Making Information Meaningful

Qualitative research

An important part of any research consultancy is the ability to understand themes and contexts. Exploration of such issues is vital when you need to get the right answers, not just any answer. This is why ASR consultants are also experienced qualitative researchers, with experience in facilitating focus groups, conducting in-depth interviews and citizen forums. This takes the guesswork out of understanding what is important or relevant to your clients and stakeholders. At ASR we may utilise qualitative research extensively, as in stakeholder research, or as input to the development of a quantitative survey.

The most common method is the qualitative research interview, but forms of the data collected can also include group discussions, observation and reflection field notes, various texts, pictures, and other materials.

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research is aimed at gaining a deep understanding of a specific organization or event, rather than a surface description of a large sample of a population. It aims to provide an explicit rendering of the structure, order, and broad patterns found among a group of participants. It is also called ethnomethodology or field research. It generates data about human groups in social settings.

Qualitative research does not introduce treatments or manipulate variables, or impose the researcher's operational definitions of variables on the participants. Rather, it lets the meaning emerge from the participants. It is more flexible in that it can adjust to the setting. Concepts, data collection tools, and data collection methods can be adjusted as the research progresses.

Qualitative research aims to get a better understanding through first hand experience, truthful reporting, and quotations of actual conversations. It aims to understand how the participants derive meaning from their surroundings, and how their meaning influences their behaviour.

We understand that government and business need to be ‘on the pulse’ with the people they serve and the stakeholders they deal with. Our qualitative experience and expertise complements our survey offering by ensuring that relevant issues are explored before taking further steps or making costly uninformed decisions during the course of a research project. ASR researchers are experienced in the types of qualitative research techniques outlined below:

Focus groups

Focus groups provide a setting in which people are able to discuss issues openly and be frank in their opinions. The facilitator’s task is to guide discussion without imposing an overt paradigm or opinion. Conducted with 7-9 participants, including the facilitator, group discussions allow participants to introduce ideas that they consider important. Participants are also free to explore issues without judgement and offer explanations about what motivates their behaviour. Most importantly, participants are not restricted by a set questionnaire.

Focus groups typically last from1.5 to 2 hours. They are suitable for participants that can attend easily, usually the general public. Generally they are less suitable for highly sensitive or personal subject matters or for time-poor professionals and business people (unless you are prepared to provide substantial incentives).
Recent projects included focus groups for Universities Australia of domestic and international, undergrad and postgraduate students in the development of the Student Finances Survey 2012. This research is used to inform government policy.

Depth interviews

As the name suggests depth interviews are useful to gain deep insight into participants’ issues and experiences. This is particularly useful in cases dealing with confidential or sensitive topics. The nature of the feedback is usually more detailed and specific than that of focus groups.

Depth interviews are generally 45 minutes to 1 hour in duration. They offer confidentiality and they are sometimes more convenient in circumstances when focus groups are impractical to organise; especially when dealing with professionals and other time-poor individuals.

At ASR we undertake depth interviews in person and over the telephone using senior consultants.