Qualitative Research Methods--Community-Based Research
Soc/Rural Soc 955

The web address for this syllabus is :

Professor: Randy Stoecker
Office:  Agricultural Hall 340
Office Hours: W 1:30-3:30, and by appointment
Phone:  890-0764
Fax: 263 - 4999
E-mail: rstoecker@wisc.edu

Spring 2006
Wednesdays 10am-12:30pm
Buttel Conference Room, 3rd floor, Agricultural Hall


Facilitating a course that is designed to produce outcomes for both the community and the students is one of the most exciting things I do. It can be a bit unnerving at times, since the success of the entire project requires fitting so many pieces together in a tight timeline. But I have done it enough to know that it can work, and can have real impacts. So if you like learning by doing, are comfortable with a little unpredictability, and like to work in collaborative contexts, this course is for you.


I have two goals for this course:

1.  to understand how Madison community organizations can get the most out of area service learning resources.

2.  to learn how to conduct community-based research by doing a CBR project start-to-finish, and to learn specific research methods and practices.


You may find that my perspective on the infamous quantitative-qualitative distinction in sociology is different than most. I see most people who sustain the divide between the methods as doing so out of their personal preferences, rather than for sound methodological reasons. And that is partly because academic culture has put the researcher in charge of the research, allowing people to pursue their particular taste for research styles. In the real world, however, where people are actually trying to make a difference, research can't begin from the academic's taste for one style of research over another. It has to begin from what research methods will yield information most useful to the community trying to make the change. In this project, then, we may conduct a survey as part of our research (though I am pretty sure at this point we will be conducting interviews).

Whenever we do research with a community, however, we must have "qualitative" skills regardless of how we do the actual research. Because the success of community-based research is dependent on the strength of the relationship between the researcher and the community. All of the skills of good qualitative research--good listening skills, good interviewing skills, good observational skills, are crucial in the design and implementation of even a quantitative survey. In the field of community-based research, then, all research is qualitative, even when it is quantitative. :-)


Please inform me if you have special learning needs so I can adjust the course to meet those needs.


When teachers realize they still have things to learn and students realize they have things to teach, and when everyone is in an atmosphere where teachers are encouraged to learn and students are encouraged to teach, everyone benefits.

My job is to create and maintain a learning atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable taking intellectual and interpersonal risks, and to help you do your part in maintaining that atmosphere.  I welcome critiques ofideas, especially my own.  But please practice respect for each other as people while you question and criticize each others' ideas. 


Please consult with me whenever you have a question about course assignments, lectures, discussions, or readings. I will gladly discuss questions you have about the course material. You should also consult with me whenever you may find yourself interested in the issues raised in the course and you want to discuss further or get more information.


There may be times in this class when the phrase "course organization" will sound like an oxymoron. Project courses like this are somewhat like a line of dominoes--knock one down and the rest behind them also fall over. Thankfully, there aren't that many dominoes, and they are easy to set up again. The timeline of this project is not dependent on just you and me, but on the university bureaucracy (which has to approve our IRB application) and the community organizations we will be working with. For the most part, then, our class meetings will focus on troubleshooting where we are in the process.

However, we will also be engaged in a variety of in-class training exercises. You will learn how to do research from start to finish in this class. We will co-design the methods, collect the data, collaboratively analyze the data, collaboratively write up the research results, and collaboratively organize a research launch and planning event.


A number of you have asked me about the workload for the course. In general, the workload for this class is average. The challenge is that it can be quite uneven unless you manage your time effectively.

You will see that the first few weeks are heavy with reading and activity. I have, for the most part, "front-loaded" the preparatory work of the course so we can move into the project as quickly as possible. The reading load reduces more and more the further we get into the semester.

You will also notice that we will not meet at some points in the semester. That is partly because I am traveling, and partly because you will be spending time scheduling appoints, conducting interviews, returning transcripts, and drafting the report. It will not be crucial for us to meet as a class during those times and I want to give you as much time as possible for doing the project work.

