When and how to use Q methodology to understand perspectives in conservation research

Zabala, Aiora; Sandbrook, Chris and Mukherjee, Nibedita (2018). When and how to use Q methodology to understand perspectives in conservation research. Conservation Biology, 32(5) pp. 1185–1194.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.13123


Understanding human perspectives is critical in a range of conservation contexts, for example, in overcoming conflicts or developing projects that are acceptable to relevant stakeholders. The Q methodology is a unique semiquantitative technique used to explore human perspectives. It has been applied for decades in other disciplines and recently gained traction in conservation. This paper helps researchers assess when Q is useful for a given conservation question and what its use involves. To do so, we explained the steps necessary to conduct a Q study, from the research design to the interpretation of results. We provided recommendations to minimize biases in conducting a Q study, which can affect mostly when designing the study and collecting the data. We conducted a structured literature review of 52 studies to examine in what empirical conservation contexts Q has been used. Most studies were subnational or national cases, but some also address multinational or global questions. We found that Q has been applied to 4 broad types of conservation goals: addressing conflict, devising management alternatives, understanding policy acceptability, and critically reflecting on the values that implicitly influence research and practice. Through these applications, researchers found hidden views, understood opinions in depth and discovered points of consensus that facilitated unlocking difficult disagreements. The Q methodology has a clear procedure but is also flexible, allowing researchers explore long-term views, or views about items other than statements, such as landscape images. We also found some inconsistencies in applying and, mainly, in reporting Q studies, whereby it was not possible to fully understand how the research was conducted or why some atypical research decisions had been taken in some studies. Accordingly, we suggest a reporting checklist.

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