Using Mixed Methods: Frameworks for an Integrated Methodology (Book Review)

In many ways, this is an exciting book, maybe the first serious attempt I’ve seen to provide a practical framework for new researchers who want to engage using mixed research methodologies.

There is no content in Plowright’s FraIM (Frameworks for an Integrated Methodology) model, only a diagrammatically portrayed framework. It tries to imply processes and activities in a generalized and abstract fashion. As a result, it is difficult to convey in words and is presented in the book as figures. These diagrams depict the steps in the process of creating, planning, and doing research, with the researcher providing the content, methodological decisions, and actions.

FraIM’s diagram or figure is a set of boxes with the research question on the left, followed by cases, methods, data, assertions, and finally a conclusion on the right. Links to other essential aspects he feels are integral to each are traced right across the page from these boxes. As a result, the data box leads to data analysis, and evidence and assertions are linked in the same way. The main expanded FraIM and, in Plowright’s words, “an overview, or sketch of the FraIM and its individual components” are shown in the figure on page 22. The details will be revealed in following chapters” (p8).

Plowright accepts that his book will not be able to address all aspects of mixed approach. He claims that his goal is to introduce his FraIM and give the reader the option to apply their own views about it to their research. As a result, the novel must be read with this in mind.

What sets FraIM apart from other models is that it does not “demand” that you “have a certain philosophical perspective prior to starting the research” (p7). Instead, it supports a more responsive, flexible, and open-minded mindset centered on answering one or more research questions, according to its inventor. Most significantly, he claims, it serves as a pattern for you to follow when you conduct your study.

So, how does a researcher get started? With a research question that, according to Plowright, is situated within five contexts: professional, organizational, policy, national, and theoretical, each of which has varying degrees of significance.

Following that, Plowright advises that everything is done through case study, experiment, or survey in terms of data source management, and that FraIM promotes three sorts of data collection methods:

Overt or covert observation. Questionnaires or interviews are two methods of asking questions. Artefact analysis is the study of human-made items or events.

The goals of the research, its purpose, who or what the instances are, and the research topic, he claims, will influence method selection.

Plowright has divided data into two categories: numerical (i.e., fixed and logical) and narrative (i.e., ambiguous, such as still and moving imagery), and in terms of data analysis, he has divided them into two categories: numerical (i.e., fixed and logical) and narrative (i.e., may be ambiguous, such as still and moving imagery). Plowright claims that the same data gathering techniques may be used to obtain both numerical and narrative data.

That, in brief, is my understanding of the strategy. After laying out the foundation, Plowright delves deeper into case selection, data collecting, observation, questioning, artefact analysis, data integration, warrantable research, and ethical considerations in the following chapters. – last, what he refers to as integrative approach

That, in a nutshell, is the strategy as I understand it. Following this, Plowright delves deeper into case selection, data collection, observation, questioning, analyzing artefacts, data integration, warrantable research, ethical issues, and concluding with what he refers to as holistic integration and philosophising research, as well as a final words section.

We agreed that there were a number of merits after talking with a few colleagues who had just read the book. These included the following for us:

It can be used in a variety of disciplines. It’s probably most effective in the early phases of study. There are some handy diagrams and tables to help you conceptualize your thoughts. Examples of research activities that are valuable. The chapter structure, which always concludes with a summary, reflection, suggested reading, and reference, was deemed beneficial. The book’s/chapters’ structure allowed for dipping in and out.
The realistic approach and pragmatic manner with a single voice throughout

The following are some of the elements that were deemed to be less useful:

The discussion of ethical issues; there was particular worry about how ‘covert’ research was handled. It’s possible that the pragmatic approach didn’t stimulate deep thought or comprehensive examination of other possibilities. It may be argued that there was a lack of theoretical engagement – but it was acknowledged that in such a text, this would not be conceivable. The vocabulary employed may be difficult to understand, such as new words used to express some traditional phrases or words. Some diagrams were maybe misleading or unhelpful.

In general, I’ve already recommended it to students to take a look and see if it resonates with them and their work. Some have, and one or two have decided to utilize it as the framework for their EdD theses.

I understand that the style and method may not appeal to everyone, but I believe it might be a very important tool in the research arsenal for new researchers.

about this book:

This is not just yet another book for the bookshelf labeled Research Methods. It proposes a fundamentally different way of thinking about, and doing, social and educational research. In this approach the research methodology determines the philosophy rather than the reverse. This basic shift from the usual perspective encourages not only a pragmatic approach to research but is surprisingly liberating. Much of the usual nomenclature of research is wiped clean away so that the student is freed from the notion of having to learn a new dictionary of research terminology before embarking on the voyage of discovery. This not only positively sanctions ‘mixed methods’ approaches, but implies that the traditional barriers between research methodologies have often been misguided. The framework offered in this book will be well worth considering by any student embarking on research in these fields. The overall structure of the book, the chapter summaries and the linking chapter conclusions offer in themselves a model of clear expression. Read this book before you read any of the other texts on research methods and you may never clutter up your mind in the first place!

Professor David Hellawell Birmingham City University

This is an unusual and stimulating introductory research methods text which will be of real interest to anyone setting out on a small scale research study. It is not the first to reject the well-known qualitative/quantitative dichotomy, but it is probably the first to reject the terms themselves and the conceptual baggage they bring with them, preferring instead to concentrate on the frameworks used to organise the way research is thought about. The introduction of Frameworks for an Integrated Methodology (FRaIM) is a novel and evidently productive way of understanding and synthesising the host of methodological literature that can so easily confuse the beginning researcher. The emphases throughout are on integration and methodology and on clarity of expression. Practical examples support and develop further the key elements of the book and each chapter is supported by relevant further reading. This book represents a key text for the individual social science researcher and for those involved with introducing the general area of research methods to beginning researchers.

Professor Peter Gilroy, University of Plymouth

This is an intriguing book in many respects, perhaps the first true attempt I have come across to provide a practical framework for new researchers that want to work with mixed research methodology…I have already recommended students to take a look at it and see if it resonates with them and their work. Some have, with one or two deciding they will use it as a frame for their EdD theses….particularly for the new researcher, I imagine it could be a very useful tool in their research armoury.

Dr Julie Anderson, ESCalate

  • Author:  David Plowright
  • Publisher: Sage
  • Published: 2011
  • Pages: 224

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