The actual project work, to be finalized at our January 25 class meeting, will likely involve conducting 10 hour-long interviews, writing up partial transcripts of those interviews (we will discuss how to do partial transcripts that are usually 1-3 single-spaced pages each), returning partial transcripts to interview participants for comments, dividing data into themes and writing a section of the report (each of you will likely write a section theme, probably 5-6 pages double-spaced), revising your section once based on community organization comments, and helping to organize a launch/planning event.

The most time-intensive part of the course will be the interviews and partial transcript writing, which will occur from Feb. 8 to March 8, will take up to 8 hours a week (including scheduling, traveling, interviewing, and writing). The key to handling this phase is to spread the work out. Call to arrange interviews early. You may have to play phone tag to schedule an interview, and you may need to schedule a week or two in advance, or reschedule when someone's schedule changes, so start calling as soon as the IRB gives us approval. When you finish an interview, write up the partial transcript right away--don't wait and let them pile up. You may want to go back and add things based on what you learn from a subsequent interview. If you have taken good notes during an interview, writing up a partial transcript will only take an hour to two hours max.


This class will be a group effort. My job is to be a project manager, trainer, and guide. You job is to tell me what you need to learn to carry out the tasks of the project, what you need to have clarified to keep the project on track, and what skills you can bring to help troubleshoot when things go wrong.


Most readings are available on the Internet, though many require that you be logged onto the UW network, and some will be available through the online library reserve system. I have taken every effort to post links that will work from on and off campus.  When you are off campus, you will need your student ID number to use these links.  In some cases the links point to a general information page, from which you can choose an html or pdf version of an article.  The "wilsonweb" site can be tricky.  If you receive permission errors, go to https://www.library.wisc.edu/ezproxy-bin/ezpatronT.cgi, log in, and then try the wilsonweb link again.  I apologize to anyone using screen readers who must contend with only barely accessible pdf files.  All links are verified as of January 10, 2006.  Please let me know if you find any bad ones.

I will also provide a list of recommended books, in addition to the readings here.

Please print out the readings or bring your pda/laptop to class with an electronic version.


This course is supported online, at http://comm-org.wisc.edu/e107.  This is the site we will use to manage online discussions, upload interviews and drafts, etc.  It will be a basic workspace.  It may take a little getting used to.  To protect the confidentiality of the data we upload to the site, it is username and password protected.  You will need to register, and then I set your permissions.  So the sooner you register, the sooner you will be able to explore that site.


This course will use contract grading. That means that you and I will agree in writing to the grading requirements. Because this project is being designed jointly with you and community organizations, it is impossible to say for sure right now what we will be doing. The course calendar below will show the tasks that need to be accomplished.

My main expectations for the course:

  1. do the readings each week. The readings are crucial because they will provide the intellectual basis for the interviews, and the foundation for the skills trainings.
  2. keep on schedule. Better yet, work ahead. If one individual gets behind, the entire project gets behind. I have built in a little flexibility if, for example, our IRB approval is delayed, but we as a class need to stay ahead or on schedule.
  3. tentatively: conduct 10 interviews, write up 10 partial transcripts, write up one 5-6 page thematic section of the research report, help organize the launch/planning event.


    **Remember to print out the readings you choose or bring your pda/laptop to class with an electronic version.

    **I may add readings as the semester progresses.  You can always find the most up-to-date list on the web version of the syllabus.

    **If you receive permission errors for any reading link (except those listed as available through my.wisc.edu), go to https://www.library.wisc.edu/ezproxy-bin/ezpatronT.cgi, log in, and try again.

January 18:

Introduction to the Project--the Philosophy of CBR



January 25:
Defining the Research Question and Outlining the Research Methods


  • Randy Stoecker, Research Methods for Community Change, Chs. 1-5, ethics appendix
  • Andrew Sayer, Method in Social Science, Ch. 9 (access through http://my.wisc.edu)



February 1:
Project Background Issues--Community Organizations and Service Learning

Read:  (choose four for class, read the rest prior to beginning interviews)(articles without a listed URL are available through http://my.wisc.edu)

