Triangulation is a method used to increase the credibility and validity of research results. Credibility refers to the reliability and credibility of a study. Validity refers to the extent to which a study accurately reflects or assesses the concept or ideas under investigation.
Triangulation, by combining theories, methods, or observers in a research study, can help ensure that fundamental biases that arise from using a single method or a single observer are overcome. Triangulation is also an effort to help explore and explain complex human behavior. Use a variety of methods to provide a more balanced explanation to readers. It is a procedure that allows data validation and can be used in both quantitative and qualitative studies.
Triangulation can enrich research, as it offers a variety of data sets to explain different aspects of a phenomenon of interest. It can help confirm a hypothesis in which one set of findings confirms another set. Finally, triangulation can help explain the results of a study. Central to triangulation is the notion that methods that lead to the same results give more confidence in the research findings.
Triangulation and Validity in Qualitative Research
Validity, in qualitative research, refers to whether the findings of a study are true and true. “True” in the sense that the research findings accurately reflect the situation. And “true” in the sense that the research findings are supported by the evidence.
Triangulation is a method used by qualitative researchers to verify and establish the validity of their studies by analyzing a research question from multiple perspectives. Patton (2002) cautions that it is a common misconception that the goal of triangulation is to achieve consistency between data sources or approaches. In fact, these inconsistencies may probably be due to the relative advantages of the different approaches. In Patton’s view, these inconsistencies should not be seen as a weakening of the evidence, but rather as an opportunity to discover a deeper meaning in the data.
Types of Triangulation
Data triangulation involves the use of different sources of information to increase the validity of a study. In the case of an after school program, for example, the research process would begin by identifying stakeholder groups, such as the youth in the program, their parents, teachers, and school administrators. In-depth interviews could be conducted with each of these groups to find out their perspectives on the results of the program.
During the analysis stage, feedback from stakeholder groups would be compared to determine areas of agreement and areas of divergence. This type of triangulation, where researchers use different sources, is perhaps the most popular because it is the easiest to implement; Data triangulation is particularly suitable for Extension given the different stakeholder groups who have vested interests in these programs.
Investigator triangulation involves the use of several different investigators in the analysis process. Typically this manifests as an evaluation team consisting of colleagues within a field of study in which each researcher examines the program using the same qualitative method (interview, observation, case study, or focus groups). The findings of each evaluator would then be compared to develop a broader and deeper understanding of how different researchers view the issue.
If the findings of the different raters reach the same conclusion, then our confidence in the findings would increase. For example, suppose a researcher is conducting pre- and post-observations of youth in the 4H public speaking program to assess changes in nonverbal communication and public speaking skills. To triangulate the data, it would be necessary to align different colleagues in the same field to serve as evaluators. While this is an effective method of establishing validity, it may not always be practical to bring different investigators together given time constraints and individual schedules.
A popular approach is to bring together people from different disciplines; however, individuals within disciplines can be used as long as they are in different positions of status. In theory, people from different disciplines or positions are believed to bring different perspectives. Therefore, if each evaluator of the different disciplines interprets the information in the same way, validity is established. For example, suppose a researcher is interviewing participants in a nutrition program to learn what changes in healthy lifestyle practices they attribute to participation in a program. As with investigator triangulation, this method can be time consuming and may not be feasible in all situations.
Methodological triangulation involves the use of multiple qualitative and / or quantitative methods to study the program. For example, the results of surveys, focus groups, and interviews could be compared to see if similar results are found. If the conclusions of each of the methods are the same, the validity is established. For example, suppose an investigator is conducting a case study of a Welfare-to-Work participant to document the changes in her life as a result of her participation in the program over a period of one year.
A researcher would use interviews, observation, document analysis, or any other feasible method to assess the changes. An investigator could also survey the participant, her family members, and social workers as a quantitative strategy. If the results of all methods draw the same or similar conclusions, then validity has been established. While this method is popular, it generally requires more resources. It also requires more time to analyze the information produced by the different methods.
