Diagrammatic Elicitation: Defining the Use of Diagrams in Data Collection

By Umoquit, Muriah; Tso, Peggy et al. | The Qualitative Report, July 29, 2013 | Go to article overview

Diagrammatic Elicitation: Defining the Use of Diagrams in Data Collection


Umoquit, Muriah, Tso, Peggy, Varga-Atkins, Tunde, O'Brien, Mark, Wheeldon, Johannes, The Qualitative Report


Introduction

A recent extensive systematic review (Umoquit, Tso, Burchett, & Dobrow, 2011) found that over 80 published articles discussed some form of diagramming as a data collection approach, with the majority being published after 2000 and a significant rise after 2006. This finding is consistent with the work of Nesbit and Adescope (2006), whose review indicated a steady rise of concept and knowledge maps in the experimental and quasi-experimental studies looking at the use of diagrams for learning. In this article, we consider that data collection implies the process of gathering, co-creating data between the participant and researcher. We argue diagrams can be either the end product of the research (i.e., with no other kinds of data collected- or analyzed-only the diagram) or the subject of further discussion, for instance, in an interview (i.e., with the data being the interview transcript, and optionally, the diagram itself).

The use of diagrams in data collection has spanned many fields, including education, engineering, environmental science, geography, industrial design, psychology and others within the social sciences (Wheeldon & Ahlberg, 2012). For example, Mers (2008) provided a collection of articles that demonstrate different ways in which diagramming has been used in the health and social sciences, where diagrams are a data collection tool but also play an important role in analysis and the construction of arguments. One challenge arising from this approach's development is that without clear boundaries of what it covers and a standard terminology, the development of this data collection approach has been isolated within disciplines.

As Shakespeare so eloquently pointed out, "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet"--making the claim that the way people experience this fragrant flower was constant, irrespective of the different names by which people may know it by. However, in the case of diagrams, it does matter both what it is and what it is called. Each type of graphic representation has its own strengths and weaknesses that may deem it more or less suitable for a given purpose. When Hopkins (2006) and Umoquit, Dobrow, Lemieux-Charles, Ritvo, Urbach, and Wodchis (2008) describe using participatory diagramming as a data collection approach, they are talking about two very different things. Hopkins' (2006) geography students worked in small groups to discuss the differences between being a child and an adult and their hopes and fears about university. Participants brainstormed on post-it notes and used prioritizing to create multiple tables or lists. While no actual diagram was constructed, this method was labeled participatory diagramming. By contrast, the health policy study by Umoquit et al. (2008) interviewed cancer care providers and senior cancer system administrators on clinical accountability relationships and had participants use pens and paper to draw out persons and organizations and their connecting relationships. This approach too was termed participatory diagramming but the process was different and the resulting end-product collected by researchers was diagrams.

Another approach is based on the educational work of Varga-Atkins and O'Brien (2009) who used a similar approach as Umoquit et al.'s (2008) participatory diagramming but called it a different term; graphic elicitation. They had senior school leaders and managers create diagrams of formal and informal networks of their schools within interviews. The diagrams then were used in the interview process to elicit verbal commentaries from participants. Complicating the terminology further, Crilly, Blackwell, and Clarkson (2006) used a completely different approach in their industrial design study but which they also termed graphic elicitation. In their study, they had designers edit researcher-prepared diagrams within interviews, rather than create their own diagrams. This is a snapshot of the confusing territory surrounding just a few of the terms used to describe the use of diagrams as a data collection approach: same terms but different visuals/outcomes and different terms but same visuals/outcomes. …

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