Wearing a different hat

Lesley Smart, Glasgow City Council

I undertook research for my MSc dissertation in 2012. The project was about the outcomes important to unpaid carers in relation to community OT services. I recorded two interviews each with five carers, which were subsequently transcribed. So I had a record of the entire conversations. Being a practitioner does give you some advantages when you are researching within your own organisation, because you know the system. I can see how it does help with some of that, but on the whole I actually think that being inside the system you are researching can make it harder. It is more difficult to be objective when you are part of what you are researching. As a practitioner and a professional, you learn defences that help you to work within the constraints of the system. You also have a tendency to be loyal to your profession, so you want to defend colleagues because you understand how those constraints impact on and limit practice.

When I listened to the recording of my first interview, it struck me that I had approached it as a practitioner. I realised how much I was limiting the conversation because of my OT role. After the pilot interview, I realised the challenge was to set aside my normal role as a practitioner and the approach I would usually take. I had to make a conscious decision to go in with a different hat on - the researcher's hat. It was such a relief. When I completed the first interviews and it came to analysing the data in the transcripts, I read and re-read each individual story. I really wanted to understand what led to people feeling that they had had a good service or not and the elements that contributed to this. I was then looking for similarities and differences between the different interviews.

On the right hand side of the transcripts I would chunk the data up into sections and note words or themes. I had three overarching themes. These were 'it's the person you are dealing with', 'systems failure' and 'where do you go, who do you talk to'. I ended up drawing a Venn diagram so that I could set out different sub-themes within each overarching theme, but also so I could start to map out how themes inter-related. So, for example, when 'budget' came up that would usually be related to the systems theme, but 'provision at the right time' was a theme that overlapped two of the main themes: 'systems failure' and 'it's the person you are dealing with'. What I learned from carrying out the research was about taking time with people and being aware of my professional role and the departmental agenda, and how that shapes the conversation I have. It has made me reflect much more on my approach and practice and the aspects of the service that are important to people. It became clear in reading the transcripts that honesty was so important to the people I interviewed. People do usually understand that practitioners have limited there are resource constraints and they prefer to know what the limits are. I think what I learned most was that relationship building and honesty are the bits that you can control as a practitioner.

I didn't have training in analysing qualitative data and basically started by reading the books about it. But I could have got stuck on the theory. I had to stop worrying about how I was going to do it and just work it out in practice.

This case study were produced by Emma Miller and Ellen Daly as part of the Understanding and measuring outcomes: the role of qualitative data guide (March 2013)
Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services (IRISS)