MME Week: Hongling Sun on Mixed Methods Design

Hello, my name is Hongling Sun. I am a PhD student from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I feel honored to have this opportunity to share my mixed methods experience with you, with a focus on the lessons and tips I’ve learned through constructing a mixed methods design for a needs assessment study. That design was initially constructed to fulfill the requirement from Dr. Greene’s mixed methods class, and later has been developed into my dissertation study. Below are a few lessons and tips I have learned through this experience.

Hot Tips:

  • Be clear. You cannot claim you will do a mixed methods study before you are clear with what you want to do in your evaluation. A tip here is to remember methods are always subordinate to substantive studies. Therefore, decide your evaluation purposes and questions first, and then decide whether mixed methods is appropriate for your study, and if yes, decide what specific mixed methods purposes and design fit into your study.
  • Use high quality rationale. You cannot justify your use of mixed methods with ‘general’ words by only quoting mixed methods literature. A high quality rationale is to integrate the substance of your specific evaluation purposes and questions with mixed methods literature.
  • Consider your reasons. It is important to explicitly justify your use of mixed methods in your evaluation. Evaluators who adopt a mixed methods design are encouraged to carefully consider your reasons for using mixing methods (or mixed methods purposes), and your design dimensions (e.g., weight of methods, timing) along with what methods will be used and why, and where the “mixing” will take place in your evaluation.
  • Keep your mixed methods design flexible.Given that mixed methods practice is often more complicated than mixed methods theories, evaluators who design a mixed methods study are suggested to consider what an alternative design can be. For example, a mixed methods study with development purpose could become a complementary purpose, because in practice you may find you have no time to analyze the data from an earlier phase as planned; in that case, you could implement different phases at the same time, and then analyze the data after the completion of the entire data collection.
    • Consider your alternative plan when you construct a mixed methods design. The alternative plan can be a different mixed methods design, or a mono-method design.

These lessons and tips are nothing new. However, I still see them as the most critical lessons I’ve ever truly experienced and understood (not only at the theoretical level), and they remain among the most critical principals in my current practice of mixed methods.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Mixed Method Evaluation TIG Week. The contributions all week come from MME members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluator.

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