Exploring southern Alberta energy discourses and web-based survey data quality issues: An application of Q-methodology

  • Author / Creator
    Dairon, Matthew Ryan
  • This thesis addresses two main goals that are outlined in two related studies. The first goal is to explore energy related debates occurring in southern Alberta through Q-methodology. Energy landscapes are continuously changing and evolving as technology advances and concerns such as climate change and energy security become more prevalent. The changes that occur within energy landscapes often stimulate responses within society that are captured within distinctive perspectives or discourses. Energy related discourses and their associated points of view are as diverse as the experiences that act to shape and define them. Drawing on Charles Taylor’s concept of social imaginaries and Robert Entman’s interpretation of frames, this study identifies dominant and minority energy related discourses in order to further our understanding of the experiences and views that surround energy development within Alberta. I distinguish minority discourses as discourses that are not commonly identified in the literature and study dataset. For this study, Q-methodology is utilized to identify and explore various discourses and their nuances. Focusing this study on the minority discourses, I conducted follow-up semi-structured interviews to explore the life experiences and interactions of research participants that helped to shape the foundation of these discourses. The selection of two case study areas (Cochrane and Pincher Creek) allowed for the elucidation of views and preferences associated with wind, hydraulic fracturing and other forms of energy development. Within this analysis two dominant discourses emerged: ‘Climate Concerned Citizen’ and ‘Energy and Prosperity’ - along with two minority discourses that are less prevalent within the public sphere: ‘Over Consumption and Local Sustainability’ and ‘Power Inequality’. Follow-up interviews revealed that these minority discourses are deeply rooted and based upon an accumulation of life experiences and lessons. By comparing the identified discourse to those within the literature, I describe how social imaginaries and frames are utilized to approach and understand the concept of discourse. Further, I demonstrate that despite the differences between the identified discourses, there are commonalities that tie them together. Such findings can assist those participating in energy conversations by illuminating the diversity and complexity of views that exist and also advance conversations through the identification of commonalities between potentially conflicting views. The second goal of this thesis is to examine issues of data quality related to online Q-methodology studies. To overcome limitations of traditional in-person Q-methodology procedures, researchers have turned to web-based q-sort software. In doing so, researchers are able to engage with a greater number of participants over a wider geographical area, in a more cost effective manner. However, by utilizing web-based software, researchers separate themselves from participants and the more intimate processes of data collection associated with conventional face-to-face Q-methodology studies. This distance may lead to participant confusion, recruitment of disengaged participants, or inclusion of participants that do not have distinct or strong views about the subject under examination. In turn, these issues may lead to lower quality q-sorts that may significantly alter study results. In an effort to identify ways of detecting poor quality q-sorts, using completion time as a metric of effort, the relationship between participant effort and participant engagement was tested and revealed a low to moderate correlation. In order to explore the potential effects of low quality q-sorts on Q-methodology findings, two datasets of randomly generated q-sorts are utilized to simulate low quality q-sorts. These sorts are added to a web-based q-sort dataset of 105 participants; as well as two related datasets collected using in-person methods. In doing so, randomly generated q-sorts were found to have a significant effect on study findings as they impacted q-sort factor loading and altered q-sorts that were considered significant. Minority factors were found to have the highest susceptibility to the effects of randomly generated q-sorts. Given these findings, I recommend that researchers connect and engage with the data and participants by examining various aspects of q-sort results, as well as potentially hybridizing aspects of web-based and in-person methods to ensure that participants are meaningfully connected to the research.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2016
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Science
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.