  • Amy Driscoll, Barbara Holland, Sherril Gelmon, and Seanna Kerrigan. An Assessment Model for Service-Learning: Comprehensive Case Studies of Impact on Faculty, Students, Community, and Institution. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning vol. 3 1996.
  • Andrea Vernon And Kelly Ward. Campus and Community Partnerships: Assessing Impacts & Strengthening Connections.  Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning Vol 6 1999
  • Joseph R. Ferrari and Laurie Worrall. Assessments by Community Agencies: How “the Other Side” Sees Service-Learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning Vol 7 2000.
  • Ethel Jorg. Outcomes for Community Partners In An Unmediated Service-Learning Program.  Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning 2003 V. 10 #1
  • Jo Anna Tauscher Birdsall, n.d. Community Voice: Community Partners Reflect on Service Learning. http://www.mc.maricopa.edu/other/engagement/Journal/Issue5/Birdsall.pdf
  • Carol H. Tice. Forging University-Community Collaboration: The Agency Perspective on National Service. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning vol. 1, 1994
  • Nadinne I. Cruz and Dwight E. Giles, Jr.  Where’s the Community in Service-Learning Research?  Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning 2000 (special issue)
  • Nora Bacon. Differences In Faculty And Community Partners’ Theories Of Learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning Vol. 9 #1 2002
  • Brenda K. Bushouse. Community Nonprofit Organizations and Service-Learning: Resource Constraints to Building Partnerships with Universities. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning 2005 v. 12 #1
  • Ward, K., & Wolf-Wendel, L. Community-centered service learning. The American Behavioral Scientist, (2000).43(5), 767-780 http://abs.sagepub.com.ezproxy.library.wisc.edu/cgi/reprint/43/5/767
  • Jones, S.R. Principles and profiles of exemplary partnerships with community agencies. In B. Jacoby & Associates (Eds.), Building partnerships for service learning (pp. 151-173). (2003).San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass


  • develop list of potential issues to watch for in service learning
  • develop sample


February 8:
Designing/Refining Research Methods (tentative, dependent on decisions made January 25)


Read three of the following: 


  • schedule interviews (dependent on IRB approval) (each student will conduct up to 10 interviews)
  • conduct interview training (tentative)


February 15:

Collecting the Data



  • schedule and begin interviews (dependent on IRB approval)


February 22:
(no class)
Toward Data Analysis--Creating an Analysis Framework



  • continue interviews, troubleshoot
  • write partial transcripts from 2-15 interviews, submit to Randy for feedback
  • report on initial interviews


March 1:
Analyzing and Validating Interview Data



  • training on partial transcript writing
  • continue interviews
  • return partial transcripts to interview participants for validation

March 8:
Writing up Qualitative Research



  • complete interviews
  • complete return of partial transcripts to interview participants for validation
  • outline report

March 15:
(no class--spring break)
March 22:
Writing up Qualitative Research


  • interview transcripts from your student colleagues


  • begin writing process


March 29:
(may cancel or meet online)
Writing up Qualitative Research


  • interview transcripts and section drafts from your student colleagues


  • continue writing process


April 5:
(may cancel or meet online)
Writing up Qualitative Research


  • interview transcripts and section drafts from your student colleagues


  • finish writing process
  • make report draft available for core group and public comment

April 12:
Moving Toward Action



  • begin revising report draft
  • begin planning launch event


April 19:
Moving Toward Action



  • organize launch event
  • finish revising report draft and distribute


April 26:
(may cancel or reschedule)
May 3: launch event/celebration


Construction debris:

respondent validation:

  • Lincoln YS, Guba EG. Naturalistic inquiry. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1985
  • Bloor M. Techniques of validation in qualitative research: a critical commentary. In: Miller G, Dingwall R, eds. Context and method in qualitative research. London: Sage, 1997:37-50.


workshops in qualitative research:  http://bgpinqmr.group.shef.ac.uk/workshop/ and http://www.nova.edu/ssss/QR/QR3-2/chenail.html

participatory action focus group http://www.nova.edu/ssss/QR/QR8-2/linville.pdf

meta inquiry http://www.nova.edu/ssss/QR/QR8-4/carlson.pdf

qualitative dissertation http://www.nova.edu/ssss/QR/QR10-2/bowen.pdf

conversational interviewing http://sitemaker.umich.edu/fred.conrad/files/schober___conrad__1997_.pdf