Poster Paper: Mixing Institutional Investigations: The Power of Multiple Methods

Friday, November 8, 2013
West End Ballroom A (Washington Marriott)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

LaNysha Adams, University of New Mexico
Multidimensional research strategies offer ways to move beyond the overemphasized quantitative-qualitative divide that is often reified in mixed-methods studies. In policy debates, anecdotal and other qualitative types of evidence are often used in conjunction with hard numbers. Therefore, mixed-methods designs have much to offer researchers in their investigations of complex policy problems.

In this presentation, I discuss the nuances of my mixed-methods approach in an investigation of teachers’ mandatory professional development experiences within the state of New Mexico. I argue that “mixing” methods is often the best approach due to the complexity involved in the policy process. How the policy process affects the phenomenon under investigation requires methods that capture multiple perspectives and methods that are able to quantify perspectives, experiences, as well as impact. For my study, the qualitative approach I chose draws on Institutional Ethnography, which is an alternative sociology to explore the social that begins in the everyday activities of people’s lives. The quantitative approach I selected utilizes a nationally representative survey administered by the federal government every five years.

Because my main research questions explore how policy created and implemented at state and district levels impacts teachers at a school level, I chose a two-phase embedded mixed-methods research design, where 2011-2012 Schools and Staffing Survey restricted-use data from the National Center for Education Statistics is embedded within the institutional ethnographic approach at the design level, and the quantitative phase follows the qualitative phase to culminate in a “mixed” analysis where both data sources are used to answer different process and variance research questions. Maxwell (2005) explains that process questions focus on how things happen, while variance questions focus on relationships and differences explained by variables.    

Insights to be gleaned from this mixed-methods study have implications for similar approaches to various kinds of policy problems. Researchers that choose multiple methods and want to maintain a social ontology must root their investigation in an examination of what people do, how people work, and how their work links to others in a complex institutional web.  This way, research findings may highlight the complexities of institutional relations and may make visible institutionalized social relations, which could offer unexpected insights and innovative solutions to complex policy problems.