Discovering Triangulation: Grounding and Lessons Learned by John LaVelle

My name is John LaVelle from Louisiana State University.  It is my pleasure to lead a number of evaluation and applied methodology courses for graduate and undergraduate students.  All of my courses include service-learning and experiential learning components to help reinforce the learning objectives and provide operational/conceptual support for community partners.

A concept that that stakeholders and students alike seem to struggle with is triangulation.  My sense is that conversations on threats to construct validity and the advantages of triangulation for establishing trustworthiness tend not to be common in most organizations and households, and I struggled with finding a way to communicate this with students and stakeholders.  I imagined a responsive process to help my students explore triangulation using the upper limits of my art skills: squares, circles, and letters.  The following is the iterative script I used in a graduate course on qualitative and mixed methods.

Hot tip: This narrative seems to work best when the example is from your stakeholders’ experience, project, or something they find engaging.  The example I used in class was inspired by a student comment about selfies at football games the previous weekend.  Let your stakeholders take the example and run with it.  My experience is that their ownership of the example makes it “real” and can help stakeholders apply the concept to multiple areas of their work.

Hot Tip: Adapt this exploratory script to help illustrate any sort of triangulation.  Examples include professional discipline (e.g., education, policy, evaluation, social work, psychology, etc.), social science theoretical framework, inquiry methodology, data analysis, and reporting strategy.

Hot Tip: Have as much fun as you can with this example.  Trust your stakeholders or students to have the content expertise.  You, as the evaluator, bring the discovery process, grounding, and sense of humor.

In the spirit of humor lightness in discussing something very important, this image will be used to illustrate the example tomorrow.


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6 thoughts on “Discovering Triangulation: Grounding and Lessons Learned by John LaVelle”

  1. I do a lot of evaluation work with physicians these days. Triangulation was pretty easy to explain to them when I used an example with a sick patient. They would never diagnose simply based on a raised temperature. They would also look for a rash, lack of appetite, stiff neck, etc. etc.

    1. That’s a great example, thank you for sharing! Living where I do, I also tend to use food examples. Triangulating on the quality of crawfish was an interesting experience, albeit uncharted territory for me.


    Indeed. I am now in Perú a final evaluation preparing the qualitative instruments and we will use the “triangulation” to validate opinion data of different actors as well as budgetary data of the cooperating entity and the information that the muninicipalidades benefited.

    The cooperating entity says that if there are not 3 different actors it is not “triangulation”. According to the theory, triangulation is a basically counter-referential procedure of two or more instruments or two or more actors. what do you think?

    1. Good question! I’m not sure if there is a specific minimum number of actors/methods/theories, though I think an argument can be made that the more you use, the greater precision you will likely have.

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