Reflexivity: the experience of undertaking an ethnographic study to explore issues of consent to intrapartum procedures

Background. Reflexivity is a popular, yet complex process, which attempts to analyse personal, intersubjective and social processes that influence research projects, particularly those using a qualitative approach. With the rising popularity of qualitative methods being used to examine health care and midwifery practice, as well as the increased public and professional scrutiny of research, reflexivity provides a means of strengthening greater transparency and quality in this type of research. Aim. This paper examines the concept of reflexivity and highlights specific issues that researchers need to consider when undertaking ethnographic studies involving participant observation. Reference will be made to personal experience of undertaking an observational study examining informed consent to intrapartum procedures. Methods. Application to undertake the study was approved by the local research ethics committee. Data were collected by field-notes, which were made through participant observation, followed by semi-structured interviews with each woman observed and the corresponding midwives within 24 hours of the baby’s birth. In addition, notes pertaining to personal thoughts and experiences before, during and after the data collection and analysis were recorded in a research diary to add to the reflexive account. Findings and conclusion. Each way of approaching reflexivity has strengths and limitations and will be dependent on the research methods used in respect of fulfilling the aims of the study. Each researcher is responsible in deciding how best to exploit the reflexive potential of the research to ensure their final account is authentic, trustworthy and of good quality.