Qualitative Methods in Higher Education Policy Analysis: Using Interviews and Document Analysis

Article excerpt


This article is the second of a short series of works designed to articulate the results and research approach I utilized in my study Analysis of Background Check Policy in Higher Education. In my first article, Evolution of Background Check Policy in Higher Education (Owen, 2014), I present the majority of my data collection and analysis results which aligned with Cooper, Fusarelli, and Randall's (2004) "technical dimension" of organizational policy which consists of understanding the "planning, practice, implementation, and evaluation" or what Cooper, Fusarelli, and Randall refer to as "the nuts and bolts of policymaking" (2004, p. 43-44). Within this technical dimension I was able to provide a recreation of Policy 8.1 as a formal written document through analyzing all the revisions and changes Policy 8.1 experienced throughout all four of its releases (June 2005, October 2007, November 2009, & May 2010). In a subsequent article, A Four-Dimensional Study of Background Check Policy in Higher Education (accepted for publication as of the date of this writing) I present my data collection and analysis results of Cooper, Fusarelli, and Randall's remaining three dimensions of organizational policy (as described in this article).

This article focuses specifically on the research development, design, and overall approach I utilized in addressing my overall research question: What were the most important events and policy modifications, over approximately the past ten years, that influenced and challenged the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) administration to consider, adopt, and revise a formal background check policy?

In this article I explain

a) the approach I used to address relevant positional and political considerations associated with my study;

b) the four research design questions I utilized to develop my research process;

c) the conceptual framework I adopted which served as a basis and focus informing the methodological design and influencing the selection of data-collection instruments; and finally

d) an explanation of my data analysis technique which involved the use of interviews and relevant documents associated with Georgia Institute of Technology's Background Check Policy and Program (referred to as "Policy 8.1" throughout the remainder of this article).

Overall, this study was designed to attend to the concerns expressed by the AAUP (2006) regarding a lack of systematic studies on extensive background check policy in higher education. The main purpose of this study was to examine the history and experiences of Georgia Tech's adoption of background check policy with particular emphasis on what was learned and improved as the policy evolved and changed. Through a constructivist lens and under the iterative tradition, this policy analysis addressed my research question using descriptive and evaluative coding of four types of documents associated with Policy 8.1. As my coding progressed, I categorized codes that share similarities, threading them into groups that logically and intuitively fit together. Working with these categories/groups, I searched for patterns and emerging themes through analytic memo writing. This allowed me to structure a re-creation of the experiences and challenges that influenced related constituents of Policy 8.1 to consider, adopt, modify, and improve formal background check policy. This study offers a documented experience for higher education policy makers and HR professionals at other universities to use as an analogous situation in order to formulate more informed decisions regarding the use or non-use of same or similar policy.

Positional and Political Considerations

Dewalt and Dewalt's Degrees of Participation

Kathleen and Billie Dewalt (2002) argue that "the degree of participation, membership role, and the amount of emotional involvement that ethnographers bring to the field will have an important impact on the kinds of data collected and the sort of analysis that is possible" (p. …


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