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Participants as experts

This approach assigns a key importance to the views and experiences of participants in contrast to those of experts who might claim a greater knowledge of what the participants have experienced. A common example is treating medical patients as experts in their own illness, not because they know more medicine than their doctors, but because they have intimate knowledge of their own experience of the condition they are suffering.

A key work here is:

Book icon Tuckett, David (1985) Meetings between experts : an approach to sharing ideas in medical consultations. London; New York: Tavistock.

The participants becoming the experts

Authors of this page:Dawn Clarke and Graham R. Gibbs

Affiliation: University of Huddersfield

Date written: 2nd Sept. 2008




Learning outcomes

  1. Learn


One of the major changes that occurred for Frances was that she realised that the participants were the 'experts' about their injuries, which became a category on her template.


Loudspeaker iconFrances described how this happened:

I think it was going back to re-reading the transcript again and the looking at it, her [a participant] transcript in particular, in relationship to other people’s transcripts, and then coming back with subsequent interviews that seemed to reinforce for me this person as an expert in her own [right] and in fact because each of the participants with their individual case studies have got different things that come out.


This is an example of how re-reading the data can give an insight to the researcher that is not instantly obvious. Frances compared the transcripts and realised that one of the interviews raised different issues to the others the participant was very knowledgeable about her injury and the treatment of it. Thus Frances developed the concept of the participant as the 'expert' and it became the title of one of her coded categories.

Once she had found this concept she re-focused her analysis to look for similar patterns in the other interviews including the subsequent ones that took place. Through this process Frances was moving away from the descriptive medical approach used in her initial analysis to a person centred approach; this enabled her to understand the participant's experiences of whiplash from their perspective. This was the beginning of the process of horizonalization where the results produced were from a deeper level of understanding.


Loudspeaker iconFrances expressed her surprise at the new development:

I wouldn’t have gone in there [the interview] with the idea that I’m going to meet a participant who’s an expert on whiplash injury, even I wouldn’t consider myself at that time an expert on whiplash injury, even though I’ve got a healthcare background...


This is an example of how new ideas/concepts can become apparent through the use of rigorous data analysis methods. Frances went on to do a further literature review to explore existing theories of patients as experts; what she began to realise was that she had discovered a central concept for her research which appeared in her final write-up of the thesis. It was one of her 'eureka' moments

Frances made further changes to template 1 that were reflected on template 2. This was the removal of the headings: 'Impact on Lifestyle' and 'Emotional Change's. These headings were replaced with 'Life goes on hold' and 'It takes over you'. Frances explained why the changes were made and where the new headings came from: 


Loudspeaker iconFrances explained these changes:

Bill, this particular person [participant], it [the effects of whiplash injury] was much more than just an impact on the lifestyle in a sense that for him life and family life came to a standstill, an absolute standstill.  Things they were doing just ceased, it was almost like 'today I was doing x, y, z, I was building a garage outside, doing all this renovation in the house and suddenly I can’t do anything, and not only can I not do that, I can’t actually look after my young daughter'.  So everything stopped, so it wasn’t a simple case of oh I just stopped doing my activities it was much, much more than that.


Through the process of interviewing the participants and being immersed in the data Frances was shifting her perceptions away from her personal and medical experiences to those of the participants. This was beginning to be reflected in the second template and would continue to do so through to the final template. This is a normal process of progression, any researcher has initially to rely on their personal/professional/academic experiences to inform their judgements; however it is essential that they are able to reflect on the process and challenge their own perceptions in order to be open to new concepts and ideas.


Loudspeaker iconFrances explained how she felt about this process:

The learning process, the process of going back and doing it, and I think that its so easy, I think the hardest thing is to keep it up and to be receptive, but to keep yourself open to something being different, or the same, but to just  get that just little change rather than to dismiss it. So it’s the willingness to change and to be open to take that risk,  looking an absolute fool and rather than take it as a personal criticism that, oh you’re rubbish, because you’re not rubbish, its just that that is the way, its part of the process I had to go through for people at different stages, and I think that’s the, the hardest lesson I think for any budding researcher… I suppose its risk taking but there is a lot of gains. If you don’t do that, then you’re not going to get very far.


What Frances experienced was not unusual. Researchers have to start somewhere but it is important that researchers do not stay where they are that they learn to move on. Frances started with her first template but despite the difficult process she had described she moved on to develop the second template and ultimately the final draft.


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The resources on this site by Graham R Gibbs, Dawn Clarke, Celia Taylor, Christina Silver and Ann Lewins are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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