CHAPTER THREE: APPLICATION OF THE QUALITATIVE RESEARCH PROCESS
In Chapter One the research plan outlining the research methodology as proposed by the researcher was discussed. In general, a research is expressed through applied methodology, as it is a scientific investigation of phenomena (De Vos & Strydom 2011:42). Research methodology refers to different methods applied by researchers to collect information or data as part of research and it offers a theoretical and philosophical foundation, which in turn will then influence the methods employed to collect information and data (Carey 2012:83). This suggests that the research methodology is an essential component of research, as it provides guidelines and the structure of the research plan, and through the research plan a framework for the direction of the study is provided.
There are three genres of research that can be followed in the process of research, namely quantitative research, qualitative research, and mixed methods (Creswell 2016:3). Therefore, when planning the research project, the researcher is often faced with the question of whether he/she intends to utilise the qualitative or quantitative research approach, or mixed methods (Du Toit, Boshoff & Mariette 2016:1). Moreover, the researcher may also be faced with the question of what needs to be understood and by which methods to obtain such knowledge. Qualitative research involves investigating the quality or nature of something through addressing the question of ‘what is going on?’, while quantitative research aims to quantify it through addressing the question of ‘how widespread is this?’. On the other hand, a mixed method is the combination of both (Waller et al 2016:5). In other words, qualitative research focuses on the description of the context and often emerges from problems situated in the field, whereas the qualitative methodologies employ measurement and statistics to develop predictions.
For this research study, a qualitative research approach was followed to realise the goals of the study as set out in Chapter One, section 1.2.2 of this report. In this chapter, a description of how the qualitative research method was applied in the study will be provided. Qualitative methods involve exploratory research questions, inductive reasoning, an orientation to social context, and a focus on human subjectivity and the meanings participants attach to events and to their lives (Chambliss & Schutt 2013:178). For that reason, a good quality qualitative research study can be used to explore complex human behaviour and it can also be used when we do not know exactly what is happening (Kelly 2016:1). This suggests that qualitative research methods involve investigating the quality or nature of something (Waller et al 2016:5). With the use of the qualitative research methods, the researcher will be able to capture social life as experienced by the participants. In this regard, the researcher followed the qualitative social work research process proposed by Carey (2012:17-28), as it clearly depicts the structure and stages of the qualitative social work research process. This process comprises the following stages:
The selection of an appropriate topic and development of a research problem.
Reviewing literature relating to a topic.
Creating a research proposal and defining research methodology.
Applying the research method.
Writing up findings and drawing conclusions.
When he chose the qualitative research process, the researcher was cognisant of the fact that the qualitative research process is often non-linear and non-sequential as asserted by Devers and Frankel (2000:253). The aforementioned stages of the qualitative social work research process proposed by Carey (2012: 17-28) provided the researcher with a framework in which he was able to describe how he applied the qualitative social work research process for this study.
These stages are illustrated in Figure 3.1 below.
Each of these stages is now explored, beginning with the selection of an appropriate topic and development of a research problem as outlined in stage 1.
STAGE 1: SELECTION OF AN APPROPRIATE TOPIC AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE RESEARCH PROBLEM
In this stage, the selection of the topic and the development of a research problem will be presented.
The Selection of a Topic
The selection of an appropriate topic is the first stage of the qualitative social work research process and it is one of the most difficult stages in any research project (Carey 2012:46). In selecting the research topic, the researcher was motivated by the following reasons: social work teaching and practice, previous encounters with the topic, social policy on divorce, the high rate of divorce, and policy and practice guidelines for social work services to divorced persons. These reasons are briefly explained below.
Social work teaching and practice
The researcher is a lecturer in the Department of Social Work at UNISA and he has a keen interest in research topics relating to family counselling, couple’s counselling, and divorce counselling. Apart from that, the researcher teaches the Case and Group Work practical work module at third year level and this module involves teaching students about the integration of different approaches, theories, and skills when counselling families, couples, and individuals. The module also requires an intensive literature study on challenges and/or social problems faced by people in their lives and about different intervention strategies used by social workers in addressing such challenges and social problems, including a literature study on relevant approaches, theories, and skills. The literature study is imperative for the lecturers, because it helps them in the process of developing study materials for students. And so, during the process of a literature study for the above-mentioned purpose, the researcher came across the topic of divorce and he developed an interest to investigate the topic further, more specifically regarding social work services to divorced persons given the adverse situation divorced persons encounter.
