“Thanks for Using Me”: An Exploration of Exit Strategy in Qualitative Research
This article examines, through a synthesis of the literature and excerpts from a qualitative case study, the concept of exit strategy, specifically its relation to vulnerable populations (e.g., overweight adolescent boys) and potential impact on the researcher-participant relationship. The quality and duration of the researcher-participant relationship, along with rapport and trust building, are potential indicators for negotiated closure (i.e., exit strategy). Reframing this relationship as “participant-researcher” resituates vulnerable participants as foremost in such relationships. Given what is potentially at stake for participants in qualitative research, there is a moral and ethical imperative to enter into the dialogue of closure. Otherwise, participants may unwittingly serve as a means to an end, that is, as objects in the enterprise of qualitative research. Researchers, research supervisors, and human subject ethics committees are urged to establish protocols to guide how research relationships are ended within the context of qualitative methods, particularly with respect to vulnerable populations.