Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

The Wiki as a Virtual Space for Qualitative Data Collection

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

The Wiki as a Virtual Space for Qualitative Data Collection

Article excerpt

The authors make a case for using wiki technology in qualitative research. A wiki is an online database that allows users to create, edit, and/or reflect on the content of a web page. Thus, wiki technology can support qualitative research that attempts to understand the shared thinking of participants. To illustrate the use of the wiki for this purpose, we describe how we used wiki technology in one phase of a recent Delphi study. Key Words: Qualitative Data Collection, Virtual Collaborative Space, and Wiki


In the last several years, there has been a rapid increase in the use of web-based applications, particularly wikis, blogs and podcasts, in online health-related professional and educational services (Kamel Boulos, Maramba, & Wheeler, 2006). These applications are accessible and easy to use. They offer users the opportunity to share information and collaborate. The strengths of web-based solutions also are applicable to qualitative research.

Qualitative researchers can benefit from internet applications not just to collect their data and reach their population but to encourage rich interactions where a participant reflects on comments made by other participants. Internet applications can help researchers have access to participants who are geographically disperse, who might be difficult to recruit face to face (e.g., stay at home mothers with small children), or who are in a closed site (e.g., hospitals or prisons; Mann & Stewart, 2000). Some participants might also find it easier to discuss certain issues on line rather than in person. Through on line applications, individuals can discuss sensitive issues in groups without the fear of shaming. Also, shyness appears to be less inhibiting than in face to face interactions (Stacey, 2002). Researchers may also be able to conduct research in politically dangerous or sensitive fields (e.g., illicit drug dealers or individuals in war zones). Internet applications are also advantageous to researchers since they are economical and save time savers (Mann & Stewart). For example, the researcher has all the data already transcribed and does not have to travel to interview participants.

What is a Wiki?

In 1994, Ward Cunningham developed a collaborative tool on the Internet called wiki, a Hawaiian word meaning "quick" (Augar, Ratmar, & Zhou, 2004). A wiki is an online database that allows users to create, edit, and/or reflect on the content of a web page. Wikis are used to create collaborative websites where users can write documents in collaboration with one another. Wikis can be open to the general public or made private. The Wikipedia is a good example of an online collaborative encyclopedia where anybody can edit and update the site content.

An administrator has extended rights to manage the information (e.g., protect pages and predetermine participants' level of access). All participants may edit, delete or modify comments that have been written and, depending on the level of access, may modify the web page.

There are at least two ways of writing wikis. The first, the document mode, is used is to collaborate with others to write a document. The document is usually written in the third person and authors add their edits or additions to the wiki document anonymously. The result is a document that reflects shared knowledge or beliefs (Leuf & Cunningham, 2001).

The second way of writing a wiki is known as the thread mode. This mode consists of authors carrying out discussions by posting their comments either anonymously or signed. Participants respond to the posted comments leaving the original messages intact (Leuf & Cunningham, 2001). Eventually a group of threaded messages is developed, enabling the team members to share knowledge in a simple and quick way. The collective knowledge base of the group can be easily navigated and managed (Sauer, Bialek, Efimova, Schwartlander, Pless, & Neuhaus, 2005). …

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