Using Constructivist Case Study Methodology to Understand Community Development Processes: Proposed Methodological Questions to Guide the Research Process

Article excerpt

This paper describes the research journey of the first author, Heidi, an occupational therapist and a doctoral candidate at the time of the research, who set out with a passion for understanding how community development (CD) occurs in the practice of occupational therapy. Margo and Terry, her thesis co-supervisors, acted as research mentors, providing guidance in relation to key methodological decisions. In this study, a collective case study design was utilized (Stake, 2000; Yin, 2003) informed by constructivist grounded theory data analysis methods (Charmaz, 2006) to develop a framework of CD from an occupational therapy perspective. Following a description of the research design, we describe the researcher stance of the first author, case recruitment and data generation methods, and data analysis approaches. Lastly, we present the strategies employed for enhancing the trustworthiness of this study, including potential criteria for the evaluation of this research.

This paper is structured using the main methodological questions raised during the research process (summarized in Table 1) in order to make explicit decision making processes which occur "behind the scenes" when combining methodologies. Often, research projects are presented as final products with the methodologies cleanly outlined with little attention paid to the decision-making processes that led to the chosen approach. False starts, dilemmas, and uncertainties are rarely afforded exploration in research papers, although these are often realities in the work of novice researchers. Minimizing the attention paid to these decision-making processes perpetuates a sense of mystery about qualitative approaches, particularly for new researchers who will undoubtedly face many uncertainties in their research. This paper presents a series of questions that assisted one Ph.D. student in making key methodological questions during her research journey. These questions served as key decision points for Heidi during her research process and it is hoped that explicating these questions may assist in guiding other novice researchers, thus shedding light on some of the perceived mysteries of qualitative research methodology. This journey will be told from the first person perspective of Heidi, the first author and the principal investigator on this research project.

Research Purpose and Research Questions

This research journey began with me attempting to match research traditions with questions that arose from my previous experience in community development. Drawing on literature about the importance of researcher reflexivity (Alvesson & Skoldberg, 2000), I examined my previous experiences, assumptions and expectations around occupational therapists' roles in CD. I came to CD in an international context while volunteering in southern Africa as a trainer of community-based rehabilitation workers. Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO), the organization I was with, spoke of volunteers like myself being "community developers" but I was unfamiliar with what being a community developer involved. In this international context, I learned about some of the key principles of CD from colleagues who used these principles to guide their work. These principles included: building on local knowledge, using approaches that encouraged participation of a range of community members, and strategies for empowering people to take action in their lives. In small ways, I tried to integrate some of these ideas into my work with community rehabilitation workers. When I returned to Canada following these 2.5 years overseas in an international development context, I wanted to better understand if and how some of these CD approaches were being used by occupational therapists in Canada. Early reading and exploration confirmed that CD approaches were used by some occupational therapists in the fields of health promotion and community-oriented practice. My master's research project involved interviewing Canadian occupational therapists working in CD to better understand how they understood their roles (Lauckner, Pentland, & Paterson, 2007). …