As a researcher, you have probably done your best to avoid errors in the way you collect and analyze data. But have you ever thought about how you could impact your own research?

Researcher reflexivity is a way of looking at your role in the research. It focuses on how your assumptions, biases, and experiences affect your research results.

Reflexivity ensures that the research is conducted fairly and without bias. It also helps you to be transparent and accountable to the research participants.

In this article, we will cover the importance of reflexivity and how to implement it for quality and credible research.

Understanding Researcher Reflexivity

Researcher reflexivity is the process of critically examining one’s role in the research process. It involves looking at how your biases, experiences, and assumptions may influence the research findings.

An important factor to consider in researcher reflexivity is the relationship between the research subject and the researcher. Your experience and background can influence your perspective on the research topic, which influences how you interpret the research results.

For example, if you’re a researcher looking into bullying and you’ve personally experienced it, it can influence your survey design and your expectations from the study.

Subjectivity, bias, and prejudice also influence research results. Researchers, including you, are all human beings, and it’s challenging to separate your already-formed prejudice and bias from the research process.

The Significance of Researcher Reflexivity

Researcher reflexivity ensures research is trustworthy and credible. When you are aware of your biases, you can take steps to mitigate them and increase the accuracy of your findings.

For example, instead of being the sole survey administration, employ other colleagues to also administer the survey following a non-biased survey protocol. If your administration has a bias, it will reflect in the difference between your findings and the other administrators.

However, using different administrators is not always an effective method for curbing researcher bias. Your bias can still influence how you design your research, so regardless of who is administering the survey, the data collection process will be biased.

As a researcher, it can be challenging to mitigate your own biases, but the consequences of not paying attention to research reflexivity are too big to ignore. It can potentially lead to false or misleading data, which negatively impacts policies, development, and decision-making.

Practices for Engaging in Researcher Reflexivity

  • Journaling: This allows you to reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and experiences during the research process. It also helps you to document your biases and assumptions, track your progress, and identify your research challenges.
  • Regular debriefings: Regular debriefings with a trusted colleague or mentor can also help you to practice reflexivity. It gives you a chance to discuss your research and get feedback on your methods.
  • Critical introspection: Critical introspection is the process of critically examining your thoughts, feelings, and experience through journaling, debriefings, or other methods. The goal of critical introspection is to become more aware of your biases and assumptions so that you can mitigate their effects on your research.

Ethical Considerations in Researcher Reflexivity

1. The Potential of Bias

Researchers, including you, are human and subject to bias. Reflexivity can help you to identify and minimize the potential for bias in research by identifying your own biases and how they may influence the research.

2. Potential Power Dynamics between Researchers and Participants

Most research is done in a situation where the researcher has more power than the participants. Reflexivity can help to mitigate the power imbalance by making you more aware of your own biases and limitations, helping you to develop strategies for managing the power dynamic.

But reflexivity can also backfire, it can make you more conscious of how much power and influence you wield over participants and research findings.

3. Ethical Decision-Making, Transparency, and Informed Consent

Ethical decision-making involves making decisions about the research process that are in the best interests of the participants. It involves managing the power dynamic, protecting participant confidentiality, and ensuring that the research is ethical and compliant.

Also, ensure you have the participants’ Informed consent to participate in the research; explicitly explain the research process and its implications.

Transparency involves being open and honest with the participants about the research process, including the researcher’s role and the potential risks and benefits of the research. You also have to figure out, admit, and mitigate your biases, assumptions, and prejudices.

Related: What are Ethical Practices in Market Research?

Promoting Researcher Reflexivity in Data Collection

It can be tough to make changes to your research based on reflexivity; it requires you to be honest and open about your assumptions and limitations. But it’s not impossible. 

Here are some steps to make your research more reflexive:

Incorporating Reflexivity into Data Collection Methods

You can incorporate reflexivity into data collection methods in several ways. For example, you can keep a reflexive journal, where you record your thoughts, feelings, and impressions about the research process.

You could also engage in self-reflection, asking yourself questions about your biases, assumptions, and values. Other methods  include:

  • Active Listening and Open Dialogue With Participants

Active listening is a great way to build rapport with participants and get a better understanding of their perspectives. It involves paying attention to both the verbal and nonverbal cues of participants.

You can also ask participants to share their experiences and perspectives in their own words. A good place to start is focus groups or interviews, where participants can openly share their perspectives and experiences.

  • Awareness of the Researcher’s Presence and Influence During Data Collection

As a researcher, you have to recognize how your presence can have a significant impact on the data collection process. For example, participants may be more likely to share certain information if they feel comfortable with you.

Your presence could also influence the participants and their responses. For example, your gender, race, or social class can impact how participants respond to the research.

Reflexivity in Data Analysis and Interpretation

  • Questioning Assumptions

Reflexivity helps you question assumptions about the data. This prevents you from imposing your biases on the data and helps you to identify new insights that might have been overlooked.

  • Objective Judgements

Reflexivity helps you avoid making subjective judgments about research data, which ensures your data is objective and accurate.

  • Seeking Alternative Perspectives

Reflexivity can also prompt you to seek out alternative perspectives on the data. For example, you can consult with other researchers, and consult different theoretical perspectives while analyzing the data.

  • Reflexive Interpretation

This means using your understanding of your biases, assumptions, and values to interpret the data. It eliminates identified biases, making your research findings more accurate and reliable.

Reflexivity and Researcher Positionality

Researcher positionality encompasses your identity, background, and social context.  This includes gender, race, ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation, religion, and nationality.

The researcher’s positionality can shape research outcomes in several ways. For example, the researcher’s gender and social class might influence how participants respond to them.

Another example is how your education level can influence how you structure survey questions, which impacts respondents’ ability to comprehend questions and answer within the right context.

Case Studies and Examples

Case Study 1- A Study of the Experiences of Women in Stem Fields

In this study, the researcher is a woman who is also a part of the STEM community. She recognized that her experiences as a woman working in STEM can affect how she interprets the data.

This led her to adopt a reflexive approach to her research, which included keeping a reflexive diary and talking to other researchers about her findings. As a result, she was able to make more precise and relevant findings, which showed the barriers and opportunities women face in the STEM fields.

Case Study 2- A Study of the Experiences of Refugees

The researcher in this study was a former refugee himself. He knew that his background would affect his expectations and how he interpreted the data.

So, the researcher decided to be reflexive to protect the data quality He kept a journal and talked to other refugees about his findings. Taking these measures helped the researcher make more precise and relevant findings about the difficulties and possibilities that refugees face.

Conclusion

Understanding and incorporating reflexivity helps to ensure that research findings are not influenced negatively by the researcher. It also ensures the data collection process is ethical and researcher bias-free.

As a result, adopting reflexivity in your research allows you to mitigate biases and assumptions, as well as enhance the quality of your research.


  • Moradeke Owa
  • on 7 min read

Formplus

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