As both a minister and a researcher, the term “triangulation” is one of my very favorite words since it is a central concept within both professions. The word, however, possesses very different meanings in each context above and beyond its purely mathematical explanations.
For ministers, triangulation has roots in family systems theory and was comprehensibly contextualized for congregations by Edwin Friedman in his 1985 work Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue. Simply put, the Psychology Dictionary defines triangulation as the following: “With regard to family therapy, a scenario wherein two family members in conflict each try to appeal to another member to lure them onto their side.” Ministers are taught and trained to self differentiate from potential and existing triangles with congregants. Any minister worth zir weight in salt will be intimately familiar with, and have experienced, this phenomenon.
For researchers, on the other hand, triangulation is a necessary part of any research study or assessment. The Psychology Dictionary also defines triangulation as “the procedure involved in confirming a hypothesis by gathering proofs from many sources or experiments or utilizing many processes. The information from each source, experiment, or process reinforces the hypothesis from a slightly varied viewpoint.”
There are many different types of triangulation; and depending upon the type of study being conducted, it is important to incorporate multiple means for creating triangulation within the design. One example is the utilization of data triangulation, which involves using different sources of information to increase validity in the results. Another type is methodological triangulation, which involves the use of multiple methods (qualitative and/or quantitative) to increase validity. Investigator triangulation involves a variety of individuals in the data gathering and/or analysis phases of the study. In short, triangulation helps the researcher to know whether the results ze has received are indeed the actual results of the study (and are not caused by random chance, bias, or other non-relevant factors). It is a vital part of any study.
I always love sharing the researcher’s understanding of triangulation in ministry settings when ministers are present in the room. They are surprised by this positive application of the word and find that it is an easy concept to keep in mind when they conduct assessments within their own congregations or communities because of the word’s overall familiarity. The English language is interesting in this regard; but what I most appreciate is that this one word connects two of the things that I happen to be most passionate about. In a way, “triangulation” creates a triangulating relationship between me, ministry, and research. Mind blown.