Peer Debriefing for Qualitative Research

In the fields of social science and marketing, qualitative researchers seek to understand the world through the perspectives of others. This approach yields useful and highly in-depth information regarding people’s motivations, concerns and behaviors. As you might expect, the validity of the gathered information is vital to the entire process. Incorrect or misinterpreted data could undermine the researchers’ hard work.

Accordingly, qualitative researchers use a variety of techniques to establish validity, including bracketing, member checks and prolonged engagement. Peer debriefing is yet another important technique employed by qualitative researchers to ensure the collection of valid information.

Benefits of Peer Debriefing

Peer debriefing requires the researcher to work together with one or several colleagues who hold impartial views of the study. The impartial peers examine the researcher’s transcripts, final report and general methodology. Afterwards, feedback is provided to enhance credibility and ensure validity.

Through the investigation, the peers may detect the following problems in the research:

  • Overemphasized points
  • Underemphasized points
  • Vague descriptions
  • General errors in the data
  • Biases or assumptions made by the researcher

The peer debriefing will also help the researcher become more aware of his own views regarding the data.

Nature of Examination

Depending on the nature of the research, a thorough debriefing may include an examination of the following material:

  • Transcripts
  • Documents
  • Handwritten notes
  • Recorded interviews
  • Photographs

The researcher may be responsible for determining the schedule of the debriefing sessions. There are various types of schedules that can be employed. Each schedule comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, holding a single meeting may be more convenient for the researcher and impartial peers; however, this method can jeopardize credibility. In most cases, it is best for the parties to meet on a regular basis or following important tasks in the process. Frequent contact between the researcher and the peers, such as emailing meeting reminders, will keep the process running smoothly. 

Nature of Feedback

The impartial peers can either be insiders, individuals with prior experience with the topic of research, or they can be outsiders, individuals with little or no exposure to the topic. It is usually best to seek the aid of both types of peers to ensure the most beneficial feedback.

Insiders will require fewer explanations regarding the basics of the field of study and may be more likely to catch erroneous data. However, insiders may also fall prey to the same habitual thinking as the researcher. On the other hand, outsiders will probably bring more questions regarding the topic; however, their disassociation from the field’s established concepts allows them to look upon the work with a fresher, less habitual view.

If you are serving as an impartial peer, the following tips will help you contribute to the researcher’s goals:

  • Offer clear and concise feedback, rather than rambling, irrelevant statements.
  • Focus on both the strengths and weaknesses of the research; try to match every negative assessment with a positive point to avoid a condescending tone.
  • Avoid simply agreeing with every statement made by the other peers; your personal perspective is desired.
  • If you are an outsider, do not hesitate to incorporate concepts from your own field of expertise, but make sure the researcher understands your feedback.
  • Use open-ended, thought-provoking questions to challenge the researcher to consider new perspectives.

Additional Information

Whether you are serving as a researcher or a peer, you should collect as much information as you can concerning peer debriefing sessions. By approaching the task with sufficient knowledge, you can help maximize the benefits of the process.

For additional information about peer debriefing you can consult works by Yvonna S. Lincoln and Egon G. Guba. Lincoln and Guba were the minds behind various forms of information validation methods, including peer debriefing. The works of Sharon Spall are also worth examining. Spall elaborates on the role of the impartial peers. Turn to these sources before initiating peer debriefing sessions.