Is it auto-qual, we-qual, mass-qual, or crowdsourced qual?

There is a growing trend for researchers to recruit customers/consumers/citizens to collaborate in the research process. One example is where smartphones are used to facilitate people capturing slices of their own lives, in pictures, videos, and comments. Another example was the Mass Observation project that utilised hundreds of people in the UK, between the 1930s and the 1960s, to capture their own story and the stories of the people around them.

I think it would be useful to be able to refer generically to these forms of qualitative research, but there seems to already a wide range of terms, including:

  • Mass anthropology
  • Mass ethnography
  • Auto-anthropology
  • Auto-ethnography
  • Auto-qual
  • Crowdsourced qual
  • We-research
  • We-qual

What are your thoughts? Would an umbrella term for these participative/collaborative qual approaches be useful? If so, what would your choice be?

4 thoughts on “Is it auto-qual, we-qual, mass-qual, or crowdsourced qual?

  1. It’s an interesting idea, although I think we need to be careful of umbrella terms.

    To me methodologies always have to be closely tied back to the objectives of the research. I feel that putting techniques under a common term can lead to a shifting of the focus away from the project specific considerations.

    Terms that are broad enough to encompass all of the necessary variety, may not be specific enough to be useful. You only have to look at the array of techniques that could be categorised as neuroscience to see this.

    That said, if I were to pick a term it would be auto-ethnography. I think this best captures the general concept of people capturing their own stories and exploring their own culture which seems to be at the core of many of these types of projects.

  2. Mass anthropology – doesn’t get the collaborative element across
    Mass ethnography – likewise
    Auto-anthropology – ‘auto’ doesn’t get across that a researcher is also organising and analysing it; also sounds a bit like it might be automated, where really it’s very human and about participants logging stuff themselves.
    Auto-ethnography – likewise
    Auto-qual – likewise
    Crowdsourced qual – best of the bunch, but in danger of being a faddish term that won’t last
    We-research – too vague
    We-qual – too vague
    How about:
    self-ethnography
    mass participation qual
    semi-autonomous qual (not we’re getting clunky)
    empowered ethnography
    Or the punchier but possibly a bit vague ‘pop qual’ or ‘feedback qual’?
    Probably none of these are improvements! Tricky one.

  3. I use the term ‘Quint’ to describe any type of collaborative research, where citizens play an active role in the process.

    Why Quint?

    Quint from Quintessential – “the essence of something”. The word comes from old French and translates to the fifth essence. It is a reference to Aristotle’s idea that the world consists of four basic elements – air, earth, fire and water. The fifth essence, the quintessence, is latent in all objects, which gives them life.

    I find this umbrella term useful as it captures a new mindset towards research, not just a process/methodology. For me, Quint reflects new characteristics/dynamics of research e.g. intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivations, exchange rather than transaction, active rather than passive, transparent rather than confidential.

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