Qualitative research spans every continent and almost every topic. But in Hong Kong, three researchers are breaking new ground by examining the controversial and under-researched areas of minority stress, mature aged women and adolescents in Asia.
Dr. Petula Ho Sik-ying, Dr. Mark King, and PhD student Li-ling are based at The University of Hong Kong (HKU) – an institute renowned for its heavy research focus. The researchers have diverse backgrounds and diverse research areas, but all share a passion for knowledge and social change.
Petula’s research offers insight into the secret lives of Hong Kong’s much-derided ‘si-nais’ (married housewives). Mark’s research is shedding light on the experiences of prejudice of the city’s minority communities. And Li-ling’s work on health and risk related behaviors – from intimate behavior to smoking – is the first complete picture of the pressures facing Chinese teenagers.
The trio all use NVivo to complete their analysis, much of which is in Simplified Chinese. Here they provide a snapshot of their research projects and their plans for NVivo 8 and its new Simplified Chinese interface.
Mixing social science and traditional audit techniques
Dr. Petula Ho Sik-ying is Associate Professor at HKU’s Department of Social Work and Social Administration. She spent more than 10 years studying Chinese male identity, before moving into a research area that she describes as ‘closer to home’. Petula’s focus is Hong Kong’s ‘si-nais’ – a term which once used to refer respectfully to a teacher’s wife and later, in the 1980s became a label for housewives in resettlement estates. Today it is usually a derogatory term reserved exclusively for middle-aged, married women who are - by society’s reckoning - ignorant, overweight and ‘penny-wise but pound foolish’.
Many public commentators in the western world have raised the ‘invisibility’ of mature aged women – particularly in movies and the media. In Hong Kong, Petula says ‘si-nais’ are not just ignored by society, but by their own families. Absent husbands, many of whom are believed to have taken second wives across the border, are a common theme in her earlier research.
Petula’s work focuses heavily on qualitative interviews with Hong Kong si-nais – her current project titled ‘Second Spring’ will feature the narratives of 30 women aged 40-60. The study examines women who are forging new identifies for themselves and exploring new possibilities in their personal and professional lives.
Petula says NVivo will be critical for managing the rich data collected – she expects to transcribe and analyze some 80 hours of video footage. NVivo 8’s ability to code directly to video is something she plans to explore in the near future. “
The stories are moving – as a researcher people reveal intimacies and secrets to you; their true selves,” she says.
“You think you’ll remember them (the stories), but the sheer volume of data means you don’t. NVivo provides the methodology and rigor…a systematic way of approaching and working through all that information and making sure nothing is lost.”
Second Spring is a collaborative project. Petula’s two research partners are Chinese academics based in the United States and Canada, and her research assistants are based in Hong Kong. While NVivo has always been able to work with data in virtually any language, the release of the new version will mean Chinese speaking users can now work with a Simplified Chinese software interface. Petula can see benefits for her colleagues.
“Our research team works in English, Cantonese and Mandarin in Hong Kong and mainland China. We think that the ability to conduct analysis using NVivo 8 on a Chinese Windows platform is a real leap forward, because it allows us the flexibility to work using the exact same interface in our native languages. We work on the same page and have no concerns about data being lost in translation”.
This is a benefit that Petula’s western colleagues are just as enthusiastic about.
The Challenges Facing Minority Populations
For Dr. Mark King, Research Assistant Professor in HKU’s Faculty of Education, ensuring transparency and consistency across his research team is critical.
Mark has a rich research repertoire in topics that he describes as ‘extreme’. American born, he has visited almost 60 countries, studying cannibalism in Papua New Guinea, poverty, disease, genocide, and war in Africa and stigmatized minority communities in the Philippines and Thailand. His latest project involves 12 colleagues across three countries and is the most recent and comprehensive look at the impact of prejudice and minority stress in Hong Kong.
One of the things that attracted Mark to NVivo 8 was the ability to merge separate projects and still identify individuals’ work, as well as view the notes and analysis completed by each team member. The software also includes a query function that shows the percentage of analysis that is the same or different across users, to help fine tune coding across teams.
“I code and analyze data from my American perspective; my UK colleagues code given their understanding of the data; and my Chinese colleagues code from their unique points of view,” says Mark.
“The ability to work independently but use software to compare our coding within the context of both our research and our worldviews will mean that each team member will be able to present different interpretations of the data. To say the least, this will result in very interesting discussions.”
It is hoped Mark’s three year project will inform public policy, public health policy and health promotion in Hong Kong.
“This is an important body of work,” he said.
“We’re looking at a number of facets of the lives of minority people - their experiences of discrimination and prejudice, their interpersonal relationships, psychosexual development, as well as their coping mechanisms. And the psychological distress that these experiences may have caused in terms of self esteem, depression, anxiety and suicide are very important areas of research.”
Mark says NVivo’s ‘auditability’ of this data is critical.
“We’re dealing with a huge amount of data in this project. The ability to move from high level detail to the original data set with a mouse click is a huge advantage.”
Saving Teenagers from Themselves
For HKU PhD student and Hong Kong national Li-ling, NVivo is expediting her analysis of the health, attitudes and behaviors of teenagers in Beijing and Hong Kong.
Compared to studies on adolescent health related behaviors from western societies, the studies within China are few and fragmented. Li-ling’s research will provide the first comprehensive look at Chinese teenagers’ behaviors and their influencers, specifically parents, peers and teachers.
“Contemporary Chinese adolescents are living in an era of social transformation,” she says.
“During the last two decades China has undergone rapid modernization and social change. Young people are growing up in an environment that is totally unfamiliar to their parents and that in some ways they are ill-equipped for.
“Previous research has focused on family and peer influences on teenage behavior – very rarely has the whole picture of adolescent daily life been taking into consideration simultaneously, including the influence of teachers.”
For Li-ling, the research is all about intervention.
“We know that health related behaviors that affect the well-being of Chinese adolescents, such as substance abuse and poor diets have been increasing in recent years,” she says.
“The ultimate purpose of this study is to develop health promotion programs aimed at preventing specific behaviors like smoking and obesity.”
Previous versions of NVivo already work with data in multiple languages. While Li-ling currently inputs her Chinese language data directly into NVivo, she says the new release of a Chinese interface will make computer assisted qualitative analysis available to many of her non English speaking colleagues for the first time.
“I know many (non English speaking) Chinese scholars and students who are working in traditional ways with pencil and paper,” she says.
“To work and analyze data in your mother-tongue is always preferable – it is faster and more in-depth. To be able to do this within software like NVivo will be an advantage.”
Li-ling is also considering moving to the Simplified Chinese interface herself.
“There can be subtle language mismatches when moving between English and Chinese. It will be interesting to see and use NVivo’s tools in my first language.”
HKU and NVivo 8 - Next Steps
In August 2008, the University of Hong Kong purchased a site license for NVivo 8 software. Mark, who has been spearheading the university’s adoption of the software, says the move will enhance the research space.
“Petula, Li-ling and I are only three of hundreds of researchers at HKU,” he says.
“Our colleagues and our students are working in diverse research areas, many on internationally important projects. To be able to use a program like NVivo – in English and Simplified Chinese – is a significant advantage.”
About the University of Hong Kong
The University of Hong Kong, as a pre-eminent international university in Asia, seeks to sustain and enhance its excellence as an institution of higher learning through outstanding teaching and world-class research. With ten Faculties and numerous research centers, its reputation as a centre of intellectual excellence is recognized around the world.