Previous encounters with the topic
The researcher worked as a generic social worker employed by the DSD in the Limpopo Province of South Africa for many years prior to joining UNISA. During the period of his employment, the researcher dealt with a number of cases reported to him involving divorced persons citing their inability to cope with the post-divorce challenges. The fact that divorced persons kept coming for social work services long after intervention by a social worker and the fact that there were no clear practice guidelines regarding social work services to divorced persons at that time influenced the researcher to pursue this research topic.
Social welfare policy on divorce
The DSD is the focal point of actions aimed at supporting family life and the strengthening of families in the country (South Africa), and one of its key responsibilities is to coordinate the activities that would contribute to the successful implementation of the White Paper on Families (South Africa 2013:46). As a policy document that guides the implementation of social work services to families, the researcher observed that the White Paper on Families (South Africa 2013:22-30) did not include divorce as one of the most important issues that affects families in South Africa, despite the impact it has on family relations and the divorced persons. This is in contrast with Abbassi and Nori’s (2015:21) assertion that divorce affects family relations in such a way that it becomes unbearable for both the divorced persons and the family members. Expanding on this, Ambrosino et al (2008:327) suggest that families undergo changes in composition as a result of divorce and those transitions become difficult for all family members, including the divorced persons. Therefore, the fact that divorce is not mentioned as one of the crucial issues that affects families in the policy documents motivated the researcher to explore further on the topic of divorce.
High rate of divorce
The researcher was also motivated to investigate the topic by the fact that the divorce rate remains high in South Africa (StatsSA 2015a:37) and across the globe (Wolfinger 2005:9). According to Simonic (2014:205-207) divorce brings adverse consequences to divorced persons. The fact that the statistics reflect a high divorce rate suggests that there is large number of people who are faced with the aftermath of divorce. Given the high rate of divorce in the country and worldwide, the researcher was keen to explore whether the nature of social work services to divorced persons addresses their needs, and hence he developed an interest in the topic.
Policy and practice guidelines for social work services to divorced persons
The researcher became interested in the topic, because he had a desire to develop practice guidelines that would inform social work services to divorced persons and policy guidelines that would assist the DSD in drafting social policies specifically on matters related to divorce. Apart from the development of the policy and practice guidelines, the researcher’s interest in the topic was driven by his belief that divorced persons would benefit from the study, since the practice guidelines for social work services to divorced persons that are aligned to their needs will be developed.
The aforementioned reasons motivated the researcher to pursue the topic of this study and engendered commitment and enthusiasm. This resonates with Fawcett and Pocket’s (2015:8) assertion that coming up with a good topic initiates the research process and engenders commitment, enthusiasm, and determination. The authors further mention that a good idea may need considerable refinement to translate into a viable research question and that without a good idea, a research project will not get off the ground. In other words, a good research topic begins with a good idea about a particular research endeavour and there should be a considerable link between the topic and the research questions. Similarly, a research topic might be represented by a component of social work practice of particular interest, or a social problem or general issue, which may require further investigation (Carey 2012:18). This suggests that the selection of a research topic is motivated by a particular interest regarding social work practice, a social problem, or any social issue, which requires further investigation. Thus, researchers cannot take the process of topic selection lightly, because it requires thinking sensibly about the planned research and why that particular research endeavour is significant. Researchers need criteria to choose the best topics and the best model that provides the best topics (Nikolenko, Koltvoc & Koltsova 2017:89). In so doing, researchers will be able to avert problems related to the selection of a suitable research topic.
Development of a Research Problem
The development of a research problem is expansively elaborated on in Chapter One, section 1.1.2 of this report. It is therefore worth noting that the development of a research problem was based on the knowledge gap about the nature of social work services to divorced persons, social welfare policies concerning divorced persons, and guidelines that inform social work practice and social welfare policies.
Although there is literature on general social work services to individuals, groups, families and communities, the researcher could not find literature on the nature of social work services to divorced persons. Conversely, research on divorce has demonstrated that the dissolution of a marriage at any point in the life course of a person can have negative outcomes for both divorced men and women (Bowen & Jensen 2017:1364). Divorced persons experience a higher prevalence of distress and lower levels of happiness and satisfaction with life in general, as compared to married persons (Symoens et al 2013:178).
