Phenomeno-what?!

Today, my teammates and I began conducting interviews using a phenomenological approach. Not familiar with this word “phenomenological”? Neither was I until about a year ago. Phenomenological research, when broken down, means the study of a phenomenon. The study that my teammates and I will be working on while in Texas aims to gain insight into the phenomenon of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is also known as Obamacare.

To tease out the what and the how of individuals’ unique experiences with the ACA, my teammates and I will be conducting around 25 unstructured interviews over the next few days. We’re using this interview style to avoid biasing responses and missing important pieces of the interviewee’s experience. After all, the interviewees are the experts on their own experiences. They know best about what is important to them.

The training we received regarding this interview style emphasized that we should pay attention to the interviewees’ body language and dramatizations. For example, covering one’s mouth may be a tell that this person is lying. I guess you could say that we must channel our inner sleuths to pick up on any clues the interviewees are providing us about their attitudes and beliefs. By looking at how a person delivers what they are saying, we’re able to capture what many methods of data collection cannot.

The information that we were able to collect from the seven interviews we conducted today has already resulted in a rich narrative. Though we only have collected a portion of the text that will eventually be gathered for this study, we’ve already heard thoughtful and enlightening accounts.

In my classes, I have noticed a pronounced tension between those who prefer quantitative data analysis to those who prefer qualitative data analysis. As someone with a quantitative background who has been analyzing qualitative data over the past 18 months, I have gained a strong appreciation for qualitative data. Qualitative data can provide profound examples of a select group’s experiences. On the other hand, quantitative data can provide more objective and generalizable results. Though we are using a phenomenological method to better understand the phenomenon of the ACA, I feel that other areas of public health could also benefit from the personal insights elicited by this method of data collection and analysis.

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