Abstract: Using Positional Maps during Member Checking: Strengths and Limitations (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

751P Using Positional Maps during Member Checking: Strengths and Limitations

Sunday, January 19, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Jeanelle Sears, PhD, Assistant Professor, Bowling Green State University, OH
Lesley Harris, MSW, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY
Thomas Lawson, Professor, University of Louisville, KY
Background and Purpose

Member checking is a standard methodological strategy in qualitative research. It requires consulting with study participants to discuss the researcher’s analytic insights and check their resonance with participants’ experience. As such, itsupports a study’s rigor and trustworthiness and is consistent with a perspective that honors the co-constructed nature of the final results. However, despite the practice’s widespread acceptance, there is little guidance for researchers on how to implement member checking activities. The purpose of this presentation is to illustrate the authors’ novel use of positional maps during member checking.


Methods & Results

Positional maps were developedby Adele Clarke as a component of Situational Analysis (see Clark, Friese, & Washburn, 2018). Typically, positional maps are used to illustrate the varied stances that are taken within the data itself and the research context. In the study shared here, positional maps were used in this way, as well as to map individual participants along a spectrum of experiences and within emerging analytic categories. In addition to these analytic uses, the positional maps created were shared with participants to elicit their responses and feedback to the researcher’s emerging analysis.


This poster will share and discuss two examples of positional maps used in this way. The authors investigated the experiences of Millennials in the distressed region of Appalachian Kentucky who had committed to staying in the region while working toward environmental, social, and economic change therein. The first map illustrates a spectrum of participant experiences related to personal and professional conflicts; ranging from no conflicts to the presence of many conflicts. The second maps used an X-Y axis to illustrate how participants made meaning of their commitments to Appalachian Kentucky by connecting across time (X-axis) and at various scales (Y-axis). As part of the member checking process, the positional maps were shared in follow up interviews with participants to ascertain whether the research’s placement of their experience felt accurate and to hear more about the role that conflict played in their experience.


Conclusions and Implications

The use of positional maps during member checking prompted the researcher to communicate with transparency and allowed for participants to refine or revise the researcher’s assumptions.  This is critical to all qualitative researchers, particularly those trained in situational analysis, in order to clarify the purpose and meanings derived from the maps. Despite these benefits, this use of positional maps should be used with caution. For example, one limitation faced in this study was that some participants interpreted the researcher’s positional analysis as a “trend line.” Such responses indicated that without guidance, participants may misinterpret the placement of qualitative data on the maps as a quantified or measured element of analysis.




Clarke A. E., Friese C., Washburn R. S. (2018). Situational Analysis.London: Sage.