As a dissertation research project towards completion of a Ph.D. in Systems Science: Psychology, thoughtful attention was given to the methodology. Here is a brief overview:
This project explored the mental models of sustainability as held by indigenous leaders from the bioregion defined by the Pacific Salmon runs. Towards a contextual and generative contribution (Ritchie, 2003), a semi-structured interviewing strategy (Smith, 1995) was employed, drawing inspiration in part from Ethnographic Futures Research as developed by Textor (1980, 1990a). Participants were selected based upon several criteria, including an established and respected track-record as a leader in their community with active engagement on sustainability issues. The interviews were audio-taped and videotaped and subsequently transcribed. After completion of the transcripts they were shared back with the participants for an opportunity to edit the transcript as they saw appropriate. This provided a safeguard against misunderstandings and provided the opportunity to clarify the participants' thinking on the subjects covered.
Content of the interviews was analyzed using an iterative thematic coding approach as outlined by Ritchie, Spencer and O'Connor (2003), with support from the software program ATLAS.ti. The coding decisions were subjected to a verification process with a research council of advisors and research assistants to ensure the coding was grounded in the content of the interviews. The thematic coding served as the foundation towards organization into a synthesized narrative representing the participants' perspectives. A primary goal of the content analysis was to identify elements of shared and complimentary thinking among the various leaders representing diverse communities that are united by a relationship with salmon and an indigenous history in the bioregion. Additionally, effort was made to develop a few concept maps (Novak & Gowin, 1984, Novak 1991) to illustrate some primary aspects of the interviewees' mental models. As a final methodological step, the participating leaders were provided with a copy of the synthesized narrative along with an evaluation form to assess testimonial validity, the degree to which they accept the narrative as reflective of their perspective (Stiles, 1993).
For more details about the methodology including a discussion of ethical considerations see: Dissertation_Hall_2008.pdf (pp 42-53).