Given the adverse situations faced by divorced persons, there is no doubt that appropriate social work services aimed at enhancing the well-being of divorced persons are necessary. At the present, social workers are trained to promote positive changes in working with individuals, groups, families, organisations, and the larger community (Zastrow 2014:68). This implies that social workers are not trained as specialists at the undergraduate level, but as generalists who provide services to individuals, groups, families, organisations, and the larger community, including divorced persons. Generalist social work practitioners utilise a variety of prevention and intervention methods in their practice with individuals, families, groups, organisations, and communities, to promote physical, emotional, and social well-being (Segal et al 2013:149).
Thus, social workers should be able to provide appropriate and needs-based social work services to divorced persons in order to promote positive changes in their lives. Based on the fact that little is known about the nature of social work services to divorced persons, the researcher questioned whether there are appropriate social work services to divorced persons and if these services address the needs of divorced persons. Likewise, Mnyango (2015:192) recommends that a study be undertaken focusing on the experience-based perceptions of divorced men and women about the social workers’ involvement during the post-divorce stage. Moreover, there is nothing documented in terms of social welfare policy and social work practice guidelines.
The next presentation involves reviewing literature relating to the topic, as specified in stage 2 of Carey’s qualitative social work research process.
STAGE 2: REVIEWING LITERATURE RELATING TO THE TOPIC
In the previous chapter of the research report, the researcher provided a comprehensive theoretical orientation and the literature study in terms of different sub-themes. In this stage, the researcher presents the applied process of a literature review in terms of the following sub-sections, as described by Carey (2012:45-54): the purpose of a literature review, stages of the review, critical evaluation, key sources, and keeping records.
The Purpose of a Literature Review
Literature reviews are conducted for different purposes and they take different forms for various audiences (Torraco 2016:405). The main purpose of a literature review is to sharpen the researcher’s preliminary considerations regarding his topic of study, method, and data source, rather than assuming a broader perspective and reporting what is known about a topic (Yin 2011:62). The literature review can also be written to review, update, and critique the literature; (b) conduct meta-analysis of the literature; (c) review, critique, and synthesise the literature; (d) reconceptualise the topic reviewed in the literature; and (e) answer specific research questions about the topic reviewed in the literature (Torraco 2016:405). Without a thorough literature review, the researcher’s understanding of the research topic will be limited.
For this study, the purpose of a literature review coincides with Carey’s (2012:46)
suggestion in that the researcher sought to:
examine existing literature relating to the research question/problem and objectives;
critically evaluate and contextualise or place into perspective such literature;
discover policies and the best social work practices relating to the topic;
improve the understanding of the research topic by critically evaluating historic trends, policies, and practices; and identify key themes and issues relating to the topic.
By conducting a literature review, the researcher develops a research idea, consolidates what is already known about a subject, and identifies any knowledge gaps and how the research could contribute to further understanding on the subject (Winchester & Salji 2016:308). On the same note, Macfarlane, Kisely, Loi, Looi, Merry, Parker, Power, Siskind, Smith and Macfarlane (2015:11) assert that it is important for the researcher to be abreast of the historical and current developments in the topic of the research project. Consequently, it is imperative that every study should be preceded by a review of scientific literature, as this will give an understanding of previous work on the topic, as well as potential opportunities and pitfalls in relation to the topic. Thus, a literature review is the most critical aspect of research in that it helps the researcher to be well acquainted with his research topic. In other words, the researcher acquires more information about his topic in terms of the past and present situation. In this study, the review of literature defined the direction of the research in that the researcher examined, evaluated, and discovered information relating to his chosen topic with the aim of addressing the research question and/or research problem.
Stages of the Review
A literature review is a process comprising different stages. For this study, the researcher adhered to the four stages of literature review recommended by Carey (2012:46), namely theory and philosophy, historical story and developments in the subjects, latest research and developments in the subjects, and social research and methodology. However, it should be noted that these stages are not compulsory.
Theory and philosophy
This is the first stage of a literature review and it includes investigating the intellectual context(s) of any research related to a topic, for instance exploring the theories used in the past to address the theme and to check if the same theories could be used by the researcher in his research. According to Chambliss and Schutt (2013:19), a theory refers to a logically interrelated set of propositions about an empirical reality and it has a special place in social research because it helps the researcher to make connections to general social processes and large bodies of research. The researcher implemented this stage by means of exploring different theories and philosophies that were used in the past in relation to the topic under discussion. During the process of the literature review, the researcher observed that the studies conducted in the past focused more on how divorce affects women and children, and so the theories and philosophies inherent were more in line with those studies. Thus, he could not find literature or studies conducted in relation to social work services to divorced persons.
