Political Science Now

Knowing When to Scale Back: Addressing Questions of Research Scope in the Field

Akasemi Newsome

Despite extensive preparation and familiarity with field sites, researchers can face questions of scope during the implementation of their research design. It may be difficult or impractical to visit all the country cases or collect different types of data at equal levels of detail across geographic space (Lieberman 2004). Informants who expressed interest in participating may later be nonresponsive. Researchers may then need to adjust their research question midway through data collection. Whereas I arrived at my field site to begin a project that would explain different trade union responses to immigration in Europe, I returned to my home institution with a new outcome of cross-ethnic cooperation in protest. I adjusted my outcome of interest because the scope of my original outcome was too broad, rendering the collection of comparable data across multiple dimensions difficult. With a new, narrower outcome I could locate more equivalent types of data via interviews with informants and observational and archival research. This article details the issues of scope and the different stages of my research when I faced these issues while in the field in Western Europe. It addresses potential pitfalls that can lead to questions of scope and offers strategies to deal with those challenges. Establishing substantive and temporal thresholds and confirming these with local academics and knowledgeable colleagues stateside as a way of “assessing progress periodically,” aided in transitioning to a new, narrower research question (Lynch 2004, 11). [Read more.]

Knowing When to Scale Back: Addressing Questions of Research Scope in the FieldPS: Political Science & Politics / Volume 47 / Issue 02 / April 2014, pp 410-413