and maintenance of appropriate networks and relationships throughout the course of my fieldwork.

I know that I will need to approach the interviews themselves in an appropriate way for longitudinal work. I hope to conduct semi-structured interviews that will be designed in such a way as to prompt, probe and primarily enable each participant to narrate their own story in their own words. In each round of interviews, I will attempt to capture participants’ perspectives on their past, their present and their future, including some reflexive views. How those perspectives may develop and change, recursively, over time will hopefully provide me with rich temporal data and allow me, as a researcher to explore unfolding social processes and how they relate to the legal ones (Neale, 2017).

Writing this all down, has brought me fresh waves of enthusiasm and fear. I am excited about my project and about my methods for tackling my research questions. But this is tempered with a little healthy fear of the unknown and of taking a less well-trodden path than perhaps I could have chosen. I would love to hear from others who have used, are using, or plan to use similar research methods. And I will come back with one or more updates on how my work progresses and the lessons I have learnt along the way, whether it goes well or not!

References

Neale, B. (2017). Generating Data in Qualitative Longitudinal Research: A methodological review. Available at www.timescapes.leeds.ac.uk/publicationsandoutputs.