Although most literature reviews focus on the research findings of the literature reviewed, some combine this with a focus on the research methods and theories used in the literature, whereas others focus on practices, programmes, or interventions (Toracco 2016:405). For instance, Creswell (2016:40) outlined four types of philosophy a qualitative researcher might choose from, namely positivism and post-positivism, critical theory, constructivism, and participatory and post-modern.
Positivism and post-positivism – includes hard science researchers and those who adopt a cause and effect perspective.
Critical theory – adherents to this theory create change to the benefit of those oppressed by power.
Constructivism – practitioners gain understanding by interpreting participants’
Participatory and post-modern – attracts those who believe in transformation on the basis of democratic participation between the researcher and the participants
For this study, the researcher adopted the participatory and post-modern philosophy based on its democratic stance to both the researcher and the participants. Moreover, the researcher found this philosophy to be more appropriate as it allows the participants to share their views out of their own free will and in a non-threatening environment. Apart from the participatory and post-modern philosophy, the researcher decided to use the strengths perspective, person-centred perspective, and ecological systems perspective for this study, based on their relevance to the topic under discussion. These theories are fully discussed in Chapter Two, section 2.9.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER ONE: GENERAL OVERVIEW OF THE STUDY
1.1 GENERAL INTRODUCTION, PROBLEM FORMULATION AND THE RATIONALE FOR THE STUDY
1.2 THE RESEARCH QUESTIONS, PRIMARY GOALS AND OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
1.3 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
1.4 POPULATION, SAMPLING AND SAMPLING METHODS
1.5 DATA COLLECTION
1.6 ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS
1.7 CLARIFICATION OF KEY CONCEPTS
1.8 FORMAT OF THE RESEARCH REPORT
1.9 SUMMARY OF THE CHAPTER
CHAPTER TWO: LITERATURE REVIEW AND THEORETICAL ORIENTATION
2.2 AN OVERVIEW OF DIVORCE
2.3 REASONS FOR DIVORCE
2.4 CONSEQUENCES OF DIVORCE
2.5 POST-DIVORCE NEEDS AND CHALLENGES
2.6 POST-DIVORCE ADJUSTMENT AND LIFE SATISFACTION
2.7 SOCIAL WELFARE POLICIES
2.8 SOCIAL WORK SERVICES
2.9 THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
2.10 SUMMARY OF THE CHAPTER
CHAPTER THREE: APPLICATION OF THE QUALITATIVE RESEARCH PROCESS
3.2 STAGE 1: SELECTION OF AN APPROPRIATE TOPIC AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE RESEARCH PROBLEM
3.3 STAGE 2: REVIEWING LITERATURE RELATING TO THE TOPIC
3.4 STAGE 3: CREATING A RESEARCH PROPOSAL AND DEFINING A RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
3.5 STAGE 4: APPLYING THE RESEARCH METHOD
3.6 STAGE 5: ANALYSING FINDINGS AND DATA
3.7 STAGE 6: WRITING UP THE FINDINGS
3.8 STAGE 7: DISSEMINATION
3.9 SUMMARY OF THE CHAPTER
CHAPTER FOUR: PRESENTATION AND DISCUSSION OF THE RESEARCH FINDINGS: DIVORCED PERSONS
4.2 DEMOGRAPHIC DATA OF THE RESEARCH PARTICIPANTS
4.3 AN OVERVIEW OF THE THEMES, SUB-THEMES AND CATEGORIES
4.4 SUMMARY OF THE CHAPTER
CHAPTER FIVE: PRESENTATION AND DISCUSSION OF THE RESEARCH FINDINGS: SOCIAL WORKERS
5.2 DEMOGRAPHIC DATA OF THE RESEARCH PARTICIPANTS
5.3 AN OVERVIEW OF THE THEMES, SUB-THEMES AND CATEGORIES
5.4 SUMMARY OF THE CHAPTER
CHAPTER SIX: SUMMARY, CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
6.2 SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
6.3 LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY
6.5 SUMMARY OF THE CHAPTER
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT
POLICY AND PRACTICE GUIDELINES FOR SOCIAL WORK SERVICES TO DIVORCED PERSONS: SOCIAL WORKERS’ AND SERVICE USERS’ EXPERIENCE-BASED PERSPECTIVES