This type of triangulation involves the use of different locations, settings, and other key factors related to the environment in which the study was conducted, such as time, day, or season. The key is to identify what environmental factors, if any, could influence the information received during the study. These environmental factors are changed to see if the findings are the same in all settings. If the results remain the same under different environmental conditions, then validity has been established.
For example, suppose a researcher wants to evaluate the effectiveness of a money management program to determine whether the program helps participants develop budgets to increase savings. If the assessment is done during the holiday season, there may be different results because spending increases significantly during that time of year. Unlike the other types of triangulation, environmental triangulation cannot be used in all cases. It is only used when the findings are likely to be influenced by environmental factors.
Advantages of triangulation
The benefits largely result from the diversity and amount of data that can be used for analysis. For example, Burr (1998) used multiple triangulations to obtain a more complete view of family needs in intensive care. Therefore, the use of interviews and questionnaires added a depth to the results that would not have been possible with a single strategy study, thus increasing the validity and usefulness of the findings.
Disadvantages of triangulation
One of the main disadvantages of triangulation is that it can be time consuming. Collecting more data requires more planning and organization, resources that are not always available to leading researchers (Thurmond, 2001). Other disadvantages include “possible disharmony based on researchers’ biases, conflicts due to theoretical frameworks, and lack of understanding as to why triangulation strategies were used” (Thurmond, 2001, p. 256).
Examples of studies using triangulation
Below we offer two examples of triangulation within research studies, providing a context for each study and a description of how triangulation was used and successfully implemented to ensure a deeper and more unbiased set of findings.
Johnson et al, a qualitative study aimed to identify the influences of the system on decision making in a prehospital setting with paramedics. Several data sets were included that included exploratory interviews with ambulance service personnel (n = 16); document review observations of paramedics shifts (n = 34); paramedics accounts (n = 10) through “digital diaries” recorded in audio; staff focus groups (n = 3) and service user focus groups (n = 3) to explore a variety of experiences and perceptions.
The approach followed Denzin5’s multiple triangulation approach, which encourages multiple methods for collecting data and multiple researchers with varied experience. Phase I of the study focused on understanding the context of the study and included interviews with ambulance service personnel and the collection of local demographic and political data. The second phase involved observing the daily work of paramedics in order to shed light on decisions related to patient transport. Subsequently, focus groups with paramedics were completed, followed by focus groups with service users to share personal experiences of the decisions made by the ambulance service in practice. The final phase included workshops to provide feedback on the findings.
A study was conducted to explore the quality of patient care in a unique model of primary health care in Ontario, Canada: the Nurse Practitioner Led Clinic (NPLC). The focus was on the care of patients with diabetes and at least one additional chronic condition, with the assumption that this group of patients represents those with the most complex clinical presentations managed in family practice settings. Also, the first research method was a chart audit, performed on randomly selected charts of adult patients in five NPLCs who had diabetes and at least one additional chronic condition.
The variables included demographic elements as well as clinical data related to the care of patients with diabetes. On the other hand, the data were analyzed to determine the integrity of diabetes care for the subjects. The second research method consisted of interviews with nurse practitioners (NPs) working in the five NPLCs to determine their perceptions of the quality of care provided in the NPLC model for patients with diabetes and other chronic diseases.
The data from the interviews were analyzed using the processes related to an integrative descriptive design. Drafts of topics that emerged from the analysis were forwarded to the participants for feedback and confirmed by a literature review. Finally, a detailed document search was conducted, including, among others, scholarly articles, press releases and articles, letters to the editor, government policy statements, and publications published by the NPLCs. These data were used to confirm and support the findings of the graph review and NP interviews, which represent triangulation.
In short, triangulation is a useful tool to use in qualitative research, but the advantages and disadvantages must be weighed before applying it to extension work. If researchers decide that triangulation is desired, there are several types of triangulation that can be used: data, researcher, theory, methodological, and environmental. Triangulation can be used to deepen researchers’ understanding of problems and maximize their confidence in the findings of qualitative studies.
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