Qualitative health research and the irb: Answering the “so what?” With qualitative inquiry [Book Review]

Journal of Academic Ethics 6 (1):1-5 (2008)
Qualitative inquiry is increasingly used to foster change in health policy and practice. Research ethics committees often misunderstand qualitative inquiry, assuming its design can be judged by criteria of quantitative science. Traditional health research uses scientific realist standards as a means-to-an-end, answering the question “So what?” to support the advancement of practice and policy. In contrast, qualitative inquiry often draws on constructivist paradigms, generating knowledge either as an end-in-itself or as a means to foster change. When reviewers inappropriately judge qualitative inquiry, it restricts the ways health phenomena can be understood. Qualitative inquiry is necessary because it enables an understanding not possible within scientific explanation. When such research illuminates, it can also shed light onto the “So what?” In order to ensure an appraisal of qualitative inquiry congruent with its paradigmatic premises, we suggest the “Illumination Test,” met when findings foster rich understanding of phenomena, resulting in a reflective “aha!”.
Keywords Qualitative inquiry  Ethics  Rigour  REB/IRB
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